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The most visited public American artwork of the 20th century is the National Vietnam Veterans Memorial, designed by Maya Lin.

In the Fall of 1980, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, established by Jan Scruggs and other veterans, announced a competition to create a monument to the US soldiers who fought in Vietnam, to be installed in Constitution Gardens in Washington, DC. The requirements were that the artwork be by an adult American citizen, be contemplative and harmonious with its site, make no political statement, and contain the names of all military personnel who had died.

Maya Lin From over 1,400 entries, by unanimous decision of the selection committee, first prize was won by Maya Lin of Athens, Ohio, then a 21-year-old Architecture major at Yale University.

Lin's monument was revolutionary in its simplicity. Rather than a predictable statue of soldiers, rising from an ornamented pedestal, she created two long, straight, stark panels of black granite in an open chevron, which sink into the earth as they move toward their meeting point. The effect upon a viewer, walking down along the channel in front of the wall, as the names of the more than 57,000 fallen rise alongside, is not to be described.

The Wall It may seem strange now that Lin was forced more than once to defend her design---and her personal background---at public hearings in Washington. But she persevered, thanks to the strength of her character and the power of her work: "The Wall" was built, and was dedicated on November 13, 1982.

Maya Lin went on to create other public artworks, installed from Montgomery, Alabama to New Haven, Connecticut. Today, she continues her career of innovation in sculpture and architecture, as an independent artist based in New York City.

[July 1997]

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