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KUAR: Ruth Asawa Inspired in Incarceration Camp to Become Artist

Ruth Asawa Hyatt Fountain at Union Square
Ray Bouknight

Famed San Francisco artist Ruth Asawa was just 16 when she was sent to an incarceration camp for Japanese Americans during World War II.

It was at there at the Santa Anita racetrack amidst the stench of the manure left by the race horses is where she met some of the people who inspired her to pursue art as a career.

Asawa died earlier this week at the age of 87, having left a legacy of her work throughout the San Francisco Bay Area.

Her son Paul Lanier talked to NPR’s Melissa Block in an interview which aired on KUAR.

“One of the things she mentioned is she met some Disney cartoonists who are also Japanese internees,” said Lanier.  “And they taught her a lot about drawing. A lot of the internees made things out of wood and seashells and, of course, fabric and sewing. And she did a lot of drawing in camp.”

After the war, Asawa studied to be a teacher but was told no one would ever hire a Japanese American.

So she studied art and met Josef Albers, the father of modern color theory.

“She went to Mexico and saw that they were making these wire baskets to carry eggs. So she learned how to loop the wire. It’s almost like crocheting. And so, she went back to Black Mountain and made one of these things. And Albers said, keep making those,” said Lanier.

The rest is history. You can read what happened next on KUAR.





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