“One of the rare few who have managed to forge a path in both art and architecture, Maya Lin is at once sculptor, architect, designer, craftsman, and thinker,” says art critic Michael Brenson. Maya Lin an American Chinese, was born in 1959 in Athens, Ohio. Athens is a manufacturing and agricultural town that had a population of 15,000 people and consisted of predominantly Caucasian people. Lin was not brought up as a traditional Chinese. The typical Chinese parent is very conservative and rational. Most Chinese immigrant parents aspire for their kids to strive to become the top and become successful. In terms of successful, they are referring to being financially stable with a steady job. For Lin, her parents didn’t fit into this category.Her parents fled from China just before the Communist Revolution of 1949 and came to America. Lin’s mother, Julia Chang Lin, a poet, was a literature professor at the University of Ohio. Her late father, Henry Huan Lin, was a ceramicist (a person with expertise in ceramics) and a dean of Fine Arts. (Harris) Therefore, their whole family opposed of the perspective of a traditional Chinese. In addition immigrant parents, who have children that are second generation, always have their kids learn Chinese to communicate with their parents. (Harris) Nevertheless, Lin’s parents chose not to teach her and her brother Chinese. Her parents felt that they’d be better off if they didn’t have the complication of having to learn and comprehend both languages. Moreover, tradition Chinese parents, most of the time; favor the males more than the females. “I was lucky as a girl to never ever be thought of as any less than my brother. The only thing that mattered was what you were to do in life, and it wasn’t about money. It was about teaching, or learning.” Lin states. (Google)During her childhood Maya Lin found it easy to keep herself entertained, whether by reading or by building miniature towns. Lin loved attending school. From an early age she excelled in mathematics, loved logic, computer programming, and animals. While attending a public high school, Lin took college level courses while working at McDonalds. Lin considers herself a typical mid-westerner in which she grew up with little knowledge of her oriental identity. She never took any extracurricular activities and admits to being somewhat nerdy, since she didn’t date or wear make-up. She found her joy through constantly thinking and solving problems. She had very few friends in school and felt that American adolescence was a lot wilder than I would have felt comfortable with. She always ate dinner with her parents and never wanted to go out. Since she didn’t have many friends to play with, she became a person in her own world. (Maya Lin Interview)After graduating from high school, Lin enrolled at Yale and considered on majoring in zoology and becoming a veterinarian but was dispassionate of the thought of vivisection. As a result she figured that architecture was a perfect combination of the things she loved; art, math, and science. (Maya Lin Interview) Lin received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Architecture in 1981 and a Master of Architecture degree in 1986. It was during the fall of 1980 her senior year at Yale that Lin and 5 other students were to do their course work on funereal architecture. During this time, a man named Jan Scruggs and a couple other Vietnam Veterans started a fund called the VVMF (Vietnam Veteran Memorial Foundation) that pushed the act on congress to have president Carter sign the legislation to have a memorial for the Vietnam Veterans in Washington D.C. These veterans had no idea about architecture; thus, they hired a jury of top design professionals that consisted of two architectures, two landscapers, two people who sculpt, and a humanist to help decide the winner of the competition.Meanwhile, one of her peers came upon an advertisement that advertised the competition for the best memorial display that portrayed Vietnam Veterans. The competition was open to all Americans, not just professional architects. After having the influence of her design through Edwin Lutyens’ Memorial to the Missing of the Somme Offensive, at Thiepval, France, her concept of the Vietnam Memorial came to life. Lin entered the national competition joining 1441 other entries. On the last day of class, Lin’s roommate, Liz Perry, went to retrieve Lin to tell her about a call from the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund and that they wanted to fly up to New Haven and ask her a few questions. Three officers of the fund came to New Haven and announced in her dormitory that she had won the competition. (Lin, Maya Y.)Her design was constructed in a low V-shaped black granite wall partially submerged in the manner of ancient burial sites; the names of all 57,661 who died or went missing are inscribed on it. (Hackett) The reflective surface of the granite means that those who view it and read the roll-call of names become immediate participants in the experience of remembering the dead. Names of servicemen and women are recorded in chronological order in which they perished, from 