Monday, January 12, 2015

People I Should Have Learned About When I Was a Kid: Maya Lin

The Artist of the Month at my kids' pre-school is Maya Lin.  I am embarrassed to say that until I read in their newsletter that they were studying her, I had no idea who Maya Lin was.  Having since read up a bunch on her, I find my ignorance appalling - I'm not sure if it's a function of the fact that many schools do not teach modern artists (unless you take specific art classes which I never did), or if this is simply another example of minority artists not receiving the recognition in the canon that they deserve.

For those who don't know (and my hope is that I am the one in the minority here), Maya Lin is a Chinese-American architect, sculptor, and landscape artist.  When she was only twenty-one years old, she won the public design contest for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.  I remember traveling to D.C. as a high-school student and being brought to tears by the sight and overwhelming significance of the monument.  It is, to me, such a powerful embodiment of those who lost their lives in service to our country.  I wish I had known more at the time about the person who designed it.

Following the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Lin designed the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, Alabama, and was on the selection jury of the World Trade Center Site Memorial Competition.  In 2009, she was awarded the National Medal of Arts by President Obama.  More of her work can be seen on her website.

Once I learned more about Ms. Lin, I went in search of resources to share with the kids.  I could not find any children's books solely about her, but did discover that a book I should have read a long time ago but haven't, President Obama's Of Thee I Sing, features a chapter about her (and 12 other inspiring Americans).  In addition to reading this book to the kids, we also did our standard coloring sheets while we discussed her work - and I tried to impress on my kids just how amazing it was that she achieved so much at such a young age, and in the face of significant prejudice against her because of her Asian heritage.

I also found this Maya Lin inspired art project online.  It is a little ambitious for us, given the ages of my kids, but it did inspire me to just have the kids break out the play-dough and start creating.

I'm definitely late to the party when it comes to learning about and appreciating the brilliance of this incredible woman, but truly better late than never.

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