I have always looked forward each year to the announcement of the MacArthur Fellowships. This award- also known as the “genius grant” is awarded to “talented individuals who have shown extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits and a marked capacity for self-direction.” MacArthur Fellows are given $500,000 in unrestricted monies so they can keep on doing what they have been doing without having to worry about funds. Every year the list includes some of the most amazing people in all walks of life, but this year, finally, it included 2 people that are intimately involved with type.
Matthew Carter- one of the old school of type designers has not stayed old school. In addition to designing well over 60 typeface families and over 250 individual fonts, he recently finished work designing fonts that would be legible on low resolution hand held devices.
The second person to be awarded a fellowship is Nicholas Benson, a stone carver and calligrapher who has worked on carving letter forms into stone at such notable places as the National Gallery of Art, the National World War II Memorial. and the soon to be opened Dr. Martin Luther King National Memorial National Gallery of Art.
In these days of computer generated fonts, Mr. Benson is notable for painstakingly carving every serif into granite or marble- one letter at a time.
So few people today notice typefaces let alone understand the difference between Stone Serif or Meta. Few recognize what proper leading or letterspacing can add to legibility and most believe that it is an art that anyone with a computer and fonts can master. These two notable fellows are a testament to the part typography can play in our world today. They are two examples of two craftsmen that love and labor over letters, and reading the list of people awarded “genius grants” today I felt a burst of pride in our profession and for all of those who look at type as art, not gray matter.