I was so pleased to find a book introducing young readers to the architect Maya Lin.
Maya was born in 1959 in Athens, Ohio. Her parents were both artists who encouraged Maya to be whatever she wanted. When Maya was a little girl, she liked to build tiny towns out of paper and scraps. She decided to be an architect, and studied overseas, looking at all the different buildings and learning all she could.
In 1981, her last year of college, she entered a contest to design a memorial honoring the American soldiers who died in the Vietnam War. She imagined a polished edge covered with names, reflecting the sky, the grass, and the the people who came to see the memorial. The names of the nearly 58,000 American servicemen who died would be listed in chronological order of their loss, etched in a V-shaped wall of polished black granite sunken into the ground.
As she later recalled, while studying at Yale, whenever Maya walked through the university’s Memorial Rotunda, she was so impressed by the engraving of the names of those alumni who died in service of their country: “I think it left a lasting impression on me,” Lin wrote, “the sense of the power of a name.”
As the author tells us, Maya sculpted a model first out of mashed potatoes, then with clay. She sent in sketches for her entry along with an essay explaining her vision. Out of 1,421 entries, Maya’s design was chosen. (Somewhat humorously, since her design only earned her a B in her architecture seminar at Yale, she had no expectations of winning the contest.)
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial was the first of her many works. The author writes:
“Each piece is different, but all share Maya’s vision. She wants people to be a part of her art. Look. Touch. Read. Walk around. Sit by. Think about.”
An Author’s Note at the back of the book adds that Maya has received many awards, and in 2005, she was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame. The author also provides some website addresses for more information. At Maya Lin’s own website for example (which has incredible design features), you will learn that Maya considers herself not only an artist and designer, but an environmentalist as well: “Her works merge the physical and psychological environment, presenting a new way of seeing the world around us.”
Lovely artwork by Dow Phumiruk features a muted palette and crisp illustrations done by using Photoshop. As a bonus, in the margins around the page containing the Author’s Note, the illustrator has depicted labeled tools of an architect.
Evaluation: I have always been impressed with the Vietnam War Memorial. It seems to me to be the quintessential expression of postmodernism, which posits that knowledge and truth are products of social, historical or political discourses or interpretations. When you look at the monument, you see yourself reflected, along with the names of those who died. It suggests to me we all are responsible for the war, and we are all its victims.
Published by Christy Ottaviano Books, an imprint of Henry Holt and Co., 2017