Colby’s Lunder Institute Appoints Artist Maya Lin to Yearlong Fellowship

Award-winning artist, designer, and environmentalist Maya Lin.
By Laura MeaderPhotograph by Jesse Frohman
August 26, 2020

In acknowledgment of her achievements as an artist who has re-envisioned monuments and whose practice actively contributes to a deeper understanding of human impacts on the environment, the Lunder Institute for American Art at Colby College has appointed renowned artist Maya Lin as a senior fellow for the 2020-21 academic year. Throughout the year, Lin will participate in online collaborations with students, faculty, and community members, including academic engagements with Colby courses.

In the spring of 2021, the Lunder Institute will host a public conversation between Lin and her student and faculty collaborators to engage the community on topics related to the intersection between art and the environment. In keeping with Lin’s firm commitment to reduce carbon emissions and in light of the College’s plans related to COVID-19, Lin’s participation will take place virtually. The appointment will culminate in Lin’s participation in the Colby Summer Institute for Environmental Humanities in August 2021. Jessamine Batario, Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow, will organize Lin’s academic engagements and related programs, continuing the Institute’s collaborative work with the Center for the Arts and Humanities and the Buck Lab for Climate and Environment on projects related to climate change.

“I’m looking forward to participating in courses at Colby both in the fall and spring semesters, and to sharing my processes and approaches in my art practice, as well as to creating a working dialogue with faculty and students about my ongoing environmental project, What is Missing?” said Lin.

“As an artist, so much of my work has focused on issues surrounding the environment and our relationship to nature, and I look forward to these presentations and discussions at Colby, whose Environmental Studies Program is one of the oldest in the country, and who also has such a strong commitment to the arts.”

“Maya Lin’s fellowship exemplifies the Lunder Institute’s commitment to innovation and the artistic process,” notes Interim Director Beth Finch. “We are excited by the ways that Lin will connect with and inspire our community, from Colby students and faculty to local K–12 educators and their students.”

Lin is an artist, designer, and environmentalist who has received both the National Medal of Arts (2009) and the Presidential Medal of Freedom (2016). She began her illustrious career at Yale University where, as an undergraduate student, she won a public competition to design the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. (1982). Since then, Lin has built a practice that balances her interests in art and architecture while remaining firmly committed to what she terms her Memory Works. Focusing on key historical moments in this country’s history, such works include the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, Ala. (1989), the Women’s Table for Yale University (1995), the Confluence Project along the Columbia River in the Pacific Northwest (2004–present), and What is Missing? (1999–present), a multi-sited and internet-based memorial to the planet. 

Lin has consistently focused on utilizing scientific methodology to create artworks that draw the viewer’s attention to nature in order to consider our relationship to it. From large-scale earthworks to intimate sculptural mappings of terrain, waterways, and mountains, Lin’s work reveals aspects of the natural world that are oftentimes overlooked. Much of Lin’s artistic practice has focused on water as a precious resource. Her wall installations utilize recycled silver, glass marbles, and stainless-steel pins to represent aerial perspectives of rivers around the world. Her marble series Disappearing Bodies of Water likewise provides a visual record of a diminishing resource over time. Questioning both materiality and form, Lin’s “last memorial,” What is Missing? is a virtual project and interactive website devoted to the global biodiversity crisis related to habitat loss. A memorial in a different form, the project documents shared stories and bears witness to the crisis as it unfolds, simultaneously raising awareness about our present while reserving hope for our future.

Lin’s artwork has been the subject of numerous solo and group exhibitions, both in the United States and abroad. Her works are 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, the Nevada Museum of Art, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, and the California Academy of Sciences. The documentary Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision won the Academy Award for Best Documentary in 1994.

The Colby College Museum of Art is proud to have several of Lin’s works in its permanent collection, including Pin River Kissimmee (2008) and Disappearing Bodies of Water: Arctic Ice (2013), both in the Lunder Collection. More recently, the Museum acquired Interrupted River: Penobscot (2019), a site-specific commission developed for Occupy Colby: Artists Need to Create on the Same Scale That Society Has the Capacity to Destroy. Lin’s Interrupted River served as a centerpiece for the exhibition, and the large-scale glass marble installation localized the global conversation to the Penobscot River in Maine. In addition to her art being well represented in the Colby Museum, Lin delivered the Miles and Katharine Culbertson Prentice Distinguished Lecture at Colby in April 2016. 

About the Lunder Institute for American Art and its Senior Fellowship Program

A collaborative partnership with the Colby Museum, the Lunder Institute for American Art exists at the crossroads of scholarship and creative production, seeking to challenge received ideas and expand interpretive communities in the fields of American art history and practice. Our programs, partnerships, and initiatives forge connections and opportunities for scholars and living artists that also benefit and enrich the Colby College community.

The Lunder Institute supports scholarly and creative research by scholars, curators, and artists whose work aligns with Lunder Institute and Colby Museum priorities and initiatives. Chosen by invitation, senior fellows’ appointments last from nine to 18 months. During their appointment, senior fellows contribute to the Colby community through academic engagement and one or more public programs related to their research.

Click here to read a story about Maya Lin’s appointment in the Portland Press Herald.