What do Grand Rapids and Washington D.C. have in common? They are both home to outdoor sculptural works by world-renowned artist Maya Lin. 

Lin was relatively unknown at the age of 21 when her design was chosen for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C. Since then, she has continued to create critically-acclaimed works around the world, including Ecliptic in Rosa Parks Circle, right in downtown Grand Rapids. 

The Grand Rapids Art Museum (GRAM) is currently hosting a large sculpture exhibit now through September 8 of Lin’s works titled Maya Lin: Flow. Inspired by West Michigan’s landscape, there are also two new works created expressly for the exhibit. 

To help you learn more about this internationally known figure, here are five facts you might not know about this talented artist:

1. Lin's Midwestern Roots Inspired Her Work

Lin’s love of landscapes stretches back to her childhood where she enjoyed roaming in and around the woods and Native American burial mounds near her Ohio home. After spending a day outside, she would join her father and play with clay in his ceramic art studio, a precursor of what was to come.

For her work, <i>Ecliptic</i>, Lin deftly combined art and architecture.

For her work, Ecliptic, Lin deftly combined art and architecture.

Photo Credit: Experience Grand Rapids; Ecliptic (detail), by Maya Lin


2. Rosa Parks Circle is Home to Lin’s Ecliptic

Commissioned in 2000, Ecliptic was the first time Lin combined art with architecture to create the design for Rosa Parks Circle. She designed the park, a bandstand, ice rink, and even a building to house the Zamboni! 

Ecliptic was designed to represent water in its three different forms. The central ice skating rink is water in its solid form, the mist fountain represents water in its vapor form, and finally, the table-like fountain represents water in its liquid form.

Maya Lin in front of her work, Pin River -- Grand River Watershed (detail).

Maya Lin in front of her work, Pin River -- Grand River Watershed (detail).

Photo Credit: Maya Lin. Photograph by Jesse Frohman, courtesy of Grand Rapids Art Museum


3. Lin Designed Two Pieces Specifically for the GRAM Exhibit

Flow, a seven-sculpture exhibit also inspired by water, is on display at the Grand Rapids Art Museum through September 8. Lin created new works, Pin River – Grand River Watershed and The Traces Left Behind (From the Great Bear Lake to the Great Lakes), expressly for the show, inspired by the landscape in West Michigan.

Pin River – Grand River Watershed is a visualization that includes the Grand River and its tributaries from just south of Lansing all the way to Lake Michigan. The fifteen-foot outline is comprised of tens of thousands of silver pins inserted into the wall that create this beautiful image. 

The second new work titled The Traces Left Behind (From the Great Bear Lake to the Great Lakes) is a wall relief cast created from recycled silver.

Ron Platt, Chief Curator for the GRAM, says Lin is very savvy and insightful about materials. “In order to create bodies of water, she’s using other materials that have a liquid form such as wax and liquid that pours,” Platt says. “The sculptures have that quality of liquid. They pull you in and make you want to spend time observing them.” 

Platt added that Grand Rapids has always been forward-looking with public sculpture and art, and choosing Lin to be a part of the transformative redesign in the city’s center is no exception.

Pin River -- Grand River Watershed is one of the works Lin created for the exhibit at GRAM.
Pin River-Grand River Watershed by Maya Lin, 2019 (detail), courtesy of GRAM

Pin River -- Grand River Watershed is one of the works Lin created for the exhibit at GRAM.

Photo Credit: Installation view of Maya Lin: Flow. Courtesy Grand Rapids Art Museum.


4. Lin Is an Environmental Activist

Lin is very engaged in environmental issues. Her newest piece of art is titled What is Missing?. This will be an iconic memorial dedicated to the environment, and according to Lin, is her final piece of artwork. 

She speaks often of how one goal of her work is to get people to look at the landscape in different ways and how the landscape relates to the health and vitality of environments today. Lin also encourages all to vote with their wallets by supporting green businesses.

The heart of the Ecliptic becomes an ice skating rink in the wintertime.

The heart of the Ecliptic becomes an ice skating rink in the wintertime.

Photo Credit: Experience Grand Rapids; Ecliptic (detail), Maya Lin


5. Lin Is the First Woman to Design a Memorial on the National Mall

Lin submitted a design for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial as part of her undergraduate studies at Yale University. Her submission was chosen out of over 1,400 submissions, including her professor! While she is reported to have received a B+ from her professor on her winning design, she did receive an A overall in the class. 

Other notable works by Lin include the Civil Rights Memorial at the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Alabama, and the Women’s Table at Yale University.

The Maya Lin exhibit at the GRAM runs through September 8 and is not to be missed. Taking advantage of its central location and in preparation for the upcoming 20th anniversary of Ecliptic, the GRAM also produced an insightful documentary of the park. 

Adjacent to Flow, visitors can watch the short film on Ecliptic to take in the early models of the park from her studio and learn more about her inspirations, all while overlooking the park. The documentary leaves visitors with some great dinner party conversation facts and a deeper appreciation of Lin’s work and its impact on Grand Rapids. 

To see a preview of Maya Lin: Flow at GRAM, check out this video:

Looking for more to do after visiting the GRAM? Consider Culture Pass GR, a three-day pass that covers admission to several Grand Rapids attractions, like the GRAM, the Grand Rapids Public Museum, John Ball Zoo, and more. 

If you’ve visited the Maya Lin exhibit or plan to, let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

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