For over half a century, Glenn Silva has been practicing the fine art of hand lettering. He’s done work at MIT for more than two decades, and he estimates that he’s painted the names of professors and administrators on more than 700 of the iconic glass-paned doors lining MIT’s halls. But for Silva, the work is never monotonous. “A ‘B’ is not just a ‘B,’” he says. “It’s a structural thing.” Achieving the proper letterform requires a precise technique, brush stroke, and consistency of paint: Silva twirls his brush as he strokes, rolling his steadying hand at just the right moment. It also requires concentration. “The Infinite Corridor—that’s a challenge,” he says. But Silva focuses so intently that he often tunes out the flurry of between-class traffic. “Sometimes I hear it, sometimes I don’t,” he says. He often draws an audience; he especially recalls the intense scrutiny of a civil engineering professor who watched Silva paint his name, ultimately pronouncing the work “outstanding.” By preserving the tradition of hand-lettered doors, Silva says, MIT shows that it cares—and that you don’t always need technology.
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