Google honors late Nisei artist Ruth Asawa with Doodle

Kicking off the start of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, Google honored the late Japanese American artist Ruth Asawa with its May 1 online Doodle at google.com.

The image featured the Google logo rendered in the fashion of Asawa’s iconic wire sculptures, with Asawa working on the sculpture. Accompanying the Doodle, Google published a biographical slide show introducing readers to her art and life.

Alyssa Winans, a Doodle artist at Google, said the Doodle team had known about Asawa’s work for some time and had requested to work on the piece. The Doodle artist said she had seen Asawa’s work at local museums. She said that one of her fountains, Aurora, sits outside of Google’s San Francisco office at 188 Embarcadero. Winans said she spent several weeks researching Asawa’s life and designing the Doodle.

“We were inspired by Ruth’s huge impact on art and art education in the U.S.,” Winans said in an e-mail interview with the Nichi Bei Weekly. “Her story of overcoming adversity is powerful and we hope it will inspire others. Particularly in the SF Bay Area, Ruth has been hugely influential through many local pieces of art and the arts education advocacy work that played a role in the renaming of Ruth Asawa School of the Arts in San Francisco.”

Ruth Asawa. photo by Laurence Cuneo

Paul Lanier, Asawa’s youngest son, is a sculptor and ceramics maker based in San Francisco. He said his mother continues to leave an impact on people around the city even if they do not realize it. He said most people likely do not even know that some of her fountains, such as the one located outside of Google’s office, are by his mother.

“I think people don’t even realize what they are, they just drive by it or walk by it and they love these pieces, but don’t know that she made them,” he said. “I hear that story a lot from people. They can’t believe that she made it.”

In addition to working with children in the classroom, Asawa also involved San Francisco’s youth to make several iconic installations, including the fountain located off of Union Square and on the sides of the benches on the Buchanan Mall in the city’s Japantown.

Linda Mihara, a co-owner of San Francisco Japantown paper store Paper Tree and origami artist, said she first met Asawa when she was a child. She helped make one of the dough sculptures, small hand-molded figures recast in stone, in Japantown, recalling that Asawa had invited the children of Buchanan Street merchants to her home. Mihara said she was excited to hear about the Google Doodle.

“In this day and age, everybody looks at Google and to give her that recognition, … It’s fantastic, they did a great job and it was exciting,” she said.

Mihara said she did not know of Asawa prior to meeting her around 1976, but said the Nisei artist influenced her work thereafter.

“She always looked at things differently,” Mihara said. “Her perspective made me think in terms of, thinking outside the box when I do my art, which I like. That was probably the most important thing, is to have a different perspective on your approach.”

Asawa died Aug. 5, 2013. She was 87.

For more on Ruth Asawa and her Doodle, visit https://www.google.com/doodles/celebrating-ruth-asawa.

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