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Great Stuff

Think of any object and someone, somewhere, collects it. Six Stanford hobbyists share their treasures.

Aaron Clamage; Samantha Berg (2); Courtesy Rod Poteete; Michael Kelley; Linda A. Cicero

By Mike Antonucci

"Sheer passion," begins Michael Shanks. "A wonderful dedication. A way of thinking through the world, a way of sorting it out."

Shanks, a professor of classical archaeology whose interests range from ancient walls to future cars, is talking about the depth of motivation that drives collectors. They may be packrats, they may seem a little loony, but the sincere collectors, notes Shanks, have the purity of the amateur's curiosity. They seek not only objects but also an acute perception of them, be they common or obscure, nostalgic or exotic, elegant or primitive.

If we think of collecting as a way of making sense of things—"of handling the mess of the world"—then "a collector is the core of who you are." Since the 1970s, Shanks says, there has been a marked upswing in people who call themselves collectors. "To drill down and know something intimately is a very contemporary aspiration."

Aspiration and inspiration seemed bound together when Stanford went in search of fervent collectors among alumni and faculty members. Six are highlighted here. Each individual's preserve of riches, whether literally precious or boundlessly cherished, reflects a personal journey. The collections may not be unique in type, but the relationships between gatherers and their items are intimate indeed.

"There's an understandable tendency toward finding your individual significance in a global world," observes Shanks, whose latest book, The Archaeological Imagination, has much to say about collection and identity. "This is about who you are, who we are, and the two go together."

The collectors celebrated here are discoverers and researchers, devotees and catalogers, accumulators and conservators, barterers and auction junkies. They like projects and quests—and an almost limitless assortment of artifacts, relics, antiques and memorabilia. Sound familiar?


Collectors with Stanford backgrounds make their share of headlines. Captivated by ancient Chinese calligraphy? Alternatively, how about some trendy Batman sketches?

A selection of centuries-old calligraphic treasures from the collection of Yahoo co-founder Jerry Yang, MS '90, garnered attention as an exhibit at San Francisco's Asian Art Museum in late 2012 and early January. For those who toured the 40 works displayed in three galleries, noted the San Jose Mercury News, "it's not difficult to see ink dancing along wide paper scrolls and tall silk panels." The curated collection will be seen again in spring 2014 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

The Big Apple is also the current stomping ground of Brook Lopez, '10, the Brooklyn Nets center who was labeled "The NBA's Comic-Book Nerd" when a Wall Street Journal reporter accompanied him for a day at the New York Comic Con last October. Unoffended nerds everywhere must have drooled with envy when the story mentioned Lopez's custom storage cabinets, alphabetized with drawings from fan-favorite artists. (A is Aquaman.)

Dream scenarios are a staple in this kind of crowd. Artist-writer-editor Jim Lee was quoted imagining that this kind of comics cabinet would pretty much come with special effects. Asked Lee, "Is it fingerprint locked?"


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