Wood Bow Master Is MacArthur 2012 Genius Grant Winner
October 2, 2012 | 8:55 am CDT
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Benoit Rolland in his Boston studio.
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Benoit Rolland cello bows.
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Benoit Rolland says his patent pending bow with helicoidal hair, achieved with a redesigned frog is the first major revision in bow design since the end of the 18th century.
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Cello bows by Benoit Rolland.
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Photo By EMPA

BOSTON - A wood bow craftsman, Benoît Rolland, has been named a 2012 MacArthur Fellow, winning a $500,000 genius grant. 

Rolland, a master bow maker working principally in who is experimenting with new designs and materials to create violin, viola, and cello bows for the twenty-first century. As a talented violinist who undertook rigorous training steeped in the tradition of nineteenth-century bow design, Rolland brings a unique perspective and keen understanding of musicianship to his work.

MacArthur named 23 new MacArthur Fellows for 2012, working across a broad spectrum, including a neurosurgeon, a photographer, an optical physicist, and a fiction writer. Rolland is the only one making his living working in wood. Fellows are selected, in a secretive process, for creativity, originality, and potential to make important contributions in the future. They receive a $500,000 grant with no strings attached, to support them for the next five years.


Rolland's accomplishments in design of bows, and in development of alternative materials and species to preserve pernambuco, now an endangered wood species, were cited by the MacArthur selection committee 

Rolland's bows are prized by contemporary musicians for rivaling the quality of revered bows of the 19th century. Before making a bow for a particular musician, Rolland says he listens to recordings or live performances so the finished bow matches the individual player’s personal playing style, and brings out the richness of tone and color in the instrument.

Wood Fungus Makes for Modern-day Stradivarius Violin

Shown: White-rot fungus Physisporinus vitreus

In response to the increasing scarcity of pernambuco wood, favored by musicians and bow makers for centuries, Rolland also has begun experimenting with alternative materials, including graphite.

Rolland received degrees from the Conservatoire de Paris and Versailles (1970) and the Bow-Making School of Mirecourt (1974) and also studied at Schola Cantorum (1980–1982). After working for many years in Paris and the Island of Bréhat, he established his current studio in Boston in 2001.

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