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Road Trip: Maya Lin at Smith College


The Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial by Maya Lin (1982) in Washington, DC

Bryan Louisell and Peter Webster from Austin Design travelled to Smith College in Northampton, MA last Tuesday evening to hear Maya Lin deliver the 11th Annual Miller Lecture in Art and Art History. It was a bit of a homecoming for Lin on several counts: the noted American architect and artist was awarded an honorary doctorate in fine arts by Smith in 1993 and her mother, Julia Chang Lin, graduated from Smith herself in 1951. This year’s lecture coincides with an ongoing major photography exhibit at the Smith College Museum of Art by another landscape architect, the writer and scholar Anne Whiston Spirn; the SCMA show is entitled The Eye is a Door: Landscape Photographs by Anne Whiston Spirn.

maya lin library portrait

Architect, landscape artist, sculptor, and author Maya Lin. A nice bio resource can be found at Artsy.

It was agreed afterward that Maya Lin’s presentation was highly inspirational; the event was very well-attended by appreciative residents and students.  Held in the college’s Weinstein Auditorium, overflow space was provided where those unable to find a seat in the main venue could participate through a simulcast of her speech. Our stout contingent, undeterred, persisted in finding a seat in the main hall and their determination paid off: they scored a pair of seats right up front, where they could absorb the guest of honor’s articulate and compelling delivery firsthand.


Lin’s website describes her approach well: she “has maintained a careful balance between art and architecture throughout her career, creating a remarkable body of work that includes large-scale site-specific installations, intimate studio artworks, architectural works and memorials.” When still a senior at Yale, she catapulted into the public eye when she submitted the winning proposal in a national competition to design a Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial for Washington, DC. This set the stage for her life work in the art of merging the natural and the built, the individual experience in the context of landscape, and a merging of rational order with transcending notions of beauty.

maya lin storm king wave field

Storm King Wave Field by Maya Lin (2009) in Mountainville, NY

In addition to the groundbreaking and (initially) highly controversial Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial, some of Maya Lin’s other large-scale installations include the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, Alabama; the Confluence Project along 300 miles of the Columbia and Snake Rivers in the state of washington; and the Storm King Wave Field, seven rolling green swells covering 11 acres of what was once a gravel pit above the New York State Thruway, alongside the Hudson River. As a remembrance of Lin’s memorable words last Tuesday night at Smith College, Bryan is using this scene as his desktop wallpaper, a fitting inspiration by which to work and live. It is the calling of the artist to show us a different way to see and be, in this world which we share but can only experience through our own awareness.

maya lin confluence projectMaya Lin in the field at the Confluence Project (begun 1999, ongoing)

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