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Google Doodle honors Japanese-American sculptor Ruth Asawa

“Sculpture is like farming. If you just keep at it, you can get quite a lot done.”

The sculpture “Aurora” by Ruth Asawa frames the San Francisco Bay.
Photo by AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez

Known for her abstract looped wired sculptures and an epic bronze fountain, Japanese American artist Ruth Asawa was honored today with a Google Doodle. The tech company’s illustration kicks off Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month, which celebrates Asians and Pacific Islanders in the U.S.

Born in Southern California in 1926, the sculptor showed interest in art at a young age, winning a 1939 arts competition.

Asawa and her family were later forced to live in internment camps during the country’s involvement in World War II. The artist lived for five months in two horse stalls at the Santa Anita Racetrack (“The stench was horrible,” recalled Asawa, “the smell of horse dung never left the place the entire time we were there”) before being sent by train to an internment camp in Arkansas.

While imprisoned in the camps, Asawa continued to study art. Her incarceration lasted 18 months.

She later attended Milwaukee State Teachers College and Black Mountain College in North Carolina. But it was a visit to Mexico, where she witnessed villagers making baskets from galvanized wire, that changed her, inspiring her to create the bulbous wire artwork for which she is best known.

“These forms come from observing plants, the spiral shell of a snail, seeing light through insect wings, watching spiders repair their webs in the early morning, and seeing the sun through the droplets of water suspended from the tips of pine needles while watering my garden,” said the artist.

Asawa is also known for her fountains: Her cylindrical, bronze San Francisco Fountain, which features bas-relief scenes of SF landmarks and neighborhoods, can be found outside the Apple Store in Union Square. Asawa recruited more than 100 local school kids to help her create the original model, having the schoolchildren mold images of the city in dough, which she then cast in iron.

Aurora, her origami-inspired fountain at the Embarcadero along the city’s waterfront, is a 13-foot circle made up of triangular steel shapes that neatly frames the Bay Bridge and Yerba Buena Island.

And Andrea, a mermaid fountain, can be seen at Ghirardelli Square.

In addition to her noted water and wire works, Asawa also designed the Japanese-American Internment Memorial Sculpture in San Jose and the Garden of Remembrance at San Francisco State University, which features 10 boulders that serve as a reminder of the 10 different internment camps.

And as CNET notes, “She was the driving force behind the creation of the San Francisco School of the Arts, which was renamed the Ruth Asawa San Francisco School of the Arts in her honor in 2010.”

Asawa died in 2013 at her home in San Francisco. Her work can be found today at museums like the DeYoung and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

Today’s Asawa Doodle was created by Google artist Alyssa Winans. It features five hanging wire sculptures and an illustration of Asawa weaving the lowercase “g” in “Google.”