Maya Lin, sculptor, architect, and site-specific artist, has created a notable body of work, including a memorial to civil rights in Montgomery, Alabama; large-scale environmental art, such as “Wavefield” at Storm King Art Center in New York; and her “Women’s Table,” commemorating the 20th anniversary of allowing women to attend Yale University after nearly two centuries of exclusion.
However, it is for her “Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial,” one of the most compelling monuments in the United States, that she is best known. When she was just a student at Yale, she won the competition to design the “Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial” 1981-1983 in Washington, D.C. The names of the 57,939 Americans killed in this war are carved into stark black granite panels.
When she was a freshman and sophomore at Yale, she saw stonecutters carving the names of Yale alumni killed in war. Lin would pass through this Memorial Rotunda often. “I had never been able to resist touching the names cut into these marble walls. It left a lasting impression on me . . . the sense of the power of a name.” Lin has cited this Memorial Rotunda and the carving of names as an influence on her work on the Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial.
Her Minimalist-inspired design consists of two almost 250-foot-long walls of polished black granite, set into a gradual rise, meeting at a 136 degree angle at the point where the walls and slope would be at their full 10-foot height. The names of the dead were incised in the stone in the order in which they died, with only the dates of the first and last deaths – ‘1959’ and ‘1975’ – recorded. Its mirror-like, polished granite walls have been acclaimed for creating a place of calm and healing as they allow visitors to see their own reflections when they read the names of the dead. Mementos and flowers are left below the names.
In 2016, she was awarded the presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama for “bringing awareness to the planet’s loss of habitat and biodiversity.”