Filed Under Art

What’s Hidden Under the Laurentide

Under the Laurentide (granite, water | 2014)

Renowned artist and architect Maya Lin is “constantly exploring and revealing aspects of the natural world [such as] places that are hidden beneath the surface of the water…”

Lin has always been fascinated by the movement of water. Best known for her underdog design for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C., much of her work is inspired by one’s connection and responsibility to landscapes and the environment. President Barack Obama awarded Lin the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2016, the nation’s highest civilian award, for “bringing awareness to the planet’s loss of habitat and biodiversity.”

Chiseled from Chelmsford granite stone carved at Riverside Stone Company in Seekonk, MA just beyond the Rhode Island border, the surface is a 3D contour rendering of the topography of the Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island’s largest water source. Small openings gently pump water across the stone terrain and through glass dams that are placed at the edges of the table, where water naturally leaves the Bay.

The piece is named after the Laurentide Ice Sheet that covered most of North America over 20,000 years ago which shaped the Narragansett Bay and landscape of the present-day Northeast. Today, widespread pollution and rising sea levels threaten the Bay and its surrounding coastline. Thus, Under the Laurentide is a striking reminder of the reality of climate change and the importance of the work being done at the Institute at Brown for Environment and Society.

As its title suggests, Under the Laurentide seeks to uncover hidden terrain that lay beneath an ice sheet for thousands of years and to provoke viewers to think about their connection to the land they inhabit. Lin reflected, “I hope they walk away from it with a curiosity and an awareness of the landscape that is quite literally underfoot.” At Brown, portraits -- of people, of water and land, of loss, of learning and pride -- are hidden all around us, waiting to be discovered. Carve beneath the surface of what you know -- juxtapose objects, read into labels, question history. You will be surprised and empowered by what you will discover.


One of Maya Lin's water tables entitled "Under the Laurentide" "Under the Laurentide" draws attention to the environmental significance of the Narragansett Bay. The stone slab depicts the topography of this important water source to Rhode Island. Source: Office of University Communications Creator: Mike Cohea | Brown University Date: May 21, 2015
Topography of Narragansett Bay Vulnerable water sources is a consistent theme in Maya Lin’s work. As Rhode Island’s main water source, the Narragansett Bay has shaped the biodiversity and landscape on which we stand. Climate change and increased pollutants threaten the Bay and its surrounding coastline. Source: News from Brown | April 22, 2015 Creator: Mike Cohea | Brown University Date: April 22, 2015
Installation next to BERT Maya Lin’s most recent work is an interactive website called “What is Missing,” which she calls her “last memorial.” The site raises awareness of the criticality of the global loss of biodiversity and extinct species. Rhode Island is home to more than one of Lin’s thoughtful memorials, as a memorial for Doris Duke in Queen Anne’s Square in Newport, RI honors the life of this local heiress and philanthropist. Source: News at Brown | April 22, 2015 Creator: Mike Cohea | Brown University Date: April 22, 2015
Artist Maya Lin at Installation of Under the Laurentide One year after the construction for the Building for Environmental Research and Teaching (BERT) was completed, the space was complemented by a work of art by Maya Lin, who is pictured in the center wearing white. Toshiko Mori, the architect for BERT, introduced Brown’s Public Art Committee to artist Lin due to her extensive experience creating art that centers the natural world. Several concepts were proposed, including a silver wall sculpture and wave field embedded into the nearby grass, before the design for this 11 feet by 7 feet water table was selected. Source: Office of University Communications Creator: Mike Cohea | Brown University Date: May 22, 2015


85 Waterman St., Providence RI 02912 | Near East entrance of the Institute at Brown for Environment and Society


Maya Omori, “What’s Hidden Under the Laurentide,” Rhode Tour, accessed June 1, 2023,