©Hector Lee, 2011

Ruth Asawa, a Bay Area Artist and Educator, was born in 1926 in southern California, one of seven children to first generation Japanese farmers. In 1942, she and her family were detained in internment camps, first in Santa Anita and then in Arkansas. She attended Milwaukee State Teachers College, and then she attended Black Mountain College in North Carolina, where she studied art with Josef Albers and met her future husband. They married and moved to the Bay Area where she has been involved in art and education.

A few weeks ago I saw the film Ruth Asawa: Roots of an Artist by Bob Toy, a film of a Bay Area artist and educator, Ruth Asawa. After the screening, there was a Q&A session with individuals of the project, among whom were two of her children. The children were asked if Ruth’s siblings were also artists. None of Ruth’s siblings were artists. Ruth, herself, probably would have been a farmer had it not been for the US internment of Japanese-Americans. It was in the Santa Anita internment camps where Disney artists who volunteered to give art lessons exposed Ruth to art.

The children also mentioned that as a young woman, Ruth had wanted to be a teacher but since she was Japanese-American she could not secure a student-teaching assignment because of the lingering hostility to the Japanese in the US. Her alternative was to study art at Black Mountain College, a honing ground for artists such as Merce Cunningham, John Cage, Buckminster Fuller, etc. There she studied art and met her husband. While her first love was to be a teacher, she became an artist and later returned to education by bringing art to the schools in San Francisco. I find it instructive that Ruth’s internment camp experience and disallowance of being a teacher were pivotal in her development as an artist.

©Hector Lee, 2011

Hector Viveros Lee (BAWP 1998) has been teaching in public schools for some 25+ years. He is an Instructional Reform Facilitator at Marshall Elementary in San Francisco. He is currently in the Principal Leadership Institute in UC Berkeley—so be patient with him. His books can be found at http://www.leeandlow.com/home/index.html.

One Response to “Learning from Ruth by Hector Lee”

  1. Page Hersey Says:

    Reading this from Seoul where we just bounced through our first day of camp. Miss you! Thanks for this piece about Ruth. She was pivotal in bringing an arts program to Alvarado, but I never knew these parts of her story. Want to see the film! Love the artwork too!

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