Redding School Self Portrait

 Posted by on June 8, 2015
Jun 082015

Boeddeker Park
295 Eddy Street
The Tenderloin

Ruth Asawa Redding School

Redding School Self Portrait by Ruth Asawa and Children of the School

Father Boeddeker

The Asawa piece is a tribute to Father Alfred Boeddeker.  Boeddeker was the Franciscan priest who founded St. Anthony’s Dining Room and he is the park’s namesake. The 4- by 16.5-foot bas relief wall mural is a portrait of Boeddeker surrounded by children.  Asawa was assisted by 100 schoolchildren from Redding Elementary School. The childrens’ images were initially created out of pastry dough, then coordinated into an overall design by Asawa. The piece was originally installed in 1985 and is made of glass fiber reinforced concrete.

Ruth Asawa Boeddeker Park

Ruth Asawa was a favorite of this author, and she has appeared many times in this site.  Asawa passed away  in 2013.

Father Boeddeker

Ruth Asawa at Ghirardelli Square

 Posted by on August 27, 2013
Aug 272013

Ghirardelli Square
Fisherman’s Wharf

Ruth Asawa fountain ghirardelli square

This fountain is titled Andrea’s Fountain and is by Ruth Asawa.  It sits in Ghirardelli Square.

There is a plaque next to the fountain that tells the story of the piece, it reads:

Then-owner William Roth selected Ruth Asawa, well known for her abstract, woven-wire sculptures, to design and create the centerpiece fountain for Ghirardelli Square.  Although it was unveiled amid some controversy in 1968, Asawa’s objective was to make a sculpture that could be enjoyed by everyone.  She spent one year thinking about the design and another year sculpting it from a live model and casting it in bronze.  Although landscape architect Lawrence Halprin attacked Asawa’s design of a nursing mermaid seated on sea turtles for not being a “serious” work, Asawa’s intentions were clear: “For the old it would bring back the fantasy of their childhood, and for the young it would give them something to remember when they grow old!  “I wanted to make something related to the sea…I thought of all the children, and maybe even some adults, who would stand by the seashore waiting for a turtle or a mermaid to appear.  As you look at the sculpture you include the Bay view which was saved for all of us, and you wonder what lies below that surface.”  The most photographed feature of Ghirardelli Square the fountain was named in honor of Andrea Jepson, the woman who served as the model for the mermaid.


I found the sign to be of interest as I had always heard of this conflict between my two heroes, and it was nice that they put a sign up to “clear the air”.  Lawrence Halprin was responsible for Levi Plaza and was a man I admired both as a visionary and a legend in his field.  Ruth Asawa, who has appeared many times in this website is also one of my favorite local artists.

Andrea's fountain ghirardelli square

As far as Ghirardelli Square: San Franciscan William M. Roth and his mother bought the land in 1962 to prevent the square from being replaced with an apartment building. The Roths hired landscape architect Lawrence Halprin and the firm Wurster, Bernardi & Emmons to convert the square and its historic brick structures to an integrated restaurant and retail complex. Ghirardelli Square was the first major adaptive re-use project in the United States.

Frogs in a fountain at ghirardelli square

Sadly, Ruth Asawa passed away earlier this month.  The link to a lovely tribute in the San Francisco Chronicle can be read here.

Turtle in a fountain at ghirardelli square

Tile and Bronze Column

 Posted by on April 10, 2013
Apr 102013

580 Bush Street
Financial District/Union Square/Chinatown

Asawa, Lanier, Thompson

This little hidden gem, done in 1992,  is a collaboation of Ruth Asawa, her son Paul Lanier and artist Nancy Thompson.

Ruth Asawa has been on this website many times before. I recently found this article by Milton Chen and Ruth Cox at Edutopia that gives a few new details about Asawa that I did not know.

“The daughter of truck farmers, Asawa was born in 1926 in Norwalk, in southern California, one of seven children. In 1942, her family was ordered to report to the temporary incarceration center for Japanese Americans at the Santa Anita Race Track. Her father had already been taken away by government agents and would be separated from the family for several years. Asawa lived with her siblings and mother in a horse stall for six months before relocating to an internment camp in Arkansas.

The one silver lining for the teenage Asawa was encountering Disney artists, also interned, who conducted art classes in the grandstands and taught her to draw. Her first artist teacher, Tom Okamoto, encouraged the students not to copy but to create original drawings from life.

Later, in Arkansas, she and other interned students dutifully recited the Pledge of Allegiance every day for their social studies teacher. After the final phrase, “with liberty and justice for all,” they always added in a loud voice, “Except for us!”

After the war, Asawa went to Milwaukee State Teachers College (now the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee), intent on becoming an art teacher, but no school district in the state would hire her for student teaching to fulfill her credential requirements and allow her to complete her degree. Decades later, when the university approached her to bestow an honorary doctorate, she asked only that it hand her the undergraduate diploma she had been denied.

