Art Quiz: The Answer is Maya Lin

As I mentioned in the earlier post, I am a child of the sixties, and the war in Vietnam affected my generation in painful ways. I have friends whose names are engraved upon this memorial wall.

I remember the war, I remember the design competition for this memorial, and I remember the controversy that surrounded it.

Here’s a bit of history on the memorial:

On April 27, 1979, four years after the Fall of  Saigon, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, Inc. (VVMF) was incorporated as a non-profit organization to establish a memorial to veterans of the Vietnam War. Eventually, $8.4 million was raised by private donations.

On July 1, 1980, a site covering two acres next to the Lincoln Memorial was chosen and authorized by Congress. Congress announced that the winner of a design competition would design the park.

By the end of the year, 2,573 registered for the design competition with a prize of $20,000.00 On March 30, 1981, 1,421 designs were submitted. All entries were examined by each juror; the entries were narrowed down to 232, then to 39. Finally, the jury selected entry number 1026 which had been designed by Maya Lin.

— From Wikipedia

And the controversy:

The selected design was very controversial, in particular, its unconventional design, its black color and its lack of ornamentation. Some public officials voiced their displeasure, calling the wall “a black gash of shame.” Two prominent early supporters of the project, H. Ross Perot and James Webb, withdrew their support once they saw the design. Said Webb, “I never in my wildest dreams imagined such a nihilistic slab of stone.” James Watt, secretary of the interior under President Ronald Reagan, initially refused to issue a building permit for the memorial due to the public outcry about the design.

Negative reactions to Maya Lin’s design created a controversy; a compromise was reached by commissioning Frederick Hart (who had placed third in the original design competition) to produce a bronze figurative sculpture in the heroir tradition. Opponents of Lin’s design had hoped to place this sculpture of three soldiers at the apex of the wall’s two sides. Lin objected strenuously to this, arguing that this would make the soldiers the focal point of the memorial, and her wall a mere backdrop. A compromise was reached, and the sculpture was placed off to one side to minimize the impact of the addition on Lin’s design.  — From Wikipedia

So, who is Maya Lin? She is an American designer and sculptor with a strong focus on environmental concerns. In designing the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial, she wanted “to create an opening or a wound in the earth to symbolize the pain caused by the war and its many casualties. I imagined taking a knife and cutting into the earth, opening it up, and with the passage of time, that initial violence and pain would heal,” she recalled.

Again, controversy surrounded her design for the memorial. Not only was the untraditional design problematic for many, there were also concerns over Lin’s Asian ethnicity, her young age, and her lack of professional experience.

You can read more about Maya Lin here.

I have never seen the memorial, but there is a “traveling wall” exhibit — the wall recreated on a smaller scale — that visits different communities as part of a national healing process. The exhibit was here in our town a few years ago. It was impressive. You can learn more about the traveling wall here.

The Vietnam Traveling Memorial Wall

I hope you enjoyed today’s “Art Quiz” question and the history behind it. Be watching for more “Art Quiz” questions coming up.



  1. I resisted visiting the wall for many years, simply because there was so much controversy over it. I finally did so sometime in the last decade (I can’t remember when exactly), and found that it’s actually a very moving monument.

    Being simple and devoid of so many triggers that made the Vietnam War so divisive was a brilliant design concept. It helps to put the focus on the lives lost and everything else at arm’s length.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, it definitely does focus on the soldiers who died in Vietnam, and that’s what a memorial should do. Maybe I’m way off base here, but to me, it sometimes seems that statues and memorials try to “glorify” war, making it seem noble and honorable. I agree (I think) that sometimes it’s necessary to fight for what we believe in as a nation, yet as I grow older, I see fewer reasons to take up arms. I could discuss this at length but will try to keep this short. FWIW, military history is a sort of “hobby” of mine, and I’ve been involved in table-top war-gaming as a way of really learning history. I think we too often go to war now for all the wrong reasons.

      Seeing the traveling exhibit a few years ago really was emotional. My husband was too young to have fought in the war, but I had many friends who lost their life or their limbs. It was a painful “coming of age” for our generation and for our nation. LBJ was… well, no, let’s not go there right now.

      I like the simplicity of Maya Lin’s design. I like her reasoning behind her design, and I think it serves as a fitting tribute to the men and women who died.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I totally agree with each of your points.

        When I was younger I used to play table-top war games by Avalon Hill and others; my fave was “Wooden Ships and Iron Men”, with “Midway” coming up as a close second.

        Re: glorifying war – I totally get it and agree. I’m in the same boat.

        Cindy’s oldest brother served in Vietnam, and is still negatively affected by his experiences there.

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      2. For years I subscribed to Strategy and Tactics, a war-gaming magazine that included a complete war game in each issue. War-gaming really brings history home and makes it real. It’s one thing to read about how smallpox decimated the forces during the French and Indian War, and it’s another thing to have had a battle plan drawn up only to discover that you’ve lost 10% of your fighting strength. The realities of those things we learn about in history books becomes clear. War, of course, has changed over the years. I don’t recall the name of the book, but I read a good one years ago that discussed how war has changed over the course of history. I know my attitudes toward war have certainly changed, as well. By the way, have you ever been to West Point? Even though I’m not big on Civil War history, I’ve read a lot about Grant, both as a military leader and as President. You probably know this already, but he was also an artist. My understanding is that some of his paintings are still on display at West Point.

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      3. Ha – I had forgotten that I had subscribed to Strategy and Tactics for a time as well.

        Learning history hands-on with war gaming really does bring it home. My first eye-opener like that was playing against my dad with “Midway”. He played the Japanese and I played the Americans. He knew the history behind that battle very well and I was just being exposed to it, so I expected to be totally destroyed – especially since he was eagerly licking his chops in anticipation of an easy victory. Only our mock table-top battle didn’t go that way, and I cleaned his clock. That was the last time he ever war gamed with me.

        Nope, never been to West Point. The Naval Academy in Annapolis is more my speed; John Paul Jones was a hero of mine at an early age. I used to build wooden model ships from scratch and seriously considered either joining the Navy or the Coast Guard for a time. In the end, I’m glad that I didn’t – I don’t take orders very well.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. LOL… way to show your dad a thing or two. I’ve had some good experiences with war-gaming, and I’ve fought a lot of frustrating battles. I learned a lot through it all. Sometimes I still go to the S & T website, and I think about re-subscribing, but I don’t really have time enough to devote to it.

        Liked by 1 person

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