Just in time for her 85th birthday Monday, extraordinary Bay Area artist and community activist Ruth Asawa — and her work — are being celebrated in a new film.
The world premiere of Bob Toy’s documentary “Ruth Asawa: Roots of an Artist” at the de Young Museum on Friday also is a benefit for Ruth’s Table, a group serving seniors living independently at Bethany Center, a housing community in the Mission district.
In the film, Asawa describes her unique wire sculptures, saying, “I’ve always been interested in the gaps — the form goes around, form within form, like a Mobius strip inside and outside at the same time.”
Beginning with freely branching forms from nature, Asawa refines her pieces into even more abstract creations, using geometric centers of four, five, six and seven points. The number of points in the center defines the forms the branches take.
The artist grew up in Southern California, tracing curved lines in the sand as a child, pursuing “strange and wondrous shapes.” Later, she often wore bandages as she was sculpting to cover her hands from cuts.
She was inflicted by deeper wounds at age 16, when she and her family were among 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry on the West Coast who were interned during World War II. Although deprived of freedom and profoundly wronged, Asawa later reflected on the experience: “I hold no hostilities for what happened; I blame no one. Sometimes good comes through adversity. I would not be who I am today had it not been for the internment, and I like who I am.”
Though most famous for her wire sculptures, Asawa is known in The City as the “fountain lady.” The “Andrea” mermaid fountain in Ghirardelli Square, the Hyatt on Union Square fountain and “Aurora,” the origami-inspired fountain on the waterfront, are some of her creations.
In addition to an astonishing amount of work and activity, Asawa and her architect husband, Albert Lanier, who died in 2008, raised six children.
The beneficiary of Friday’s screening, Ruth’s Table, is named for Asawa’s own kitchen table, which became a meeting place for politicians and artists to share food and ideas, create art and organize projects. Asawa has donated the table to the group, and it is now the physical centerpiece of the program in Bethany Center.
Donations received at a private function preceding the screening — which features comments from filmmaker Toy, a 45-year veteran of the Academy of Art University, the documentary’s sponsor — will be matched by a grant of up to $20,000 from an anonymous foundation.
IF YOU GO
Where: Koret Auditorium, de Young Museum, 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive, Golden Gate Park, S.F.
When: 7:15 p.m. Friday
Tickets: Free; donations accepted
Contact: (415) 821-4515, ext. 26, www.ruthstable.org
Note: Private reception at 6 p.m. precedes public screening