2020 55¢ Ruth Asawa
Value: 55¢ 1-ounce First-class rate (Forever)
Issue Date: August 13, 2020
First Day City: San Francisco, CA
Type of Stamp: Commemorative
Printed by: Banknote Corporation of America
Printing Method: Offset
Format: Pane of 20
Quantity Printed: 18,000,000
Despite facing adversity from a young age, Ruth Asawa (1926-2013) was an accomplished artist with several public works. She was also the driving force behind art education reforms in California.
Born to Japanese immigrants, Asawa's life was turned upside-down following the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor. her family was sent to internment camps and she didn't see her father for six years. While Asawa was permitted to leave the camp to attend college, she was unable to complete her student teaching because of anti-Japanese sentiment.
Asawa went on to attend Black Mountain College, where she closely worked with professional artists. It was here that she first began fashioning ornate sculptures out of wire. These sculptures came to be some of her most recognizable work. Inspired by nature, they played with notions of space. You could see the inside and outside at the same time, while the shadows they cast added another dimension. Asawa was also known for her public sculptures throughout San Francisco. She created many reliefs and fountains – so many that she was known as the "Fountain Lady."
Asawa's passion project was arts education. She started an arts workshop, which brought professional artists to schools. She also started SCRAP, which offers free or low-cost art supplies to schools. In 1982, she helped open a school of the arts, which was later renamed in her honor.
Asawa's work touched countless lives. In 2020, her art appeared on a set of US stamps, ensuring her creativity will inspire countless more.
Birth Of Ruth Asawa
Artist Ruth Aiko Asawa was born on January 24, 1926, in Norwalk, California.
As a child, Asawa worked long hours on her family’s farm while also attending school. Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, Asawa, like many Japanese-Americans, was sent to an internment camp. In spite of the harsh conditions, Asawa remained positive and creative.
While in the camp, Asawa took art classes from internees who were animators at Walt Disney Studios. She then received a special release to attend Milwaukee State Teacher’s College to become an art teacher. However, she was prevented from student teaching out of concerns over anti-Japanese sentiment.
Attending Black Mountain College from 1946 to 1949 was one of the most formative experiences of Asawa’s life. Black Mountain College was an experimental school where students and teachers worked the school’s grounds. Students and teachers worked together, both in class and out, creating a close-knit community. One aspect of the school that had a deep impact on Asawa was the encouragement to use everyday items in art. While she originally saw herself as a drawer and painter, she found great joy in creating sculptures out of objects like egg shells and leaves.
In 1947 Asawa went to Mexico and watched local artists crochet egg baskets. She was intrigued by their technique and the way they took flat materials and transformed them into three-dimensional objects. Upon returning home, Asawa adopted this weaving technique using wire, which was available in abundance on the farm where she lived. She was fascinated by the “possibilities of transforming cold metal into shapes that emulate living organic forms.”
While she began weaving baskets, Asawa soon started using the wire to recreate her own drawings as well as objects from nature. Asawa’s sculptures usually began with a center stem with anywhere from 200 to 1,000 wires. These wires then branched out into geometric forms. Both the inside and outside of Asawa’s sculptures were visible. The sculptures enclosed the space without concealing it. When hung from the ceiling, the shadows they cast became part of the artwork itself. This was often considered the hallmark of her work. Asawa saw her work as a way of drawing in space – which could only be done with a line, because, as she stated, “a line can go anywhere.”
In addition to her wire sculptures, Asawa became a popular figure in San Francisco for her public art projects. Her first commission was a fountain in 1968. She designed so many fountains over the years, she became known as the “Fountain Lady.” Perhaps her most famous is the San Francisco Fountain, built for the Grand Hyatt. In addition to fountains, Asawa was also commissioned to produce a number of reliefs and sculptures.
Asawa was also an active art education activist. She believed schools needed better art resources and dedicated many years to improving art education. She helped found the Alvarado School Arts Workshop, which brought parents and professional artists to schools to help improve art education. Asawa also founded SCRAP, a non-profit organization that offers free or low-cost art supplies to schools. It’s still in operation today.
Asawa also worked on the San Francisco Arts Education Project, the Commission on Mental Health’s Role of the Arts committee, and the California Arts Council. She fulfilled a long-time dream in 1982 when she opened the San Francisco School of the Arts. It is still open today, renamed the Ruth Asawa San Francisco School of the Arts. It is recognized as a “California Distinguished School,” one of the state’s most “exemplary and inspiring public schools.”
Asawa died in San Francisco on August 5, 2013.
Click here to view some of Asawa’s art.