Thursday, August 08, 2013

Thoughtful Thursday-Ruth Asawa

Ruth Asawa passed away on Monday at age 87. She was a Japanese-American artist who spent her working and creative life in San Francisco. I know of her through images of her work, biographical information, and most significantly, the documentary DVD by Robert Snyder, Ruth Asawa: Of Form and Growth. She was an artist, community activist, arts educator, and mother of six children and did it all with grace and determination.

She was born in 1926 in the farming community of Norwalk, California. She spent the war years in an internment camp where she studied with professional artists who were also interned. Ruth trained to be an art teacher, but when she was unable to get a place to do her practice teaching because of her Japanese ancestry, she attended the experimental Black Mountain College for three years where she studied with Buckminster Fuller, Merce Cunningham, and Josef Albers. She left Black Mountain with the determination to be an artist and to marry Albert Lanier against the wishes of both sets of parents. They moved to San Francisco where they raised their six children.

Ruth created crocheted and tied sculptures from wire as well as folded paper structures.

She competed for and received commissions for large public pieces. Made of fabricated metal, they enabled Ruth to collaborate with other artists and community members. Her 1973 Hyatt on Union Square Fountain was cast in bronze from a model made from baker's clay or dough with about 250 friends and school children contributing self-portraits, cars, buildings, and various San Francisco landmarks. It was recently in the news when Apple wanted to move it for the relocation of their San Francisco Store. After community protests, the fountain will stay where it is.

Photo by Arthur Frisch, The Chronicle, Ruth Asawa and her friend Imogen Cunningham at the fountain

"An artist is not special," Asawa told an interviewer in 2006. "An artist is an ordinary person who can take ordinary things and make them special. An artist looks at a juice bottle, an egg carton or a newspaper and sees something valuable in them."
L.A. Times Obituary by Suzanne Muchnic

Ruth combined her work and her family life with community activism for the arts. She cofounded the Alvarado Arts Workshop at her children's elementary school which grew into a citywide program, was instrumental in organizing the Music, Art, Dance, Drama, and Science (MADDS) Festival, and was the driving force for a public high school for the arts which was built in the early 1980s and named the Ruth Asawa SF School of the Arts in 2010.

Here are some places to learn more about Ruth Asawa and see her work:

Ruth Asawa's Website

San Francisco Chronicle Obituary

A fabulous collection of photos of Ruth and her work at MONDO

Video Clip of Ruth Asawa: Of Form and Growth

Oral History of Ruth Asawa and Albert Lanier from the Archives of American Art

To close, a quote from Ruth Asawa: Of Form and Growth:

When you put a seed in the ground, the ground doesn't say, well, 8 hours and I'm going to stop growing. You put it in the soil. That bulb grows every second that it's attached to the earth. That's why I think that every minute that we're on this earth, we should be doing something.



Susan, many thanks for this fine appreciation of an inspiring woman.

Mo Crow said...

ah that woven star is a favourite piece thank you for sharing

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