Ruth Asawa: A Sculpting Life

Written by: Joan Schoettler

Illustrated by: Traci Van Wagoner

For ages: 6-9 years

Language: English

Topics Covered: Historical Figures, Women Artists, Historical Events, Public Art. 

Summary: Aiko and Ruth Asawa are the same person.  Aiko speaks Japanese at home, and at her Japanese school on Saturdays after she is done at American public-school during the week.  She goes by Ruth at public-school.  She is a gifted artist, and works on her parents farm.  Ruth’s life changes one day when her father is forced to leave the family farm for a Japanese Internment camp, after Japan attacks Pearl Harbor.  Soon, the rest of the family has to follow.  For six months, they live in a horse stall of an old racetrack.  Despite these dark times, Ruth is able to take art classes from artists also in the camp.  After six months, her family is moved to Arkansas to another camp.  They live with lots of other people and always have to wait in line for things like food and showers.    Ruth still takes art classes, and paints whenever she has time.  She uses tiny scraps that she finds, like cloth, bits of metal, or rocks.  After a whole year, she is released on a scholarship to become an art teacher!  Ruth moves to North Carolina to study.  After, she moves to Milwaukee but leaves without a diploma after she realizes it will be hard to get a job since she’s Japanese.  Instead, she travels to Mexico with her sister and learns how to loop wire from a man.  Ruth is hooked, and begins to experiment and build sculptures “in the air” as she puts it.

Ruth gets married, and has six kids.  She continues to loop metal wire and build sculptures, showing them in museums.  She also begins to experiment with different mediums and metals.  Ruth founds two art schools- the Alvarado School Arts Workshop and the Ruth Asawa San Francisco School of the Arts!  She even builds a public fountain in Ghiradelli Square!  Eventually, she designs many fountains and becomes known as the Fountain Lady in San Francisco.  As her final public art installation, she creates a garden to honor Japanese internment victims.

This book is comprehensive and focuses on Ruth’s achievements, while not shying away from the shameful American history of internment during WWII.  Ruth Asawa is truly legendary, and this is a great book honoring her artistic legacy as well as her public service.

Reflection Questions:

  • Have you ever heard of Ruth or Aiko Asawa before?
  • What is something you find meaningful about her life story?
  • Do you think people talk about Japanese internment very much?
  • Have you ever tried to make art with wire or metal before?

Continuing the Conversation:

  • Experiment with different artistic mediums.  Is it easy?  What do you think of the giant creations Ruth made?  What is your favorite art supply to work with?
  • Learn more about Japanese internment camps, and why they happened.  If you’re able to find videos with interviews, or more information, watch them as a classroom and have a discussion about it afterwards.

About the Author & the Illustrator:

schoettlerJoanJoan Schoettler grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area where memories of trips to the ocean, picnics in parks, walks through San Francisco, museum visits, and gatherings of family and friends continue to draw me back to my beginnings. Hikes in the Sierra, late dinners on warm summer nights, gardening, as well as, grandchildren, reading, and travel fill my days, weaving ideas and inspiration for my writing.

A number of years ago she asked a celebrated children’s writer where her stories came from. The author challenged her to find them within. Joan took pen to paper, and, like magic, stories flowed. Well, perhaps, not quite so easily. After extensive reading, studying craft, writing, innumerable rewrites, considerable editing, and countless submissions, a long-awaited box of books arrived on my front porch.

Teaching children’s literature and storytelling at California State University, Fresno nurtures Joan’s passion for children’s literature and my love of teaching. She has invited students of all ages into my world of children’s literature, immersing them in the nuances of writing and the art of storytelling.

Van Wagoner, TraciTraci Van Wagoner received a Bachelors degree in Illustration & Advertising Design from Utah State University and a BFA in Toy Design from Fashion Institute of Technology….. *snore* That’s the technical side of my background which says that she’s spent a lot of time in school drawing, painting, playing with type, page layout, concepts, characters, and developing ideas.

Depending on the time of the day, the real Traci is an illustrator, artist, writer, reader, designer, dog walker, pool player, gardener, and a Night Elf druid known as Vaingor. Creative pursuits have included: playing the piano, playing pool (sometimes you have to be creative to win in APA), a short stint as an advertising copywriter, portrait painting, photography and sculpture.

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