Tuesday, April 5, 2011

[For Sunday Scribblings and ABC Wednesday]
“L” is for “Lin” – Maya Lin.
The judges were guys, mostly old guys, who made the call.
The contest had 1,421 entrants, and the point was to determine who would design a Vietnam Veterans Memorial for the Mall in Washington, D C, back in 1981.
The judges were deliberately not told who the entrants were. All they knew was that Entry 1026 was the best, by far.

The Memorial design they chose avoided the usual conventional style of military statues. Instead, it was a kind of abstraction. It was to consist of two long walls, simple, graceful, of polished black granite, on which would be carved the names of all the more than 58,000 Americans dead and missing from that war.

I have to wonder if they would have chosen that design, Entry 1026, if they had known that the artist was a 21-year-old college student, a Chinese-American named Maya Lin, who had no degree, no backers, no experience.
As you might guess, once the idea for the Memorial was publicized, there was an outcry.
Many people had expected, had wanted, a conventional design, something more heroic, as it was thought military monuments should be. Politicians, befuddled as usual, soon had their say. Of those who were against, one of them was Ross Perot, a financial sponsor of the contest. Phyllis Schafly, of the Moral Majority, spoke out strongly. The secretary of the interior tried to withhold the necessary building permit.
The Memorial was referred to as “a black gash of shame” and “a black ditch.”
A compromise was reached when it was decided to build a different monument, “Three Fighting Men,” a “realistic” statue of three seven-foot bronze American Vietnam soldiers, by a different artist, which was placed in a different part of the Mall.

However today, Maya Lin’s Vietnam design is the most visited memorial in Washington. A structure of simple beauty and great emotional power, it is magnificent.

To many thousands of visitors, it conveys an almost unbearable sense of loss.



Earlier, when the judges had announced their selection, they said of this design: “All who come here can find it a place of healing.”

20 comments:

Carrie Burtt said...

Berowne this is a powerful and magnificent post. Knowing the story behind the art of the monumental walls of memory is both fascinating and important. Thank you for sharing this amazing part of history! :-)

Roger Owen Green said...

It's an amazingly affecting place to be. I've been there at least thrice.
ROG, ABC Wednesday team

helenmac said...

Maya Lin's Vietnam Memorial is simple as you walk up to it, but stunning as you move through it. There was no stopping the wave of sorrow that engulfs me as I passed person after person lost in war, whether named or not named on the wall.
Thank you Berowne for honoring Maya Lin today.

Leslie: said...

I would like to visit this memorial one day. Although Canadians were not involved, we all think of the Americans as our brothers and sisters and feel your grief as much as our own.

Leslie
abcw team

Jedediah said...

I have seen that monument in an X-Flies episode for the first time, of all places, and never in real life, but it's one of the most impressive war memorials I know nonetheless. I like the simplicity.

Berowne said...

Carrie B.: "Berowne, this is a powerful and magnificent post."
Thanks, Carrie, for your wonderful comment.

Berowne said...

"We all think of the Americans as our brothers and sisters..."
What a beautifully generous comment, Leslie -- thanks.

Lucy Westenra said...

Wonder what the real reasons for the opposition to the memorial were?
The warmongers in the White House didn't want America to be reminded how many young men it sent away to get killed for no good reason whatsoever?

chiccoreal said...

The picture with the montage of the Soldiers of Nam is wholly amazing! Healing takes place when we know life overcomes death and we are spirit beings having a huma experience.

Meryl said...

Berowne, you left me with chills running up and down my spine and arms. Your combination of prose and photos were really powerful and sobering. Thank you!

sharplittlepencil said...

Berowne, thank you for shining a spotlight on this wonderful artist. I have been to the "traveling memorial," a smaller version that goes around the country, and I found the name of my pen pal from 6th grade, Paul King, who was MIA until four years ago. This is a true monument: It's about the people, equally, not some vague statue or other pole. The fact that you can use pencil and paper to scratch your loved one's name is lovely, and it was about time someone had a different take on the purpose of memorials: To remember, to cry, to celebrate the lives of those lost.

Kathe W. said...

Berowne- this is a wonderful post- a tribute to a young talented and compassionate woman.

jaerose said...

Your words and pictures powerfully described the beauty of this place..fitting indeed..Jae

Lilibeth said...

Berowne, I've not visited D.C., or this memorial, but I remember when it was chosen, and the controversy that surrounded it at the time. It was like a gash in an old wound...but people need to cry...to remember those they lost. The holocaust museum isn't a "glorious" monument either, but it makes us more determined that we not let this happen again. Thanks for your well-written article about the Vietnam War Memorial and its creator--a young girl with a heart, I think.

Linda Jacobs said...

I'm sitting here with tears in my eyes! This was beautifully written!

Old Altonian said...

I have always thought that this monument was a classically simple; unpretentious and dignified memorial to those it honours. It was a relief to see a complete lack of 'gung-ho' jingoism in its design.

Berowne said...

Meryl: "Your combination of prose and photos were really powerful and sobering. \"
Thanks, Meryl; it's a powerful story.

Berowne said...

S L Pencil: "Berowne, thank you for shining a spotlight on this wonderful artist."
She is that, indeed. Thanks.

Berowne said...

And my thanx to Kathe W, jaerose, Lilibeth, Linda J and Old Altonian for some most welcome comments.

Rinkly Rimes said...

What a wonderful memorial! And a powerful expression of it.

 
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