The Story Behind the Work

Maya Lin draws the line at using wood that isn't environmentally friendly.
Maya Lin draws the line at using wood that isn't environmentally friendly. (By Lois Raimondo -- The Washington Post)
  Enlarge Photo     Buy Photo
Friday, March 20, 2009

The daughter of a ceramicist, Maya Lin says she grew up playing with the clay in her father's studio. There's a hands-on quality to all her work, from the smallest plaster reliefs (resembling the ripples of wet sand on a beach) to the room-size installations, which the 49-year-old is notorious for tweaking until the last minute.

There are two art materials, though, that she says she won't touch: wood from old-growth forests and wood products that use harmful chemicals.

Those two-by-fours? They come with the seal of approval of the Sustainable Forestry Initiative, whose standards promote environmentally sound tree harvesting. That particleboard? It's formaldehyde-free.

But wait. Why would a staunch environmentalist like Lin even use wood at all? Aesthetics aside, isn't it better to use, say, recycled plastic, and save a few trees? After all, 50,000 two-by-fours create a lot of sawdust.

Not so, Lin says. By helping to create and promote the market for sustainable lumber, she's putting her money, and her art, where her mouth is.

-- Michael O'Sullivan


© 2009 The Washington Post Company