Asawa went on to study at North Carolina’s legendary Black Mountain College under artist Josef Albers and designer Buckminster Fuller and alongside composer John Cage, choreographer Merce Cunningham, and artists Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns. It was the formative art experience of her life. She also began experimenting with crocheted wire sculpture and met her future husband, architect Albert Lanier.

After moving to San Francisco in 1949, the two began a family, fulfilling her professed goal of having six children. However, when her kids entered the local public school, Asawa was dismayed to learn that “art” consisted of coloring in mimeographed pages. “I remember what it feels like to be a victim — to be victimized,” she says. “And I couldn’t bear to see the lack of true arts education.”

In 1968, Asawa cofounded the Alvarado Arts Program, which began at San Francisco’s Alvarado Elementary School and now brings together professional artists, parents, and teachers in many of the city’s schools to work with students in clay sculpture, visual arts, music dance, and theater.

The program began by recycling milk and egg cartons and scrap fabric for materials, and it also emphasizes gardening to provide children with a hands-on connection to nature. Asawa has worked tirelessly to convince policy makers to elevate the level of arts teaching in the nation’s schools, serving on the San Francisco Art Commission, the California Arts Council, National Endowment for the Arts committees, and President Carter’s Commission on Mental Health.

Activism in arts education is now a tradition in Asawa’s family. Her son, Paul Lanier, is a ceramicist and has been an artist-in-residence for nine years at the Alvarado Arts Program.

“Through the arts, you can learn many, many skills that you cannot learn through books and problem solving in the abstract,” Asawa says. “A child can learn something about color, about design, and about observing objects in nature. If you do that, you grow into a greater awareness of things around you. Art will make people better, more highly skilled in thinking and improving whatever business one goes into. It makes a person broader.”

Many of Asawa’s elegant bronze and steel sculptures began as folded paper or simple clay figures. For the Hyatt Hotel’s bronze fountain sculpture, in San Francisco’s Union Square, she enlisted family and friends in molding city landmarks and scenes from baker’s clay, a mixture of flour, salt, and water, a medium she first used with fifth graders at Alvarado. Her large latticed pieces, evoking organic forms and shapes, originated in a wire-basket crocheting technique she learned while visiting Mexico City in the 1940s.

“Art is for everybody,” Asawa says. “It is not something that you should have to go to the museums in order to see and enjoy. When I work on big projects, such as a fountain, I like to include people who haven’t yet developed their creative side — people yearning to let their creativity out. I like designing projects that make people feel safe, not afraid to get involved.”

Ruth Asawa should be an inspiration for generations of educational activists to come. Confronted with wartime racism, didactic teaching, and the bureaucracy of schools, she was never afraid to get involved.”

Paul Lanier

Paul Lanier is a ceramist, sculptor and designer.

Nancy Howry Thompson

According to her obituary Nancy Howry Thompson was an original member of the Alvarado Arts Workshop that used local artists to teach the craft to thousands of children in San Francisco public schools.

In 1968, Ms. Thompson joined Ruth Asawa and other artists whose children attended Alvarado Elementary School in Noe Valley to fill what they saw as a gap in arts programs offered at the school.

Two years later, she worked as project coordinator, with several volunteers and about 400 students, to create and install a major mosaic mural in the schoolyard at Alvarado. It was the first time in San Francisco that students, teachers, parents, volunteers and school administrators working with an artist participated in a project which provided a public school with a major work of art.

The Berkeley artist, who worked in a variety of media, including murals, mosaics, stained-glass and sculpture, became the first artist in residence at Alvarado and went on to lead art programs at a number of schools in San Francisco. The Alvarado experiment grew into the San Francisco Arts Education Project, which four decades later serves 200,000 children in the city’s schools.

“She loved teaching and sharing what she knew how to do and she believed that art belongs to the community,” said her daughter, Stephanie Curtis. “She often said she got more out of the programs that she ran than she gave.”

Ms. Thompson once said, “As a practicing artist, I find the interaction of community, artist and student artists immensely rewarding.” An avid bicyclist, backpacker and environmentalist, Ms. Thompson loved California’s landscape.

“The Bay Area’s colors and shapes of the mountains, hills, water and light of Northern California are constant themes in her work,” her daughter said.


Ruth Asawa at the Parc 55

 Posted by on December 26, 2012
Dec 262012

55 Cyril Magnin
Union Square Area
Parc 55 Hotel porte-cochere

San Francisco Yesterday and Today by Ruth Asawa 1984 – Cast Glass Fiber Reinforced Concrete

Ruth Asawa used baker’s clay to sculpt these panels.  Ms. Asawa has many works around San Francisco.  An American artist, who is nationally recognized for her wire sculpture. Ruth, at the age of 16, along with her family, was interned in Rohwer camp in Rohwer, Arkansas at a time when it was feared the people of Japanese descent on the West Coast would commit acts of sabotage.  It was the first step on a journey into the art world for Ruth.   In 1994, when she was 68 years old, she said of the experience: “I hold no hostilities for what happened; I blame no one. Sometimes good comes through adversity. I would not be who I am today had it not been for the Internment, and I like who I am.”



