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story.lead_photo.caption Artist Maya Lin, who designed the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, stands before her sculpture of the White River, which she became fascinated with after seeing it from the air, calling it “the wildest shape I had ever seen.”

BENTONVILLE -- Maya Lin's self-described obsession with the White River began a little more than a year ago.

Photo by Special to the Democrat-Gazette
Silver Upper White River, part of the permanent collection at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, is displayed on a wall picked by the artist.

Lin, the artist and architect perhaps best-known for design of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, was flying into Northwest Arkansas for a lecture at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art when she caught her first glimpse of the river. Lin, who for decades has incorporated water and nature into her artwork, had never seen anything quite like the White River.

"When I flew in the first time to Crystal Bridges, I couldn't figure out what was going on in the water," said Lin, who was in town last week for another lecture at the museum. "The way it was reflecting, and it was the wildest shape I had ever seen. 'What is that water system?'"

Lin's fascination with the river, which runs more than 772 miles in Arkansas and Missouri, led her to create a sculpture specifically for the Crystal Bridges museum. The piece is made of recycled silver and measures 131 inches by 20 feet by three-eighths of an inch. It is now part of the museum's permanent collection and is displayed on a wall handpicked by Lin.

Silver Upper White River is one of six commissioned works on display at the museum. Other works specifically made for Crystal Bridges include James Turrell's The Way of Color (2009), A Place Where They Cried from Pat Musick and Jerry Carr (2010), George Dombek's Tour de Apple Tree (2010), Roxy Paine's Yield (2011) and Grains of Sand (2011) from Robert Tannen.

Art, architecture and memorials created by Lin can be viewed throughout the world. Her best-known work is the Vietnam Memorial, and during her recent lecture at Crystal Bridges, Lin noted recently completed or ongoing projects in China, Colorado, New York, Massachusetts, Tennessee and Washington state.

With 60 percent of the Crystal Bridges museum's visitors considered local or regional, having a piece inspired by something as familiar as the White River is unique.

"It's something that will have great relevance for our visitors," said Margi Conrads, director of curatorial affairs at the museum.

Silver Upper White River is also seen as a great fit by the museum staff because Lin's work often occupies the space between studio art and the outdoors. Lin noted during her lecture her last monument is a series of works devoted to preserving nature and the environment.

Curator Chad Alligood said it can often take several conversations with artists to understand how their work fits with the museum's desire to link art and natural surroundings. Lin, by the nature of her work, immediately connected with Crystal Bridges, Alligood said.

Shortly after getting her first glimpse of the river, Lin was talking to Crystal Bridges officials about creating a piece specifically for them.

"It's a rare and special thing to be able to commission an artwork from a living artist the caliber of Maya Lin," Alligood said. "We're happy to celebrate it. Sometimes it takes a long, long time to get someone to understand what Crystal Bridges is about. Maya Lin's practice is all about the environment and shared responsibility to the natural world. To her, this place was immediately intelligible. It's a special thing when you have that kind of connection with an artist."

Silver Upper White River is part of a series of river sculptures created by Lin. Others include the Yangtze River in China; the Missouri River, commissioned by the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Mo.; and the Colorado River, on view in the Aria resort in Las Vegas.

Lin began Silver Upper White River in much the same way she created those other pieces. She started by sketching ideas after viewing topographical maps of the river. She joked with the audience she's a cartographer as much as she is an artist.

The process took about 10 months. Lin began working on the design in December 2014.

Those early sketches then became molds, ultimately sent to a fabricator who could fashion silver into a finished product. Silver is Lin's preferred material for these types of sculptures because it reminds her of the reflection of water and is a throwback to when fish were so plentiful in rivers the bodies of water were described as "running silver."

Silver, Lin said, also "makes the bodies of water seem as whole and precious as possible."

NW News on 10/26/2015

Print Headline: Artist inspired by White River

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