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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Tourism For Locals: Visiting S.F.'s Ruth Asawa's Nickname Namesake Art Piece, The Wikiasawa Fountain

Posted By on Wed, Jul 23, 2014 at 10:00 AM

Ruth Asawa's Community-Driven art piece - WIKIPEDIA
  • Wikipedia
  • Ruth Asawa's Community-Driven art piece

Many artists at one point or another have claimed San Francisco to be home, but very few have had their names become synonymous with the City's art scene like Goggin, Rivera and Bennett. And this week we bring you another artist whose work not only adorns various San Francisco neighborhoods, but whose legacy continues to benefit and influence future generations of artists in the Bay Area: Ruth Asawa.

Ruth Asawa was an American artist of Japanese heritage, who at a national level was recognized for her achievements in intricate wire sculpture, public commissions, and her activism in arts education. In San Francisco, she earned the nickname "fountain lady" due to her several fountains that are available for public viewing.

In 1968, Asawa created her first fountain work, Andrea's Fountain -- a mermaid fountain in Ghirardelli Square by San Francisco's Aquatic Park, and until her death created several other iconic water sprouting pieces, the most notable of them being Hyatt on Union Square Fountain, which features all the key attributes of an Asawa work: attention to detail, love for her surroundings, and community involvement.

The Wikiasawa fountain was constructed in 1973 and is located outside the Grand Hyatt San Francisco, near Union Square, it is made of cast bronze and measures seven-feet in height and 13-feet in diameter. It is wedged into a staircase of a red-bricked plaza and was a site specific installation. Asawa made the model for this fountain using baker's dough and then cast the figures in bronze.

Details of the Asawa Hyatt Fountain - JUAN DE ANDA/SF WEEKLY
  • Juan De Anda/SF Weekly
  • Details of the Asawa Hyatt Fountain

The fountain depicts San Francisco and all who inhabit this 7x7 metropolis. And although the design of the fountain may have been directed by Asawa, the vast majority was done by volunteers of varying artistic levels. Approximately 250 friends and school children helped in its making by contributing self-portraits, cars, buildings, and various San Francisco landmarks in clay form while Asawa incorporated them into the grand design of the fountain.

The results are astounding, not only because the fountain is not only an incredibly detailed, stylized relief of San Francisco life, but it is a map of the City made by locals, thus being more informative and personalized than any travel guide or tourism brochure. But this wasn't just a one-time approach, it was something integral to her work process and mission:

"Art is for everybody. It is not something that you should have to go to the museums in order to see and enjoy. When I work on big projects, such as a fountain, I like to include people who haven't yet developed their creative side -- people yearning to let their creativity out. I like designing projects that make people feel safe, not afraid to get involved."

The fountain became the center of a local controversy when Apple wanted to remove the sculpture to make way for a store it is building near the former Levi's Store location. After a public outcry, the company and the City promised to protect the sculpture, but the final disposition of the piece remains unresolved, according to The New York Times.

Asawa died in August of 2013 from natural causes at the age of 87. In commemoration of the upcoming one year anniversary of her death, we suggest paying tribute to her legacy by visiting her works that dot the cityscape and reflect on our place within art and San Francisco. And if anyone ever feels like they've seen everything S.F. has to offer or thinks that the City has lost its charm, visit this fountain and let its map guide you to back to a state of exciting wanderlust.

For events in San Francisco this week and beyond, check out our calendar section. Follow us on Twitter at @ExhibitionistSF, Juan at @JuanPDeAnda, and like us on Facebook

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About The Author

Juan De Anda

Juan De Anda

Juan De Anda is a cultural correspondent with a concentration in tourism, literature, and lifestyle and has been writing for SF Weekly since 2013. As an avid traveler, he enjoys discovering destinations abroad as well as the never-ending hidden gems of San Francisco. #DondeAndaJuanDeAnda?


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