Expert discusses stone lettering; Today's typed letters lose the 'vigorous vitality' of older letters

by Jason Casell | 11/1/93 6:00am

Internationally renowned lettering artist and stone carver John Benson spoke to about 50 people Thursday about the craft of cutting letters in stone.

Benson, whose work includes the John F. Kennedy and Vietnam Veterans Memorials in Washington, D.C., said he prefers to think of himself as a craftsman, not an artist.

"An artist makes something and then sells it, while a craftsman sells something and then makes it," he said.

Benson said he that in ancient Greece and Rome, lettering on public buildings was a "showcase of form."

"The typed letters of today just don't have the vigorous vitality older letters have," Benson said.

But Benson said new technology in the field of stone carving has made his trade easier. "While the ancient tools may have been more beautiful, the newer tools are far more practical and efficient," he said.

Benson presented a slide show that highlighted his most famous works. Those included an inscription on Tennessee Williams' memorial headstone and signs for commercial office buildings such as the Chicago Mercantile Exchange.

He recently finished lettering a monument to the enrollment of women at Yale University.

Benson's lecture in Carpenter Hall was sponsored by the Friends of the Dartmouth Library. It was part of the fifth annual Stephen Harvard Memorial Lectures in the Book Arts.

Stephen Harvard '70 was a graphic artist who was well known in his field. Harvard worked with Benson for several years.

An exhibition called "Lettering in Stone" is on display in the Main Hall of Baker Library through Nov. 15.

Benson owns the John Stevens Shop in Newport, R.I., which specializes in stone carving and lettering and was founded in 1702.