Fine craftsmanship is evident throughout the Memorial but no more so than in the Bethal White Vermont granite that frames the northwest and southeast perimeter, where a lost art comes to life to give strength to this site honoring service and sacrifice.
Here, third-generation stone carver, calligrapher and designer Nicholas Benson has chiseled – by hand – two inscriptions that cut to the heart of the Memorial’s mission: one by our country’s first president, George Washington, whose bravery and leadership gave birth to America, and the other from another president, General Dwight D. Eisenhower at the completion of World War II, when the promise of freedom once more gave hope to millions.
The power of their words is expertly matched by the dedication of The John Stevens Shop, Benson’s stone carving atelier in Newport, Rhode Island, in business continually since 1705 and owned by a member of Benson’s family for nearly 100 years. Here, Nicholas began his apprenticeship with his father and grandfather at age 15, honing his skills through the years with a mallet and a chisel to create distinctive architectural lettering while weighing changing light conditions and the long-term effects of the weather on his work.
Benson’s classical approach to carving lettering in stone with a broad edge brush dates back to Rome 2,000 years ago, and distinguishes The John Stevens Shop from other monument companies that use computer fonts and sandblasting. Refined and developed for centuries, the broad edge brush standard is based on the practiced work of hand and eye, directed by a keen grasp of form and aesthetics.
As a result of this design standard, John Stevens Shop work can be found on and in iconic buildings and memorials throughout the United States, including the National World War II Memorial; Martin Luther King National Memorial; the National Gallery of Art; the National Cathedral; The Kennedy Memorial in Arlington National Cemetery; Boston City Hall; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Chicago Mercantile Exchange Center; Harvard, Yale and Brown universities; Maya Lin’s The Meeting Room in Newport, Rhode Island; and the Louis I. Kahn’s Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park in New York City.
Benson’s unique talents and commitment to a vanished technique have been recognized at the highest levels. In 2007, he was awarded an NEA National Heritage Fellowship. Three years later he was the recipient of a prestigious MacArthur Fellowship, and in 2012 he received an Artist-in-Residence Fellowship at the Yale University Art Gallery.
In addition, Benson also devotes his time to teaching young artisans to ensure that the legacy of the centuries-old craft of hand letter carving endures.