Maya in her studio. Photograph by Jesse Frohman, courtesy of Maya Lin Studio.

Did you know that October is National Arts and Humanities Month? This special month was started to encourage everyone in the United States to explore and participate in the arts and humanities. Today, we want to celebrate one inspiring person who has spent a lifetime doing just that: Chinese American artist, designer, and architect Maya Lin. Even better- her birthday is today, October 5th! How appropriate! Read on to learn more about Maya, and don’t forget to download our free MOCA Heroes digital magazine about her, too!

It’s no surprise that Maya became an artist. Her father was a ceramic artist, who made artworks from clay, and her mother was a poet. Maya and her brother, Tan, grew up reading, creating, and exploring the natural world around their hometown of Athens, Ohio. After Maya finished high school, she went to college at Yale University, where she studied both architecture and sculpture. During her senior year, she learned about a contest to design a memorial in Washington, D.C. Maya created a design, submitted it… and won! The Vietnam Veterans Memorial she created is visited by millions of people every year.

Maya Lin’s v-shaped design as viewed from above. Photograph by Victoria Rock.

Maya calls her design for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial an “earthwork.” What’s an earthwork? It’s an artwork created by shaping land, or by using natural materials. The Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial sinks into the side of a small hill, fitting in perfectly with the natural environment nearby.  Maya’s hometown in Ohio is pretty close to an earthwork that’s at least a thousand years old: Serpent Mound! Maya has designed several earthworks called Wave Fields. She uses the land itself to create sculptures of wave patterns in different sizes. Maya also likes to create artworks which use water, like her design for the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, Alabama.

Maya doesn’t only create memorials and sculptures. She also designs buildings, like the Novartis science research center and Smith College’s Neilson Library. We can’t forget the Museum of Chinese in America, either! Maya likes to include elements from the natural world in her building designs, like wood, stone, and big windows that allow light to come in. She always thinks about how real people will use the building, and how she wants them to feel inside.

You can probably guess that Maya really cares about nature. One of her biggest projects is called What Is Missing?. Maya says that What Is Missing? is her last memorial, which she wants to use to help people learn about the animals, plants, and places that are disappearing because of global climate change. If you’re in New York City, you can see one part of this project: Ghost Forest, in Madison Square Park. To make Ghost Forest, Maya used the trunks of 49 Atlantic White Cedar trees that died because of climate change. She wants visitors to be able to see and understand just how much destruction climate change is causing around the world. Ghost Forest will be in Madison Square Park until Sunday, November 14th, so definitely go see it if you have a chance.

Ghost Forest in Madison Square Park. Photo by Andy Romer, courtesy of the Madison Square Park Conservancy.

Want to learn more about Maya and her art and architecture? Check out our free MOCA Heroes digital magazine featuring her! We also have a MOCACREATE at Home video that you can watch to help you make an “earthwork” out of things you might find in your own house, or even at the beach or the park. Watch it here.

We’d love to have you join us at the museum, either in person or online! MOCA is offering free admission to all until March 27th, 2022. You can find our hours, learn about our exhibits, and see upcoming events by clicking here.


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