Ruth Asawa

An Artist Takes Shape

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Pub Date 19 Mar 2024 | Archive Date 10 Mar 2024

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“A tender and thoughtful rendering of an important artist’s life. Sam Nakahira uses the power and beauty of comics to its fullest to immerse you in the mind and genius of Ruth Asawa. As soon as I finished it, I wanted to read it again!”—Tillie Walden, Eisner Award-winning cartoonist and illustrator
Brave, unconventional, and determined, Ruth Asawa let nothing stop her from living a life intertwined with art.
Renowned for her innovative wire sculptures, Japanese American artist Ruth Asawa (1926–2013) was a teenager in Southern California when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor and the United States entered World War II. Japanese Americans on the West Coast were forced into camps. Asawa’s family had to abandon their farm, her father was incarcerated, and she and the rest of her family were sent to a detention center in California, and later to a concentration camp in Arkansas. Asawa nurtured her dreams of becoming an artist while imprisoned and eventually made her way to the experimental Black Mountain College in North Carolina.
This graphic biography by Sam Nakahira, developed in consultation with Asawa’s younger daughter, Addie Lanier, chronicles the genesis of Asawa as an artist—from the horror of Pearl Harbor to her transformative education at Black Mountain College to building her life in San Francisco, where she would further develop and refine her groundbreaking sculpture.
Asawa never sought fame, preferring to work on her own terms: for her, art and life were one. Using lively illustrations and a dozen photographs of Asawa’s artwork, Ruth Asawa: An Artist Takes Shape is a graphic retelling of her young adult years and demonstrates the transformative power of making art.
“A tender and thoughtful rendering of an important artist’s life. Sam Nakahira uses the power and beauty of comics to its fullest to immerse you in the mind and genius of Ruth Asawa. As soon as I...

Advance Praise

“A tender and thoughtful rendering of an important artist’s life. Sam Nakahira uses the power and beauty of comics to its fullest to immerse you in the mind and genius of Ruth Asawa. As soon as I finished it, I wanted to read it again!”—Tillie Walden, Eisner Award-winning cartoonist and illustrator

“A beautiful tribute to a groundbreaking artist that highlights the intimate humanity of Asawa’s work. Nakahira’s masterful cartooning takes readers on Asawa’s lifelong journey from a childhood behind barbed wire fences to adulthood transforming wire into art, a parallel impossible to ignore.”—Kiku Hughes, author of Displacement

“A lovingly crafted story about the early, formative years of a great sculptor—covering both the hardships and the joys that helped shape Ruth Asawa into the artist we remember her as today.”—Melanie Gillman, author of As the Crow Flies

"Ruth Asawa: An Artist Takes Shape is a richly detailed recounting of the artist's life. It's so full of clearly conveyed scenes and stories that even those who are familiar with Asawa are sure to learn more. Obviously a labor of love, the book is true to the spirit of the woman who inspired it."—Andrea D'Aquino, author of A Life Made by Hand: The Story of Ruth Asawa

“A tender and thoughtful rendering of an important artist’s life. Sam Nakahira uses the power and beauty of comics to its fullest to immerse you in the mind and genius of Ruth Asawa. As soon as I...

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ISBN 9781947440098
PRICE $19.95 (USD)

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Average rating from 24 members

Featured Reviews

I don’t have the best knowledge of contemporary art but am eager to learn – and what a great way into the subject this graphic novel was. I had never heard of Ruth Asawa, but after reading this I want to know more about her.

Her past as a Japanese-American in internment camps during World War 2 was likewise interesting and horrifying to read about. As an European that side of the war is not really well-known about and it’s great (in an educational way!) as an adult to get to know more about world history.

Sam Nakahira has made brilliant drawings in a very nice style that captures the delicate work of Asawa’s metal wire art.

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(4.5) This is a coming-of-age, graphic biography about artist Ruth Asawa during a time of historical importance: The internment of Japanese Americans during WWII and the Post-War American Art scene. These topics, although heavy, are portrayed in a compassionate, charming, and digestible way.

