Review: A Life Made by Hand: The Story of Ruth Asawa by Andrea D’Aquino

Review: A Life Made by Hand: The Story of Ruth Asawa by Andrea D’Aquino
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Raincoast Books. Thank you!
Publication: September 3, 2019 by Princeton Architectural Press
Book Description:

Ruth Asawa (1926-2013) was an influential and award-winning sculptor, a beloved figure in the Bay Area art world, and a devoted activist who advocated tirelessly for arts education. This lushly illustrated book by collage artist Andrea D’Aquino brings Asawa’s creative journey to life, detailing the influence of her childhood in a farming family, and her education at Black Mountain College where she pursued an experimental course of education with leading avant-garde artists and thinkerssuch as Anni and Josef Albers, Buckminster Fuller, Merce Cunningham, and Robert Rauschenberg. Delightful and substantial, this engaging title for young art lovers includes a page of teaching tools for parents and educators.

The life and work of Japanese American artist Ruth Asawa is the centerpiece of author and artist Andrea D’Aquino‘s outstanding illustrated biography, A Life Made by Hand: The Story of Ruth Asawa.

Born in California during the 1920s, Ruth Asawa and “her whole family worked on a farm”. “All the hardworking people around her”, it is noted, worked with their hands: it was “an ordinary thing to do” and a young Ruth did as well, though we learn that “Ruth was no ordinary person”. In short conversations with creatures like dragonflies and spiders, the reader gets to see a young Ruth Asawa as she sees, questions, experiences and thinks about the world- the shapes, the lines, and the intricacies of things- around her. In subsequent multiple spreads, we see Asawa, her “hands always busy making things out of anything she could find”, using materials such as wire, paper, and even making shapes in the dirt with her feet! A Life Made by Hand then follows Asawa as she, now a young adult, attends college; her time in college, readers learn, is spent with teachers and classmates who were themselves, or would become, like Asawa, icons in various fields. As A Life Made by Hand draws to a gentle close, D’Aquino gives time to feature Asawa’s acclaimed sculpture work, as well as imagined and thoughtful public reception and reactions that have been inspired by her inimitable art. Through concise and powerful text and an idiosyncratic artwork – including a blend of charcoal, coloured pencil, collage (photos, hand-painted and monopainted paper)- D’Aquino’s book beautifully spotlights Asawa’s background, beginnings in hand-crafting, influences, contemporaries, and renowned sculptures. Do not miss the ‘Author’s Note’, ‘Resources’ links, and ‘More About Ruth Asawa’ at the book’s end. Particular meditation is given to Asawa, her family, and their experience of Japanese internment camps during World War 2- it is well worth reading. There is also, on the craft end of things, a ‘Make Your Own Paper Dragonfly’ how-to, complete with simple steps and example of the finished product.

A quietly potent and wondrous standout, Andrea D’Aquino’s illustrated biography is a extraordinary look at an extraordinary artist of recent history. For readers who relish children’s (fiction and non-fiction) titles such as Cloth Lullaby: The Woven Life of Louise Bourgeois, The King of the Birds, An Iridescence of Birds: A Book About Henri Matisse, Bloom: A Story of Fashion Designer Elsa Schiaparelli, Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, or other artist-centered works, A Life Made by Hand: The Story of Ruth Asawa is highly recommended reading.

Additional Note: This link, via Ruth Asawa’s site, takes you to an Asawa installation, with video and photos taken from an exhibition. It is a marvel. 

I received a copy of this title courtesy of Raincoast Books in exchange for an honest review. All opinions and comments are my own.

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