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Building Character

'The Wall' architect earns local award, speaks at R-MWC

10/18/2004 2:28:18 PM

The following story appeared in the Sunday, October 17, 2004 edition of The News & Advance, Lynchburg, Virginia, and is reprinted with permission.

By Darren Sweeney
The News & Advance

The architect made famous by her controversial design for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington will visit the Hill City in a few weeks to receive a prestigious honor.

Maya Lin, 45, has been selected as the fifth recipient of the Pearl S. Buck Award presented by Randolph-Macon Woman's College.

Kathleen Bowman, president of the college, said recipients of the award are "people who are of uncommon courage and commitment, and willing to put themselves on the line for justice in one form or another."

She said Lin was chosen based on her dedication to "peace and justice and human rights" through public architecture.

"She really exemplifies all of the values of Pearl Buck," Bowman said.

A 1914 graduate of Randolph-Macon Woman's College, Buck, who died in 1973, won the 1935 Pulitzer Prize for her book The Good Earth and was considered "a champion" of civil rights, women's rights, children's rights and the rights of people with disabilities.

But as Bowman noted, "Pearl Buck was, first and foremost, a fine artist who won the Nobel Peace Prize." (Buck received the Nobel Prize for literature in 1938.)

In addition to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Lin designed the Civil Rights Memorial in Alabama, The Woman's Table at Yale University and environmental sculptures, such as Groundswell at Ohio State University (made of recycled glass) and The Wave Field, a pure earth sculpture at The University of Michigan.

"Each of my works originates from a simple desire to make people aware of their surroundings, not just the physical world, but also the psychological world we live in," Lin wrote in her autobiography Boundaries , published in 2000. "This desire has led me at times to become involved in artworks that are as much politically motivated as they are aesthetically based. I have been drawn to respond to current social/political situations in my work."

Lin, a Chinese-American and Ohio native, is the first U.S.-born recipient of the Pearl S. Buck Award.

"It's symbolically appropriate somehow," Bowman said, noting Buck (who moved to China after graduating from Randolph-Macon) worked toward improving the relationship between Asia and America.

Bowman contends Lin fits the mold for the award, although in the past it has been given to the former president of Ireland, former first lady of Egypt, former prime minister of Bangladesh, and former president of the Philippines.

"What all of these people show are the ideals of Pearl Buck," Bowman said, adding, "I would say Maya Lin is certainly of equal stature to those others."

While a lot of her work has been subject to vandalism, Lin garnered her harshest criticism when she submitted her winning design for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial as a 21-year-old student at Yale University.

Vietnam veterans objected to the memorial's dark color, its placement below ground level, the small chronologically etched names of those who died in the conflict, and the lack of "heroic" quality.

"The Vietnam Veterans Memorial is a geode," Lin stated in her book. "I envisioned it not as an object inserted into the earth, but as part of the earth - a work formed from the act of cutting open the earth and polishing the earth's surface, dematerializing the stone to pure surface, creating an interface between the world of the light and the quieter world beyond the names."

Lin, who also will receive a $10,000 honorarium when she is presented with the Pearl S. Buck Award at 2 p.m. Nov. 6 at Randolph-Macon Woman's College, will give a public lecture at 2:30 p.m. Nov. 5 in Smith Hall Theatre.

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CONTACT: Brenda Edson, Director of College Relations