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Carving the Dream

(December 2011) posted on Mon Dec 19, 2011

Lasting lettering for the MLK memorial in D.C.


By Robin Donovan

click an image below to view slideshow

Nick Benson was 15, and he needed a summer job. When his dad volunteered a spot at his own workshop, Nick agreed, ready for some easy cash (“I definitely thought of it as a summer job,”he remembered). So began his apprenticeship.

Nick’s father, John “Fud” Benson, became the owner of the John Stevens Shop, a Newport, RI stone-carving business, after his father, Nick’s grandfather, passed away. Founded in 1705, the workshop is among the oldest U.S. businesses to be in continual operation. Nick’s grandfather, John Howard Benson, took over the shop from the brother-in-law of the last remaining Stevens relative in 1927.


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“It wasn’t until I was in college that I realized, ‘OK, this place is a little out of the ordinary,’” Nick said. “My dad brought me into the shop when I was 15 so I could learn how to carve and make money to go out and party with my buddies in the summer. I had a natural inclination to the craft, so my carving ability just took off. I was rough cutting work for my father by the time I was 17, and finish cutting by the time I was 18.”

Joe Moss, an Annapolis-based carver and sculptor, said, “Fud certainly worked at his father’s knee as a kid in the shop, and took over in the shop when he was 18 or 19. Nick certainly had the influence of a father who had the tradition of the grandfather. When you walk in the door of the shop, you immediately understand why Nick’s able to do what he does. There’s an enormous amount of history there.”

Fast-forward a few decades, and Nick, 47, has long since taken the reigns of the shop and developed an aesthetic all his own. Upon hearing that the recently opened Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial in Washington D.C. was being contracted out, he reached out to the design firm in charge. When that group broke away from the project, he called Dr. Ed Jackson, the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial Project Foundation’s architect.


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