The graphics are stunning and particularly detailed whenever farmlands and nature are involved — while this could simply be because the author and comic artist Sam Nakahira has a knack for drawing nature, it is more likely because nature was a significant source of Ruth's inspiration and creative energy.

Only one suggestion of improvement: A stronger ending (no spoilers here), which felt like it petered out compared to the other engaging, bite-sized pieces of Ruth's story.

Thank you to Getty Publications who provided an ARC of this book through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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"Living and art are one and the same thing." Ruth Asawa was an amazing person who overcame obstacles to live life the way she wanted. Her father fled a war in Japan only to become a victim, with his family, of anti-Japanese measures during WWII.
Ruth looked at her adversity as proof that she needed to focus on her art.
This graphic novel brilliantly uses designs like Ruth Asawa's while telling her very inspiring story. I highly recommend this because of its information about how Japanese people were treated for no reason and for its inspiring message of hope and persistence.
Ruth had children and taught them art, later influencing the school system where she lived to show how important art is for everyone.
Thanks to NetGalley for letting me read this

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Being able to read a graphic novel about such a prolific artist is a nice way to end the week. I learned about Ruth Asawa when the US Postal Service commemorated her and her work on a postage stamp. Her unique wired sculptures are definitely a stand out in museums. And learning what she and her family went through following Pearl Harbor is a real eye-opener of the struggles families go trhough just to get through life. She did not give up on herself or her education and this graphic novel was a lovely way to learn all about the US history aspect (interment camps, Pearl Harbor, inter-racial marriage getting legalized in California in 1948, and so much more. You get to see what inspired her work and who she connect with along the way to make her dreams come true.

The novel is a quick read, but so detailed and well drawn, the artist, Sam Nakahira, with just a black and white palette, is able to paint a lively picture of what Ruth's life was like from childhood to adulthood.

Thanks to NetGalley for this advance copy, I cant wait to learn more about her.

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Thanks to NetGalley and Getty Publications for sending me this ARC!

The graphics by Nakahira was beautifully done throughout the book, and captured Asawa's artwork incredibly well! I love learning about artists I don't know about so this graphic novel was right up my alley.

The only part that took away a star for me was that I wanted it to be longer. The ending felt a little abrupt to me and I wish I could have learned more about Asawa's life after 1950.

Overall, beautiful artworks shown through this book, beautiful illustrations, and a new artist for me to look up and get inspired by!

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Powerful biographical graphic novel about Ruth Asawa, American modernist artist known primarily for her abstract looped-wire sculptures. It was interesting how the story weaved Ruth’s life with the historical context of WWII, when thousands of people of Japanese descent in America were incarcerated and sent to concentration camps.

The illustrations are delicate and beautiful, and the book can be easily read by middle graders.

The only thing I missed was a stronger ending and at times the storyline seemed a bit rushed. Maybe because there is so much to tell about the life of this amazing artist. Overall a very interesting read and I highly recommend it.

Thank you to Getty Publications who provided an ARC of this book through NetGalley. All opinions are my own.

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Prior to reading this, I didn't know much about Ruth Asawa, her art, or history, however, this biographical graphic novel taught me so much. The story begins with Asawa working on her family's farm in California during the bombing of Pearl Harbor. This story spans 9 years of Asawa's teen/young adult life.

I enjoyed the graphics by Nakahira and thought she did an excellent job of capturing Asawa's artwork. Nakahira's attention to detail and ability to portray these scenes in a simple two tone palette was very captivating. I would have loved for this book to be a bit longer and more detailed to learn more about Asawa's life. The ending felt a bit abrupt and unexpected, I would've loved to see more from the last few pages. but overall I really enjoyed it!

Thank you to Getty Publications who provided an ARC of this book through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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This is a graphic biography of Ruth Asawa, a Japanese American artist renowed for her groundbreaking wire sculptures. It features beautiful illustrations and photographs of Asawa’s artwork.

The book chronicles her life as a teen in California during the bombing of Pearl Harbor, her family being removed from their farm, being sent to a detention and later to a concentration camp, while her father was incarcerated.

