Mari Nakahara, curator of Architecture, Design, and Engineering in the Prints & Photographs Division, chooses favorite collection items related to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. This article appeared in slightly different form in the May-June issue of the Library of Congress Magazine.
Architect and Artist Together
In 1981, Paul S. Oles, one of the world’s premier architectural illustrators, created a drawing to reveal Chinese American artist and architect Maya Lin’s design for the memorial in a realistic style. Lin shyly asked Oles to include her in the drawing; Oles agreed on one condition: She would appear on his arm. In the image at the top of this post, you can see them walking together along the top of the monument at the left.
Portrait of Maya Lin
Lin poses in front of her wax piece “Phases of the Moon” in this photograph by Nancy Lee Katz at the Gagosian Gallery in Los Angeles in 1998.
Vietnam Memorial Original Design
The Vietnam War resulted in over 58,000 U.S. military fatalities and divided the nation. Veteran Jan Scruggs proposed a memorial to help bring people together. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund received over 1,400 proposals for the design competition, held in 1981. Maya Lin, a 21-year-old student at the Yale School of Architecture, created the winning drawings, one of which is seen below. Lin situated the wall so that one invisible axis connects the Vietnam Veterans Memorial to the Lincoln Memorial and one of the black granite walls vanishes into the ground in the direction of the Washington Monument.
A Living Memorial
Since its completion in 1982, the Vietnam Memorial has remained a popular site for visitors to Washington, D.C. Many leave personal mementos and letters commemorating lost family members or friends — the men and women whose names are inscribed on the walls. The National Park Service collects and archives these tributes.
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