1959-1975, giving the memorial a sense of real time in history and for other veterans to view their time within the section. The viewer recognizes the singularity of each name, while also having a clear sense of the huge number of names making up the whole list. “The Vietnam memorial is a place where something happens within the viewer. It’s like reading a book. I purposely had the names etched ragged right on each panel to look like a page from a book,” Lin said. Her purpose was to commemorate those who fought and died in the War and to help reconcile some of the differences that the War had provoked among the American public, government leaders and war veterans. Lin thought that people in today’s world were not willing to accept dying as a part of life. She was focusing on the pain of a loved one who has gone and the fact that this pain will always remain until the person accepts the fact that his or her loved one is no longer present. (Google)On the day of Lin’s graduation, she was driven down to Washington D.C and became a part of an internal struggle for control of her design. The memorial’s discreet design aroused controversy and provoked profound feelings about grief and the Vietnam War in general. At a press conference held in Washington, one of the few Vietnam Veteran detractors, Tom Carhart, acknowledged, “The monument is insulting and demeaning! A black scar, universal color of sorrow and shame, dishonest!” Soon after these hurtful words, veterans and supporters were protesting to reopen the competition. In the headline of the Washington Post, was the headline, “An Asian Memorial for an Asian War.” Controversy occurred in Washington after the release of the article. In the article, it presented the memorial as a simplistic and understatement of what really occurred in Vietnam. There were many people who disapproved, which led to many scornful statements. People were relating the memorial to Lin’s sexuality and nationality, “She is a she, and she is an Asian, a gook!”In November, it was publicized that there was a document allocating that one of the jurors was communist and the others were Protestants of the war. In addition, many solicitation letters sent to Washington and were comprised of a general nature stressing patriotic themes, the need to pay some sort of tribute to the Vietnam Veterans. People also criticized the idea of the names being chronological, the fact that it takes three minutes to look for a name and find it. (Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision) Since the directory is to be in the form of a rotating card file, it meant that when large numbers of visitors come to the monument, there will be a great deal of inconvenience. Any mechanical breakdown in the file’s mechanism, moreover, could make it impossible to look up a name. In other words, people were pushing for the Vietnam Veterans names to be in alphabetical order. (Ross)Not only did the people who served in Vietnam protest this idea, but also political leaders as well. Henry Hyde, a Congressman from Illinois who never heard of such controversy until Pat Buchanan publicized such news, wrote to all the republicans in congress to write to President Reagan to block the decision of Interior Secretary Watt to uphold the monument. (Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision) In addition, Ross Perot, a billionaire and Jim Webb, a decorated Vietnam vet who was years away from the Senate, also denounced that the monument was an insult to Vietnam Veterans.A man by the name of C.L. Kammeier, whom was the Executive Director of the Marine Corps League, wrote to the VVMF, “There appears to be a general consensus that nothing in the design represents the purpose of the commitment of those who served and survived the Vietnam experience.” He also stated in a letter to the VVFW for the sake of the many non-artists who have served their country under the standard American symbol of duty, honor, and country, in that every war since the nation was founded, it has represented by the flag; suggesting that the committee make every effort to include the flag in modification to the current design, or to scrap the current design altogether and reopen the bidding for a selection by a committee comprised of at least several members who have actually served in Vietnam. (Copulos)On the 4th of November 1982, Interior Secretary Watt came to conclusion that if both detractors and supporters of the monument don’t compromise, then there would be memorial for the Vietnam Veterans. Subsequently in 1982, a press conference was held in the cash room of the department of treasury, where detractors and supporters were to come to an agreement. Tom Carhart spoke out and firmly believed that the idea of the American flag and a sculpture would show a reflection of heroism and he and others would be content with those objects. Lin thought that it would rip a part the meaning of the memorial, but had no choice to agree. “She won the competition fairly and honestly and still received hatred criticism.” Jan Scruggs firmly states. (Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision)In the spring of 