Maya Ying Lin (born October 5, 1959) is an American designer and artist who is known for her work in sculpture and landscape art.
She is best known as the designer of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.
Maya Lin, a Chinese American, was born in Athens, Ohio. Her parents immigrated to the United States from China in 1949 and settled in Ohio in 1958, one year before Maya Lin was born. Her father, Henry Huan Lin, was a ceramist and former dean of the Ohio University College of Fine Arts. She is the niece of Lin Huiyin, who is said to be the first female architect in China. Lin Juemin, one of the 72 martyrs of the Second Guangzhou Uprising was a cousin of her grandfather.
Lin studied at Yale University, where she received a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1981 and a Master of Architecture degree in 1986. She has also been awarded honorary doctorate degrees from Yale University, Harvard University, Williams College, and Smith College. She was among the youngest at Yale University to receive an honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts in 1987.
Lin is the youngest of her generation, and has an older brother who is an English professor and poet. Growing up, she did not have many friends and stayed home a lot. She loved school and loved to study. When she was not studying, she took independent courses from Ohio University and spent her free time casting bronzes in the school foundry. Lin, having grown up as an Asian minority, has said that she “didn’t even realize” she was Chinese until later in life, and that it was not until her 30s that she had a desire to understand her cultural background. Commenting on her design of a new home for the Museum of Chinese in America near New York City’s Chinatown, Lin attached a personal significance to the project being a Chinese-related project because she wanted her two daughters to “know that part of their heritage.”.
In 1981, at age 21 and while still an undergraduate, Lin won a public design competition for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, beating 1,441 other competition submissions. The black cut-stone masonry wall, with the names of 57,661 fallen soldiers carved into its face, was completed in late October 1982 and dedicated on November 13, 1982. The wall is granite and V-shaped, with one side pointing to the Lincoln Memorial and the other to the Washington Monument.
Lin’s conception was to create an opening or a wound in the earth to symbolize the gravity of the loss of the soldiers. The design was initially controversial for what was an unconventional and non-traditional design for a war memorial. Opponents of the design also voiced objection because of Lin’s Asian heritage. However, the memorial has since become an important pilgrimage site for relatives and friends of the American military casualties in Vietnam, and personal tokens and mementos are left at the wall daily in their memory. In 2007, the American Institute of Architects ranked the memorial #10 on their list of America’s Favorite Architecture.
Lin believes that if the competition had not been “blind”, with designs submitted by name number instead of number, she “never would have won”. She received harassment after her ethnicity was revealed. Prominent businessman and later third party presidential candidate Ross Perot called her an “egg roll” after it was revealed that she was Asian. Lin defended her design in front of the United States Congress, and eventually a compromise was reached. A bronze statue of a group of soldiers and an American flag was placed off to one side of the monument as a result.