Artist Ruth Asawa

Drawing with wire

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Above: A form within form sculpture created by Ruth Asawa in the 1960’s. Photo: Skinner Inc Auctions

Ruth Asawa sculpture metal mid century modern art crochet

Ruth Asawa surrounded by her sculptures, November, 1954. Photo: Nat Farbman

Ruth Asawa sculpture metal mid century modern art crochet

Ruth Asawa surrounded by her sculptures, November, 1954. Photo: Nat Farbman

Information and copy kindly provided by michaelrosenfeldart.com

Activist, sculptor, and educator Ruth Aiko Asawa was born in 1926 in Norwalk, California to Japanese immigrant parents who made a living as farmers. As a child, Asawa dreamed of being an artist while she helped out on the family farm. In 1942, she was separated from her father when he was arrested in February under emergency legislation that authorized the detention of Japanese Americans during the Second World War. Four months later, the rest of the family was taken to the internment camp at Santa Anita Race Track, where they were housed in former horse stalls for five months, before being moved to another internment camp, in Rohwer, Arkansas. Among the many people detained at Santa Anita were two cartoonists from Disney Studios who held daily art lessons for the children. Despite the trauma of internment, Asawa was able to draw for hours every day. When she was moved to Arkansas, she became the art editor of the camp’s high school yearbook.

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Ruth Asawa sculpture metal mid century modern art crochet

Ruth Asawa at Black Mountain College in the late 1940’s. Photo: ruthasawa.com

Ruth Asawa sculpture metal mid century modern art crochet

Ruth Asawa sketching out a form for a metal wire sculpture, 1952. Photo: ruthasawa.com

Ruth Asawa sculpture metal mid century modern art crochet

Ruth Asawa working on one of her signature sculptures. Photo: ruthasawa.com

In 1943, Asawa obtained permission to attend college. With funds from a Quaker scholarship, she enrolled at Milwaukee State Teachers College in Wisconsin with the intent of becoming an art teacher. However, she was unable to complete her degree because prejudice against Japanese Americans prevented her from getting the classroom teaching hours that were required. In 1946, Asawa transferred to Black Mountain College in North Carolina, where she studied with Buckminster Fuller and Josef Albers. While she was at Black Mountain, she took a trip to Mexico in 1947. While there, she attended a workshop on how to create baskets by crocheting wire and was inspired by this folk method of basket making.

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Ruth Asawa sculpture metal mid century modern art crochet

Ruth Asawa with a multiple-lobe metal sculpture from a photo session for Life Magazine, 1950’s. Photo: Life

Ruth Asawa sculpture metal mid century modern art crochet

Ruth Asawa with a multiple-lobe sculpture. Photo: Life Magazine

Ruth Asawa sculpture metal mid century modern art crochet

Ruth Asawa with some of her non-crocheted metal sculptures, 1950’s. ruthasawa.com

After graduating from Black Mountain in 1949, Asawa moved to San Francisco, where she settled permanently. She began experimenting with wire crocheting techniques, creating sculptures that, “turned inside into outside and . . . made no distinction between interior and exterior so that a free flow of form and space was produced.” These intricate works began to earn her recognition in the 1950s with her first solo exhibition taking place in 1956 at Peridot Gallery in New York City. Afterwards, her work was included in exhibitions at the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Museum of Modern Art in 1958 and 1959 respectively. In addition to her crocheted works, in 1962, Asawa made a series of large wall-mounted sculptures inspired by the internal structure of a desert plant. Initially, she had tried to sketch the plant but unsatisfied with the results, she decided to “draw” it in wire instead. The results were beautifully intricate multiple forms that, while made from metal, were delicate, organic shapes. With light and shadow play these metal wire sculptures seem to exist in two worlds, both corporeal and ethereal.

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Ruth Asawa sculpture metal mid century modern art crochet

Ruth Asawa working on one of her signature sculptures. Photo: ruthasawa.com

Ruth Asawa sculpture metal mid century modern art crochet

Ruth Asawa’s children, 1958.

Ruth Asawa sculpture metal mid century modern art crochet

Ruth Asawa crocheting one of her sculptures, 1950’s.

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Ruth Asawa sculpture metal mid century modern art crochet

Buckminster Fuller with a sculpture created by one of his students, Ruth Asawa. Photo: Buckminster Fuller Institute

Ruth Asawa sculpture metal mid century modern art crochet

Ruth Asawa sculptures in this 1953 Vogue Magazine photo.

Ruth Asawa sculpture metal mid century modern art crochet

Ruth Asawa in her studio, San Francisco, 1969

On August 5, 2013 Ruth Asawa passed away leaving behind a tremendous legacy befitting her immense talent and versatility as an artist. Asawa was instrumental in helping to found the San Francisco School of the Arts, the city’s first public high school dedicated to the arts. In 1996, Asawa won an arts education award from the National Education Association, and in 2010, the school she helped found was renamed the Ruth Asawa San Francisco School of the Arts in her honor.

Drawing with wire, the sculptures of Ruth Asawa. Click on image for full view

Ruth Asawa sculpture metal mid century modern art crochet

Artist Ruth Asawa (1926 – 2013)

 

Artist Ruth Asawa. Click on image for full view

 

A video tribute to artist Ruth Asawa by Dianne Fukami

 

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Sue Beth
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Sue Beth

Spectacular work. Great article! Ruth’s trees are especially beautiful.

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