San Francisco All Wrapped Up in a Fountain

 Posted by on December 18, 2012
Dec 182012

Union Square
Hyatt Hotel
345 Stockton Street

This fountain by Ruth Asawa was commissioned by Hyatt in 1970 and completed in 1972, the fountain consists of 41 individual bronzed plaques each about 26X32 inches depicting San Francisco landmarks covering the entire circular wall of the fountain bowl and measuring over 14 feet in diameter. At the center of the high wall of the drum, you will notice HH which represents the Grand Hyatt on Union Square. Everything to the south of Union Square is to the left, everything north is to the right. The Ocean is the top boundary, the bay is at the bottom. You may recognize the Powell St Cable Car turnabout, the opera house, Nob Hill, the SF-Oakland Bay Bridge, the Ferry Building, Ghiradelli Square, Fisherman’s Wharf, the Palace of Fine Arts, and the Golden Gate Bridge, among many other familiar sights. In addition, you may notice fantasies such as Superman flying past the Montgomery St Skyscraper over Snoopy on his dog house or the Wizard of Oz character. Total effect is a real and unreal world where anyone can enter.

Because of Ruth’s desire to show what many many hands working together could do, help from visitors and over 100 children in the area was solicited. Rather than the traditional sculpture’s material, Asawa used a bread dough bakers clay to model the fountain. When finished the piece of sculptured dough was arranged on the panels surface and stuck down with white glue. The panel were then set aside the thoroughly dry before being taken to the fountain for casting.

Lombard Street


The French Laundry, one of the Bay Areas renowned restaurants, and at the time of this sculpture was owned by Don and Sally Schmitt, whose legacy lives on at The Apple Farm. The Schmitts sold the restaurant to it’s current chef, Thomas Keller.

Mission Dolores

The Conservatory in Golden Gate Park

Fleishacker Pool was a public saltwater swimming pool located in the southwest corner of San Francisco, next to the zoo for 47 years. Upon its completion in 1925, it was one of the largest heated outdoor swimming pools in the world.

Palace of Fine Arts



Garden of Remembrance

 Posted by on September 28, 2012
Sep 282012

San Francisco State University

Head by Shu-hie Yang – Student work

This piece resides in the Garden of Remembrance.

The Garden of Remembrance is located in the quiet courtyard between Burk Hall and the Fine Arts Building, it was dedicated in 2002. It honors the 19 former SF State students who were pulled from their classes under U.S. military and government orders and forced to live in remote camps across the country during World War II, along with the more than 120,000 Japanese Americans who suffered the same fate.

Designed by Japanese American artist and honorary SF State Master of Fine Arts recipient Ruth Asawa, the garden contains 10 boulders that serve as symbolic reminders of the different internment camps. A waterfall on the east side of the memorial represents energy and renewal, and the Japanese Americans’ return to their homes. The garden also features a plaque, which provides historical information regarding internment and the SF State Students directly affected by it.


Japantown – Origami Fountains

 Posted by on November 24, 2011
Nov 242011
These are two of my most favorite fountains in San Francisco.  They are by Ruth Asawa and they reside in the Nihomachi Pedestrian Mall in Japantown.

Nihomachi is a term used to designate an historical Japanese community.  Ruth Asawa has been in the site before, and her website shows the wonderful work she does with wire and other media.

In 1974, Asawa created the Origami Fountains, two lotus, fabricated in corten steel. By 1996, the steel had seriously deteriorated and the fountains had to be removed.   Due to the communities love for Ruth, it was easy to mount support to have the fountains replaced.  They were recast in bronze. Ruth was on hand for the entire process and helped to oversee the process of making molds from the original fountains as well as the fabrication and installation of the new fountains.

The Embarcadero – Aurora

 Posted by on January 20, 2000
Jan 202000
The Embarcadero
Aurora by Ruth Asawa

Ruth Asawa is an American artist, who is nationally recognized for her wire sculpture. Ruth, at the age of 16, along with her family, was interned in Rohwer camp in Rohwer, Arkansas at a time when it was feared the people of Japanese descent on the West Coast would commit acts of sabotage.  It was the first step on a journey into the art world for Ruth.   In 1994, when she was 68 years old, she said of the experience: “I hold no hostilities for what happened; I blame no one. Sometimes good comes through adversity. I would not be who I am today had it not been for the Internment, and I like who I am.”