Ruth Asawa (American/Japanese, b. January 24, 1926) is a sculptor who lives and works in San Francisco, CA. She was born in Southern California to Japanese immigrants. In 1942, her family was sent to a Japanese internment camp for six months; while there, she spent time drawing and painting with other artists. Asawa traveled to Mexico City in 1945 to study Spanish and Mexican Art. While attending the Milwaukee State Teachers College in Wisconsin, she was told that she couldn’t complete her degree because of the prejudice that existed against the Japanese people at the time. As a result, Asawa continued her education at the Black Mountain College in North Carolina. While there, she studied under Josef Albers (American/German, 1888–1976), Merce Cunningham (American, 1919–2009), and Buckminster Fuller (American, 1895–1983).
In 1947, Asawa returned to Mexico and learned basket weaving techniques, which later influenced her to create crocheted wire sculptures. During the 1950s, Asawa began her art career making paintings and drawings that developed into linear works. Inevitably, her drawings shifted into sculpture. Asawa considers her wire sculptures to be three-dimensional drawings that change with the viewer’s perspective.
In 1966, the artist began to receive commissions for public art starting with Andrea, a fountain in Ghirardelli Square in San Francisco. She also designed the Japanese-American Internment Memorial Sculpture in San Jose in 1994. Asawa collaborated with landscape artists in 2002 to bring large boulders from former Japanese internment camps to San Francisco State University to create the Garden of Remembrance. Her belief in making art education available to children from all backgrounds lead her to co-found the Alvarado Arts Workshop (now called the San Francisco Arts Education Project) with Sally Woodbridge and other local parents in 1965. Asawa’s sculptures can be found in the collections of the M.H. de Young Memorial Museum in San Francisco, the Guggenheim Museum and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, and the Nora Eccles Harrison Museum of Art in Logan, Utah. Asawa is represented by the Rena Bransten Gallery in San Francisco, CA.