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Ruth Asawa is a Japanese American sculptor. In San Francisco, she has been called the “fountain lady” for her works that include the mermaid fountain at Ghirardelli Square.
Ruth Asawa was born in Norwalk, California, one of seven children. Her father operated a truck farm until the Japanese American internment during World War II. The family lived in the assembly center at the Santa Anita racetrack for much of 1942, then at Rohwer War Relocation Center in Arkansas.
Following graduation from the internment center’s high school, she attended Milwaukee State Teachers College, intending to become an art teacher. Unable to get hired for the requisite practice teaching to complete her degree, she left Wisconsin without a degree. (The degree was finally awarded to her in 1998.) From 1946 to 1949, she studied at Black Mountain College with Josef Albers.
Asawa’s wire sculptures brought her prominence in the 1950s, when her work appeared several times in the annual exhibitions at the Whitney Museum of American Art and in the 1955 São Paulo Art Biennial. Asawa married architect Albert Lanier in July 1949. The couple has six children.
• Andrea, the mermaid fountain at Ghirardelli Square (1966);
• the Hyatt on Union Square Fountain (1973)
• the Buchanan Mall (Nihonmachi) Fountains (1976)
• Aurora, the origami-inspired fountain on the San Francisco waterfront (1986)
• the Japanese-American Internment Memorial Sculpture in San Jose (1994).
• 1968: First Dymaxion Award for Artist/Scientist
• 1974: Gold Medal from the American Institute of Architects
• 1990: San Francisco Chamber of Commerce Cyril Magnin Award
• 1993: Honor Award from the Women’s Caucus for the Arts
• 1995: Asian American Art Foundations Golden Ring Lifetime Achievement Award
 Further reading
• Abrahamson, Joan and Sally Woodridge (1973) The Alvarado School Art Community Program. San Francisco: Alvarado School Workshop.
• Bancroft Library (1990) “Ruth Asawa, Art, Competence and Citywide Cooperation for San Francisco,”, in The Arts and the Community Oral History Project. University of California, Berkeley.
• Cook, Mariana (2000) Couples. Chronicle Books.
• Cornell, Daniell et al. (2006) The Sculpture of Ruth Asawa: Contours in the Air. University of California Press.
• Cunningham, Imogen (1970) Photographs, Imogen Cunningham. University of Washington Press.
• Dobbs, Stephen (1981) Community and Commitment: An Interview with Ruth Asawa,” in Art Education vol 34 no 5.
• Faul, Patricia et al. (1995) The New Older Woman. Celestial Arts.
• Harris, Mary Emma (1987) The Arts at Black Mountain College. MIT Press.
• Hopkins, Henry and Mimi Jacobs (1982) 50 West Coast Artists. Chronicle Books.
• Jepson, Andrea and Sharon Litsky (1976) The Alvarado Experience. Alvarado Art Workshop.
• Rountree, Cathleen (1999) On Women Turning 70: Honoring the Voices of Wisdom. Jossey-Bass.
• Rubinstein, Charlotte Streifer (1992) American Women Sculptors. G.K. Hall.
• San Francisco Museum of Art. (1973) Ruth Asawa: A Retrospective View. San Francisco Museum of Art.
• Schatz, Howard (1992) Gifted Woman. Pacific Photographic Press.
• Villa, Carlos et al. (1994) Worlds in Collision: Dialogues on Multicultural Art Issues. San Francisco Art Institute.
• Woodridge, Sally (1973) Ruth Asawa’s San Francisco Fountain. San Francisco Museum of Art.
• Snyder, Robert, producer (1978) Ruth Asawa: On Forms and Growth. Pacific Palisades, cA: Masters and Masterworks Production.