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Asawa, Ruth (Aiko)locked

(b Norwalk, CA, Jan 24, 1926; d San Francisco, CA, Aug 5, 2013).
  • Midori Yoshimoto

American sculptor, painter and draftsman. Asawa was born the fourth of seven children to Japanese immigrants and her childhood on a thriving truck farm formed her work ethic. During World War II, the Asawas were separated into different internment camps. At the Rohwer Relocation Center in Arkansas, Ruth was able to learn drawing from interned Japanese–American illustrators. In 1943 a scholarship allowed her to leave the camp to study at Milwaukee State Teachers College. However, when she realized that she could never find a teaching position in Wisconsin because of her Japanese ancestry, she headed to Black Mountain College in North Carolina in 1946. The Black Mountain College community, including illustrious teachers such as Albers family, §1 and R(ichard) Buckminster Fuller, nurtured Asawa’s artistic foundation and philosophy. There she started on looped-wire sculpture after discovering the basket crocheting technique in Mexico in 1947. Upon graduation, she married her classmate, the architect Albert Lanier (1927–2008), in San Francisco, where they raised six children.

Although Asawa’s wire sculpture with its organic repetitive patterns was not readily accepted by art establishments due to its unconventional hanging format and its close ties to crafts, her exhibition opportunities dramatically increased once her hanging sculptures adorned the cover of Arts & Architecture in 1952 and Vogue the following year. By 1955, the year after her first exhibition in New York, the Rockefellers and Philip Johnson, among others, were purchasing her sculptures. While continuing to create hanging looped-wire sculpture, Asawa started experimenting with tied-wire sculpture in the early 1960s. Resembling bonsai trees or snowflakes, they are made by tying all the intersections of multiple wires. From 1963, Asawa received numerous commissions to create large public sculptures in the San Francisco area and served as a public art advocate, promoting her belief of “art for everybody.” In 1968 she co-founded Alvarado School Arts Workshop and ran its volunteer-based community arts program until 1973. The de Young Museum holds a permanent collection of Asawa’s sculpture. Her major retrospective exhibition was held there in 2006 and traveled to the Japanese American National Museum, Los Angeles.


  • Ruth Asawa: A Retrospective View (exh. cat. by G. Noland; San Francisco, CA, Mus. Art, 1973)
  • The Sculpture of Ruth Asawa: Countours in the Air (exh. cat. by D. Cornell; San Francisco, CA, F. A. Museums, 2006)
  • Asawa: [artist's website] (accessed October 21, 2009)