Ruth Asawa is San Francisco's premier public artist who set the standard by which public art is and should be judged.
Landscape architect Tito Patri once said public art should have historic, cultural and/or geographic relevance to its site. Ruth Asawa's art reflects all that and adds even more community connection to the mix. A Japanese-American born in Southern California, she and her family were interned during World War II. That experience helped shape and define her art. When she moved to San Francisco to work and raise a family, her career as a teacher, artist and advocate began.
Co-founder of the Alvarado Arts Workshop in the 1970's, Ruth was responsible for putting the arts in public schools. Dan Goldensohn, a musician and teacher (and my husband) was a member of her coterie who traveled between schools sharing the love of their craft with students who never had art and music in the classroom. Their approach was and continues to be that giving children the opportunity to experience and enjoy art has tremendous value. It provides a venue for exploration of the world, of culture and history and nature and community, in a way that isn't didactic or dry but rather joyful and personal and pure.
Ruth's work can be seen across the City. Andrea's Fountain ("The Mermaids") in Ghirardelli Square was controversial when unveiled because she dared use maternal images of bare-breasted mermaids, one nursing a mermaid baby, in her bay-themed water sculpture. Her fountain on the front steps of the Grand Hyatt in Union Square depicts the history of San Francisco in exquisite detail. She created it with hundreds of school children in her backyard in Noe Valley out of bread dough before casting it in bronze. I bet you've passed it a thousand times. Have you ever really looked at it? Start at the top with the Ohlones and travel through time as you circle the sculpture, water from the fountain falling on Mission Dolores and Playland at the Beach, cable cars and Chinatown. It's a wonderful way to learn about San Francisco history. Public art at its best.
To read more about Ruth Asawa and see her work go to her website: