“Glimpses of my childhood” | A Story of Ruth Asawa 1926 – 1940

Faded portrait of a young girl with short bobbed dark hair wearing a decorative dress with a white collar and a ribbon.
Ruth Asawa, age 13, 1939. © 2021 Ruth Asawa Lanier, Inc. / ARS, NY and DACS, London.

This is A Story of Ruth Asawa, a weekly series that journeys through the life of the visionary artist, Ruth Asawa.

Ruth Asawa once described how “glimpses” of childhood had directly inspired her art.

One of seven children, Ruth Aiko Asawa was born in 1926 in Norwalk, California to Japanese parents. Her mother and father, Haru and Umakichi Asawa, were Japanese immigrants who worked hard through the economic turmoil of The Great Depression to scrape a living through farming. A hardworking child, Ruth Asawa also valued having space to daydream. Helping her parents on the farm, she recalled riding on the back of a horse-drawn leveller and making looping patterns with her feet as they dragged on the ground. “We made endless hourglass figures that I now see as the forms within forms in my crocheted wire sculptures,” she revealed.

Life in the US was hard for the Asawas, particularly the extreme racial prejudice they faced. The California Alien Land Law of 1913 meant that, along with all Indian, Chinese, Japanese and Korean immigrants living in California, the Asawas were unable to become American citizens or own their own land. Asawa and her siblings worked on the rented farm each day after school, except on Saturdays when they attended Japanese school to learn language along with pursuits like calligraphy and origami. The young artist particularly excelled at drawing and her creative talents were quickly recognised by her school teachers. As Ruth Asawa was born in the US, she was granted American citizenship along with her sisters and brothers.

Continue A Story of Ruth Asawa in our post next week, including the moment Asawa’s family are forced to leave their home. Follow the story here on MAO Studio and also on the Modern Art Oxford Instagram feed between 23 June – 21 August 2022.

New to A Story of Ruth Asawa? Click here to start from the beginning.

Do you have a question for our Ruth Asawa: Citizen of the Universe exhibition curator? Write your comment below.

Image credit: Ruth Asawa, age 13, 1939. © 2021 Ruth Asawa Lanier, Inc. / ARS, NY and DACS, London.