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Maya Lin is an architect, sculptor, educator, and artist from the United States. Lin and her art feature across the United States. She became famous at the young age of 21 when she was chosen as the Vietnam Veterans Memorial designer. U.S. President Barack Obama awarded Maya Lin the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her design.

Youth and Family

Maya Ying Lin was born on October 5, 1959, in Athens, Ohio.[1] Julia Chang Lin, her mother, was born in Shanghai, China, emigrating to the U.S. in 1949 during the bombing of Shanghai Harbor when she won a scholarship to Smith College.[2][3]

Maya Ying Lin’s intelligent and creative parents paved the foundation for her extensive artistic career.

Julia Lin taught literature at Ohio University and wrote poetry. Henry Huan Lin, her father lived in Beijing and Fujian and worked as an academic administrator, but decided to study ceramics and pottery when he fled to the U.S. before the Communist regime took hold of China.[4][5] He also taught at Ohio University, where he met and married Julia Chang before becoming Dean of Fine Arts.

Lin felt drawn to nature as a child, loved science, and read many different books. She dreamed of being an animal behaviorist or a veterinarian while she fed the birds and raccoons in her yard. Her parents would only allow her to have a pet parakeet, so she befriended wild animals.[6]


In high school, Maya Lin excelled academically, took university level courses, and learned to cast bronze. She graduated in 1977 as the co-valedictorian and enrolled at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. Lin first majored in zoology, but switched to architecture.

During a study abroad trip to Denmark with other Yale students, some of the locals assumed she came from Greenland and treated her with the same racism they did other Greenlanders. This experience affected her greatly and she began to feature social and racial justice more in her work.[7]

Vietnam Memorial Artist

In 1981, Maya Lin entered into a competition to be the designer of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. Her design was chosen out of the almost 1,500 entries. Controversy struck immediately as soon as the judges revealed their decision. Critics attacked Lin for being Asian, a woman, and so young.[8] They also found her design to be offensive as it significantly differed from conventional memorials and military monuments that feature heroic statues of soldiers and U.S. flags.

Being an artist, Lin created an understated Vietnam memorial cut out of the earth and filled with long horizontal granite walls growing out of the earth perpendicularly. They two black stone walls join at the highest point with one end pointing towards the Lincoln Memorial and the other toward the Washington Monument. The walls listed the names of the almost 60,000 people killed in the Vietnam War.

Lin intended the violent act of digging into the ground and the subsequent natural healing process to imitate the violence of the war and the healing to occur in the memorial. The wound healed, but the scar in the earth remained to remind of the similar psychological impact of the war. Some veterans thought the memorial being underground disrespectful and that the black granite symbolized destruction and death. She claimed, “The Memorial is composed not as an unchanging monument, but as a moving composition to be understood as we move into and out of it.”

On Veteran’s Day in 1982, the dedication of the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial took place with an American flag and statue added against Lin’s suggestion.[9] Lin began graduate school at Harvard University prior to the installation and she was forced to testify against the addition and for her design in general so many times that she withdrew from the college after one semester. Lin enrolled in Yale again to receive a Masters degree in 1986.[10]

Later Career

Maya Ying Lin created art and designed structures nationwide upon graduation from Yale. She designed the Children’s Defense Fund’s Langton Hughes Library in Clinton, Tennessee, Yale’s “Women’s Table”, and the Peace Chapel at Juniata College in Pennsylvania. One of her more impressive pieces sits in Montgomery, Alabama where the Civil Right Memorial she created showcases work on black stone shimmering under a thin stream of running water.

Another well-known design at the University of Michigan’s College of Engineering is called “The Wave Field.” Six-foot tall waves emerge from the earth made of soil and then sown with grass to make a completely natural sculpture. Lin’s architectural skills also helped build the Manhattan Federal Courthouse, New York University’s Asian Pacific American Studies Institute, and several buildings for the Rockefeller Foundation.

Much of Maya Lin’s art and architectural works seek to blend with the land rather than overpowering the natural landscape.

The film Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision highlighted the artist’s life and work, including the Vietnam and other memorials. It won an Academy Award for documentary filmmaking in 1995. [11] Lin continued to work and lecture while raising her girls. By the end of the 90s, her work involved two of her favorite things, nature and science. She formed a new style using satellite and aerial mapping and advanced sonar resonance scans.

Lin continues to create art by combining her understated, Taoist style and her love of natural landscapes. She debuted an environmentally focused memorial that exists to document the loss of biodiversity and habitat on Earth due to climate change.[12] Boundaries, Lin’s first book, was published in 2001. She also started on the Confluence Project installing seven outdoor sculptures at historic points of interest on the 300 mile stretch between the Snake and Columbia Rivers in Washington State. [13] President Barack Obama honored Maya Lin with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in November 2016.[14]

Personal Life

Maya Ying Lin met her husband, David Wolf, in 1996 in Colorado. On a backpacking trip, Lin needed to take cover from a lightning storm in an abandoned horse trailer and Wolf happened to hide in the same trailer. Wolf, a film producer and art collector, shared Lin’s love of art, nature and rocks. They produced a daughter, India, a year later. Lin concentrated on building their family home and, in 1999, the couple produced a second daughter, Rachel. [15]



The Art Story Foundation. (2016). Maya Lin Biography, Art, and Analysis of Works. The Art Story Foundation,[3]

Lin, M. (2003, March). Becoming American: The Chinese Experience. PBS.[4]

O’Connell, K. (2016, November 28). Maya Lin. American Academy of Achievement.[5]


  1. O’Connell, 2016
  2. The Art Story Foundation, 2016
  3. Lin, 2003
  4. The Art Story Foundation, 2016
  5. Lin, 2003
  6. Lin, 2003
  7. The Art Story Foundation, 2016
  8. The Art Story Foundation, 2016
  9. Hochman, M. (2006). Maya Lin, Vietnam Memorial. Green Museum.[1]
  10. The Art Story Foundation, 2016
  11. O’Connell, 2016
  12. The Art Story Foundation, 2016
  13. O’Connell, 2016
  14. Flamer, K. (2016, November 24). President Obama Honors Frank Gehry and Maya Lin With Presidential Medal of Freedom. Forbes.[2]
  15. The Art Story Foundation, 2016

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