Ruth Asawa:

the Loop, the Wire, the Suspended line

Jenny Gheith, Assistant Curator of Painting and Sculpture, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

A crocheted loop stitch used to make egg baskets in the town of Toluca, Mexico was the last essential component that Ruth Asawa needed to realize her most celebrated sculptural forms. It was the summer of 1947 and after Asawa visited Anni and Josef Albers on sabbatical in Mexico City, she worked with children as a volunteer art teacher. In her down time, the local craftspeople taught her their tradition of knitting with wire. Wire was not a new material for Asawa, who grew up on a farm in rural Norwalk, California and studied at the renowned, experimental school Black Mountain College,  but this specific way of manipulating it enabled her to weave together various aspects from her life and education to define a new sculptural dimension.

"The piece does not hide anything. You can show inside and outside, and inside and outside are connected. Everything is connected and continuous."

Repetition, order, and structure within an economy of means, pervaded Asawa’s upbringing. Raised on a truck farm during the Depression, Asawa spent long hours laboring in the fields and completing daily chores alongside her six siblings. She would later discuss the monotonous process of crocheting her sculptures in relationship to farming explaining that her art was “only done in wire instead of plants.”  She developed a strong connection to nature, and importantly, life on the farm effected Asawa’s vocabulary of shapes and forms. The organic, spherical volumes found in her large-scale hanging sculptures stem in part from the endless drawings she made with her feet in the dirt as she road on the back of farm vehicles.

All my wire sculptures come from the same loop. And there’s only one way to do it. The idea is to do it simply, and you end up with a shape. That shape comes out of working with the wire. You don’t think ahead of time, this is what I want. You work on it as you go along. You make the line, a two-dimensional line, then you go into space, and you have a three-dimensional piece. It is like a drawing in space.

Ruth Asawa