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Archeologist, Sculptor Win 'Genius' Grants

The 24 recipients of the $500,000 MacArthur Foundation awards include several from the West Coast.

October 05, 2003|Thomas H. Maugh II | Times Staff Writer

A San Diego archeologist who studies the origins of civilization, a Sebastopol, Calif., sculptor whose works fuse the worlds of science and art, and a Santa Fe, N.M., blacksmith who handles hot metal with lyrical skill are among the 24 winners of this year's MacArthur Foundation "genius" grants.

Others receiving the awards include a young San Francisco woman running a program to guide troubled girls out of delinquency and poverty, and an Oakland environmentalist seeking better ways to share limited water supplies.

The awards, designed to allow creative individuals to explore their muses more freely, consist of a $500,000 grant, paid over five years, that can be used by the recipient any way he or she pleases.

"I was completely stunned when I heard about the award, and I still am," said sculptor Ned Kahn, whose works incorporate wind, water, fire, light and fog. One of the struggles of making a living as a sculptor "is that you have to say yes to everything that comes along. With support for a while, I can pick and choose and hopefully do some interesting things I might not have done otherwise."

Kahn learned his craft making exhibits at the San Francisco Exploratorium, but has since broadened his horizons. One of his works, installed on the Ventura Pier in 1993 and lost to storm damage three years later, used the energy of ocean waves to blow waterspouts out of a spiral structure.

Most recently, Kahn helped design a children's garden now under construction at the Huntington Botanical Gardens in Pasadena. The garden features a dozen of his sculptures -- such as a musical instrument that is played by dropping pebbles through a complex of stainless-steel rods -- integrated into the landscape.

Like Kahn's work, all of the recipients' efforts are "distinctively bold and original," said Daniel J. Socolow, director of the MacArthur Fellows Program. The recipients are all, he added, "highly focused, tenacious and creative."

Those are words often used to describe Tom Joyce, 46, who has taken working with metals out of the smithy and into the art gallery. Joyce quit high school at 16 to become a blacksmith, putting old materials together in new ways to make not only door hardware, light fixtures and furniture, but also sprawling outdoor installations, such as a gate forged from scrap metal collected by local residents from the banks of the Rio Grande.

"I was obviously stunned" by the news, Joyce said. "I was hardly aware of the fellowships, so it certainly took me aback."

Archeologist Guillermo Algaze, 48, of UC San Diego has spent much of his career studying the 4,000-year-old city of Titris Hoyuk in Turkey, a planned community that has been called "Irvine by the Euphrates."Algaze's studies have illuminated the social, cultural, and economic transformations associated with the emergence of the earliest cities in the region.

Algaze describes his work as a "monomaniacal obsession," and is not sure why he was honored. "I'm still waiting for the guy to come in the door with a camera and say, 'Smile, you're on Candid Camera,' " he said. "I haven't landed back on Earth yet."

Another California winner was Peter Gleick, 46, co-founder and president of the Pacific Institute for Studies in Development, Environment and Security in Oakland. After receiving his doctorate, Gleick founded the institute as a think tank that focuses on issues related to freshwater availability and use.

The institute's focus, he said, is on finding more efficient ways to use the water that is available rather than on the construction of new infrastructure, such as dams.

Among the youngest winners this year was Lateefah Simon, 26, executive director of the Center for Young Women's Development in San Francisco. Simon hires young women who have broken away from delinquency and poverty to serve as mentors to girls, providing job training, health insurance and a living wage.

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MacArthur award winners

The 24 fellows announced today by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation will each receive $500,000 over five years. The winners outside California are:

* James J. Collins, 38, Boston; a professor of biomedical engineering at Boston University who is studying abstract principles underlying complex biological phenomena.

* Lydia Davis, 56, Albany, N.Y.; a short-story writer and translator who is now writer-in-residence at the State University of New York at Albany.

* Erik Demaine, 22, Cambridge, Mass.; an assistant professor of computer science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who specializes in solving problems related to folding and bending.

* Corinne Dufka, 46, Freetown, Sierra Leone; a researcher with Human Rights Watch who has focused on abuses in West Africa.

* Osvaldo Golijov, 42, Worcester, Mass.; a composer and associate professor at the College of the Holy Cross who creates music drawn from his Latin and Jewish heritages.

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