2018 Ken Burns American Heritage Prize Recipient: Maya Lin

Photographed by JESSE FROHMAN

Photographed by JESSE FROHMAN

Maya Lin is an artist, designer, and environmentalist who interprets the natural world through science, history, politics, and culture. Lin created her first work, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, as a 21-year-old undergraduate at Yale University. The design redefined the concept of a monument and stands as one of the most powerful memorials of our time. The Memorial also reveals the elements of art that have defined Lin’s remarkable career in sculpture, earthwork, design, and architecture.

This highly acclaimed body of work demonstrates her capacity for art and architecture, as well as shows her steadfast commitment to explore critical aspects of the nation’s history and culture, including civil rights, women’s history, environmental issues, and Native American history. Her works merge the physical and psychological environment, presenting new ways to see the world around us and connect to and learn from history.

Lin has created seminal art and architectural works, such as the groundbreaking four-acre earthwork for the Storm King Art Center and the 11-acre A Fold in the Field for Gibbs Farm in New Zealand. Lin’s architectural works include a chapel and library for the Children’s Defense Fund and the master plan and primary building in Novartis’ Cambridge, Massachusetts complex, which The Boston Globe’s Robert Campbell described as "A work of Art" that is "ambitious in its scope and brilliantly designed." Currently, Lin is working on the new Neilson Library at Smith College, a major outdoor art installation at Princeton University, and What is Missing?, a multi-sited memorial dedicated to raising awareness about species loss and climate change.

Lin’s art explores how we experience and relate to nature, setting up a systematic ordering of the land that is tied to history, memory, time, and language. Her interest in landscape has led to works influenced by topographies and natural phenomena. Her work asks the viewer to reconsider nature and the environment at a time when it is crucial to do so. A committed environmentalist, she is working on her last memorial, "What is Missing?"; a cross-platform, global memorial to the planet, located in select scientific institutions, and online as a website (www.whatismissing.org) calling attention to the crisis surrounding biodiversity and habitat loss.

Lin’s artwork has been featured in numerous solo exhibitions at museums and galleries worldwide, with works in the permanent collections of the National Gallery of Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Museum of Modern Art, The Smithsonian Institution, The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, and the California Academy of Sciences, among others. She is represented by the Pace Gallery in New York. Her architectural works, largely on behalf of not-for-profit institutions, create a close dialogue between the landscape and built environment, and all are committed to sustainable design solutions.    

A member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Lin has been profiled in TIME, The New York Times Magazine and The New Yorker, among many other media outlets. The 1996 documentary about her, Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision, won the Academy Award for Best Documentary. In 2009, she was awarded the National Medal of Arts, the nation’s highest honor for artistic excellence. In 2016, President Barack Obama awarded Lin the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, praising her for a celebrated career in both art and architecture, and for creating a sacred place of healing in our nation’s capital.