[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.”
1 year ago