1988, Lin was one out of two youngest in the history of Yale to received her doctorate degree in Architecture. As she was working in her internship in New York, Lin received a call from Eddie Ashworth, a person who was from the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Alabama and a board member of the Center officials. Lin was asked to build a memorial. Prior, she had declined all other offers to design memorial due to all the media attention she received from the Vietnam Memorial, but soon reconsidered after she found out it was a memorial to honor victims of the Civil Rights Movement. On November 5, 1989, Lin created a sculptural genre called a “water table,” in which the interaction between spectator and monument occurs when the former is moved to disturb a thin layer of water flowing over the monument’s horizontal, circular face.Engraved on the face of the Civil Rights table is a clockwise timeline of crucial moments in the history of the U.S. civil rights movement, including the deaths of 40 of the movement’s most prominent leaders. Lin’s inspiration for using water as a medium to connect spectators and the monument came when she read Martin Luther King Jr’s words, paraphrased from the Bible, in his “I have a dream” speech: “We are not satisfied and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.” King’s words are engraved on a circular wall, also part of the monument, which serves as a backdrop to the table. (Lin, Maya Y)As Lin was completing the Civil Rights Memorial, she was working on another project. In Huntingdon, Pennsylvania, at Huntingdon College, Lin created an outdoor chapel sited on a 400-acre bird sanctuary. Lin designed a 40-foot-diameter stone circle set on top of the hill and a 4-foot-diameter circle cut from stone that would be embedded in the moss at the top of the ridge. This work was designed to incorporate the idea of merging earth with nature and landscape. (Lin, Maya Y)Following the outdoor chapel, Lin used the water table form again on October 13, 1993 for the Woman’s Table at Yale University, a monument made to commemorate the presence of women at Yale. In this piece the engraving on the table top, arranged in a spiral form to imply an open future, represents the number of women in Yale programs in each year from its founding through 1993. More generally, it signifies the emergence of women in modern society. (Lin, Maya Y)In 1992-93 Lin did a major landscape project in Groundswell, Wexner Center for the Arts, at Ohio University. Her landscape involved creating wave-like forms in some of the Wexner Center’s visible interstitial spaces which involved 43 tons of recycled, shattered automobile safety glass. This project was Lin’s first major work using methods and materials which previously had been reserved for small studio works. In addition, she had created this piece purely for her own purposes to explore aesthetic issues and experiment with certain materials. Her next major landscape work was the Wave Field, designed in 1995 for some open ground next to the University of Michigan’s FXB Aerospace Engineering building.To create a work relevant to research taking place in the building, Lin studied aerodynamics and fluid dynamics. She discovered that turbulence resistance and the study of fluid dynamics were fundamental aspects of the field, that images of fluid dynamics were powerful and interesting. For her curiosity in images dealing with turbulence study, a professor sent her a book entitled An Album of Fluid Motion, by Milton Van Dyke. One of the images she found intriguing was of a naturally occurring water wave called a stokes wave. The image was the one she knew she had been looking for. Therefore, she began to translate it into three-dimensional models in sketches, clay and sand. (Lin, Maya Y)Although best known as a sculptor, Lin has also worked steadily as an architect, an activity she likes to keep separate from making sculpture, Lin’s buildings clearly reflect the design issues that have consistently engaged her. For example, the Weber Residence in Williamstown, Massachusetts, which was constructed in 1994 concurrently with the Wave Field, has a roof line that is the result of Lin’s free-hand drawings in which she was echoing the ripple of the surrounding Berkshire Mountains. Another of Lin’s buildings was the Langston Hughes Library, constructed in 1999, in Clinton, Tennessee, is a marvelous example of adaptive re-use in which she transformed an 1860’s barn and a couple of corn cribs into a 1200-square-foot reading room for a collection of research materials on civil rights. As an example of the “green” character of this project, Lin cites, among other things, using a near-by pond as a natural heat exchanger to reduce the library’s heating and cooling costs. (Lin, Maya Y)Maya Lin’s work has helped the Asian community become recognized in American society. She has been given the gift of perception and creativity that has been an influence to many people. All the concepts and ideas in her work as an artist, sculptor, architect, designer, and craftsman will be remembered forever.


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