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Craftsman Sam Maloof Among State Winners of MacArthur Stipends

Times Staff Writer

Noted furniture maker Sam Maloof, 69, was in what he called “a state of shock” Monday to be one of seven Californians named as winners of MacArthur Foundation fellowships providing tax-free, five-year stipends--with no strings attached.

“I don’t know how they even selected me,” Maloof said in Alta Loma, where he lives in a seven-acre lemon grove near the foot of the San Gabriel Mountains and makes what many regard as the finest furniture crafted in California. “It’s very thrilling. It makes one rather speechless. I feel very humble about it.”

Maloof said he is to receive $60,000 a year for five years to do with as he wishes.

He called it a “bolt out of the blue” but insisted, “it’s not going to change my life style one bit.”

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Fellows receive the $24,000-to-$60,000-a-year stipends for the five years based on age. The money is to allow them to pursue their interests as they see fit. Fewer than half of the 25 winners named Monday are scholars. Included in the selection list are a poet, a medieval historian (from Caltech), a conservationist and a mathematician.

MacArthur fellows are selected from a list of anonymous nominations made to a 15-member selection committee, not on the basis of applications. The fellowships are announced once or twice a year. There had been seven sets of fellowships totaling 166 prior to Monday’s selections.

John T. MacArthur was the owner of Bankers Life & Casualty Co. The foundation was endowed with much of his fortune when he died in 1978.

In addition to Maloof, Californians among the 25 announced as winners by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation were:

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- John Benton, 53, of Pasadena, a medieval historian at Caltech.

- Jared Diamond, 47, of Los Angeles, a physiologist and ecologist specializing in the bird life of New Guinea and other Pacific islands.

- Edwin L. Hutchins Jr., 36, of San Diego, an anthropologist who studies the relationship between cognitive theory and ethnographic material.

- Shing-Tung Yau, 36, of San Diego, a mathematician whose work includes differential equations and general relativity.

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- George F. Oster, 45, of Berkeley, whose research applies mathematical modeling to developmental and evolutionary biology, population biology and ecology.

- Andrew McGuire, 39, of San Leandro, executive director of the Trauma Foundation and the organizer of two burn safety public health movements.

Diamond, a UCLA professor of physiology who also pursues ornithology, gained note for rediscovery of the golden-crested bowerbird in the remote jungles of New Guinea. Numerous expeditions had attempted to find the mysterious bird, which constructs ornate bowers of sticks, fruits and flowers in order to attract females.

Diamond led a 1981 expedition that found bowerbirds in the rain forests of western New Guinea, noting later that the least handsome male birds built the most elaborate bowers.

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“The duller the young man, the more elaborate the sports car,” he said then.

On Monday, he said he was “delighted” over the fellowship, because “I’m in an area where it is extremely difficult.”

“The whole area of island biogeography--distribution of the species, whether on islands of land or islands of good habitat in the middle of cement--is one that has not had much support, either from government or foundations,” Diamond noted.

He said he plans to use his stipend “to enhance my contributions over the next five years.”

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In San Diego, Hutchins said, “I’m still stunned. I don’t know what I’m going to do with the money. It’s been a while since I’ve done field work abroad.”

Hutchins works as a research psychologist with the Navy Personnel Research and Development Center. He also works as a research cognitive scientist for the Institute of Cognitive Science at University of California at San Diego.

Yau, a UC San Diego mathematician, was one of three winners in 1982 of the Fields Medal, presented by the International Congress of Mathematicians in Warsaw. His research work in differential geometry is so complex that many of his colleagues concede they do not understand it.

A native of Kwuntung, China, he fled that country after the communist takeover in 1949. He studied math in a Hong Kong high school and at 22, received a doctorate in mathematics at UC Berkeley, where he later taught.

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In 1979, he was honored as California Scientist of the Year. Last October, he was named to Science Digest’s list of America’s 100 “most promising young scientists.”

Other national winners were:

Merce Cunningham, 66, director of the Merce Cunningham Dance Co. in New York; Valery Chalidze, 46, Moscow-born physicist who founded the Moscow Human Rights Committee; John Ashbery, whose books include “Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror” and “A Wave,” and Harold Bloom, 54, of New Haven, Conn., Yale University professor of humanities writing about Freud, Shakespeare and the Bible.

Also, William Cronon, 30, of New Haven, Yale historian whose work includes the study of colonial New England; Marian Wright Edelman, 46, of Washington, D.C., president of the Children’s Defense Fund; Morton Halperin, 47, of Washington, D.C., director of the Center for National Security Studies and the Washington office of the American Civil Liberties Union, and Gregory Schopen, 38, of Nashville, Ind., University of Indiana teacher whose research and evaluation of archeological data has contributed to the study of the history of Indian Buddhism.

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Also, Patrick Noonan, 42, of Potomac, Md., founder of Conservation Resources, Inc.; Peter Raven, 49, of St. Louis, botany professor at Washington University and former director of the Missouri Botanical Garden; Joan Abrahamson, 34, of New York, working to establish the Jefferson Institute, seeking solutions for the problems of cities, international security and economics, and Robert Hayes, 32, of New York, founder of the National Coalition for the Homeless.

Also, Thomas Palaima, 33, of New York, assistant professor of classics at Fordham University, recognized for his studies of Bronze Age scripts; Ellen Stewart, of New York, producer, manager and director of the off-Broadway theater, “La Mama,” and Paul Taylor, 54, of New York, director and choreographer of the Paul Taylor Dance Company.

Also, Jane Richardson, 44, of Durham, N.C., Duke University professor of biochemistry and anatomy who works on comparison and classification of protein structures; Franklin Stahl, 55, of Eugene, Ore., University of Oregon professor of biology who studies the molecular mechanisms of recombination, and J. Richard Steffy, 61, of College Station, Tex., an assistant professor of archeology at Texas A&M; University, who has been an adviser to the Institute of Nautical Archaeology on Caribbean projects.


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