“Stimulation to last me for the rest of my life.” | A Story of Ruth Asawa 1946 – 1949

Four young people dance in the grass with arms and legs making expressive gestures, in front of a large building with columns and many windows.
Image courtesy North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources

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

It was 1945 when Ruth Asawa first heard through friends about a place called Black Mountain College. This experimental college in North Carolina was to, in Ruth’s words, offer “enough stimulation to last me for the rest of my life.” Over three years, Asawa developed skills in a range of subjects taught by influential figures including artist Josef Albers, the dancer Merce Cunningham and architect and inventor R. Buckminster Fuller. Black Mountain was founded in 1933 with an ideological teaching style inspired by American educational reformer, philosopher and psychologist John Dewey. “Black Mountain College was an experiment in learning and living during the depression,” Ruth Asawa once said. 

Fascinating insights from Ruth Asawa’s college report cards reveal key creative talents in drawing and what was described as ‘precision work.’ According to her teachers, she was sensitive, community-focused and had a tendency towards distraction. In the reports, Josef Albers describes Ruth Asawa as ‘the best of the class’ and ‘the most promising of all.’ In a 1971 interview, Asawa considered some of the things that drew her to the college, “Oh I liked the situation. I like being out in the country, I thought it was an appealing thing to me, and having been raised on a farm. But I liked the idea, the theory of the work and study… But primarily the main reason was because of Albers, his courses.” In the wake of early adversity, it was to be the creative community at Black Mountain College that inspired Ruth Asawa to pursue a career as a professional artist.

Continue the A Story of Ruth Asawa next week, where we’ll reveal Asawa’s determination to be a professional artist and teacher, alongside motherhood. 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 AsawaClick 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 1: Dancers on lawn in front of Lee Hall. Academic Records, Black Mountain College Records, Faculty Photographs, Box 1, folder 8.20. Courtesy Western Regional Archives, State Archives of North Carolina.

Image 2: Courtesy Western Regional Archives, State Archives of North Carolina.

With special thanks to Heather South, Lead Archivist, Western Regional Archives.