This is A Story of Ruth Asawa, a weekly series that journeys through the life of the visionary artist, Ruth Asawa.
Ruth Asawa firmly believed in the power of children learning directly from professional artists.
Influenced by social unrest and mediocre art education in public schools in the 1960s, she became extremely active in her community through her educational reform work and public art projects. In a 1971 interview, Asawa described the process of creating a new fountain for San Francisco through a remarkably cheap and everyday material called baker’s clay, a mix of flour, salt and water. “The fountain is a map of San Francisco. The material that I’m working with is dough and the dough is then cast into bronze… And the scene that depicts the school, I decided to use the children. We made the school house and then the children made themselves, portrayed themselves. I think that one of the things that an artist can do is to involve the children in very real projects…”
Ruth Asawa joined other artists in her community advocating for social change and in 1968 she was appointed to the San Francisco Arts Commission and co-founded the Alvarado School Arts Workshop with fellow parent Sally Woodbridge. Ruth Asawa’s life changing legacy of educational reform in her San Francisco community includes the first public high school for the arts in the city, which she wanted to be located in the cultural heart of the city amongst opera, ballet and jazz centres and public libraries. Asawa’s teaching philosophy always drew heavily from her own personal experience and was inclusive to all ages and backgrounds: “Art will make people better,” she said, “more highly skilled in thinking and improving whatever business one goes into, or whatever occupation. It makes a person broader.” In 1982, 12 February was declared ‘Ruth Asawa Day’ in San Francisco, recognising her immense contribution to art and education throughout the city.
Continue the story in our final chapter next week. Follow posts 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: Asawa helping a child with a milk carton construction. Photograph by Laurence Cuneo. Laurence Cuneo, courtesy Department of Special Collections, Stanford University Libraries and Ruth Asawa Lanier, Inc.: 86, 144