News Archive

Architect is recipient of Pearl S. Buck Award

Coverage from the News & Advance, Lynchburg, Va.

11/9/2004 9:21:41 AM

The following story appeared in the Saturday, November 6, 2004 edition of The News & Advance, Lynchburg, Virginia, and is reprinted with permission.

By Shannon Brennan
The News & Advance

When Maya Lin designed the Vietnam Veterans Memorial at age 21 a quarter of a century ago, she said the controversy it created really didn’t bother her.

“As we all know, when we’re really young, we all think we’re really right,” Lin told a capacity crowd Friday afternoon at Randolph-Macon Woman’s College Smith Auditorium.

Lin, who will receive the college’s Pearl S. Buck Award today, said it never occurred to her that the wall wasn’t going to work.

The wall’s design was meant to create a surface to draw attention to the names, not to be a massive shape that diverted a visitor’s eyes, she said. She also put the names up chronologically so veterans could connect to the time they served in Vietnam.

“It’s like an open book broken by the Earth’s edges,” she said.

But Lin’s work didn’t end with the Vietnam Memorial. She has gone on to create and design numerous art pieces and architecture, as the audience learned.

“I’m on PowerPoint for the first time,” Lin warned as she projected images of her work. “I’m a complete troglodyte.”

Lin, now 45, did one other memorial - the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, Ala., in 1987. She designed it as a clock that began in 1954 with the Brown v. Board of Education decision and ended in 1968 with Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination. As she researched the project, she realized how one person’s action could prompt a protest and then a killing, and then another protest.

“You began to understand that one person could make a difference,” she said. “One person could change the world.”

The clock sculpture has a gap, signifying that the struggle began before 1954 and has not ended.

Lin said she is fascinated by time, and also likes to incorporate nature in her work.

“I truly believe that what’s out there in nature will always be more beautiful,” she said.

In her Wave Field, for example, she designed an outdoor space at the University of Michigan that looks like an undulating ocean of grassy green mounds. Lin called the 1993 piece one of her best works.

Lin also designs spaces for non-profit organizations and private homes, and always tries to maximize sunlight, minimize energy consumption and use recycled and sustainable building materials.

At 2, Lin will be the fifth recipient of the college’s Pearl S. Buck Award, which honors people of uncommon courage and commitment, college President Kathleen Bowman said. The prize includes a $10,000 honorarium.

Lin also will be recognized by the local chapter of the Vietnam Veterans of America for designing the wall.

“In time, it certainly proved to be a catalyst to bring all the Vietnam vets together,” said veteran Steve Bozeman, who attended Lin’s talk Friday.

After the lecture, Lin said in an interview that not all Americans learned lessons from the Vietnam War.

“I think some people have learned the wrong lessons,” she said.

Lin said she is troubled by government control of images that keeps Americans from seeing the returning caskets of dead soldiers, the failure to talk about the numbers of Iraqis who have been killed, and the disinformation being disseminated.

“I think it’s very scary,” she said. “… Part of me is really concerned with what is going on in Iraq.”

But Lin also hopes she has helped with some of the pain caused by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. She was one of 13 jurors who chose “Reflecting Absence,&

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CONTACT: Brenda Edson, Director of College Relations