The heart of the story is the resilience, creativity, and determination of a young Ruth, who held on to her dreams to create a unique and inspiring body of work.

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Sam Nakahira is an immesely skilled and empathtic artist and this shines through in "Ruth Asawa".

I first requested this title as I was familiar with Asawa's beautiful sculptures and vaguely aware of her story. However, I did not for a moment imagine a biography so, tender is the word I want to use, but also, aesthetically stunning, authentic, accurate, sensitive to Asawa's art. Yet it was also truthful about the Asawa history, their life on their farm, and the travesties Asawa endured as a displaced Japanese Amaerican in WWII after the bombing of Pearl Harbour

After the war, life did not get any easier for Asawa, especially as she fell in love with a white American architect. She moved to San Fransisco which at the time had a burgeoning art movement and this is reflected in some of Asawa's sculptures, in their fluid shapes and forms

I absolutely adored Imogen Cunningham, also an artist. A brittle stalwart who encouraged Asawa in her art (and to retain her Japanese name)

This book is simply beautiful and it warms my heart that it is an honest account of the life of one of the greatest sculptors of the 20th century. Telling an artists story through art is absolutely perfection in my humble opinion and creates a charming account that is accessible to all ages

Thank you to Netgalley for this beautiful biography ARC. My Review is left of my own volition and all opinions are my own

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A huge thank you to NetGalley and Getty Publications for sending me an advanced reader copy in exchange for my honest review!

“Living and art are one and the same thing.”

Having studied art history and contemporary art in the past, I was extremely interested in reading this graphic biography of the life of Ruth Asawa! Asawa is an incredibly strong and creative person--details that are clearly evident throughout her experience as a Japanese-American woman after the bombing of Pearl Harbor and subsequently in Japanese-American internment camps.

Learning about the Asawa family experience was extremely eye-opening. Ruth's own perseverance, hope and strong personal values are deeply inspiring. The graphics are so detailed and beautifully drawn by Sam Nakahira! I wish there was a stronger ending, but regardless I absolutely loved reading this.

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This graphic novel shares the story of the Japanese-American artist Ruth Asawa, who endured through life in an interment camp during WWII with her family and later achieved success as an artist. The black-and-white art in this book appears simple at first, but it evokes emotion and conveys the story in a powerful way, and I think that this is a wonderful tribute to Asawa's art. Also, even though the text in nonfiction graphic novels can sometimes get too crowded, the exposition and dialogue are well-spaced here.

I really enjoyed reading this, and I would recommend it to teens and adults who are interested in Asian American experiences, women's art, and mid-century history. I found this very engaging, and even though I already knew a little bit about Ruth Asawa, I was pleased to learn more. I found it especially inspiring how she combined her passions for art and family life, raising six children with her architect husband and crafting beautiful, unique sculptures.

Even though naysayers told her that having kids would ruin her career, Asawa had the big family she wanted, made beautiful art, and contributed a lasting legacy to arts education in her community. The book's ending is a bit sudden, but the author's note shares more information, and also includes photographs. I really enjoyed this book and would recommend it.

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This comic tells the story of Ruth Asawa, an artist who lived in the middle of the Second World War, in United Stated of America, when japanese people were discriminated.
She is an artist and this comic tells her path trought all difficiulties and obstacles for persecure her dream an her purpose in life.
The art style is beautiful, simple and minimalist but really connected with Ruth's art, in a sort of way.
I really appreciated this reading and I loved the thematic and sincere way to tells emotions.

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I am obviously biased because I adore Ruth Asawa. That being said, this is a good graphic novel memoir talking about her childhood and early years. I wish it went more into depth on her art too.

I still enjoyed it a lot. It's a minimalisti graphic novel which fits Asawa's artistic persona. It was made in close collaboration with her daughter. There is a lot of love that went into this graphic novel.

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I love graphic novels, I love art and I've recently gained an interest in historical tales. So when I saw the adorable cover of this graphic novel and read what it is about, I had to give it a whirl. I was delighted to be rewarded with a high quality graphic novel. I was captivated by both the illustrations and the fascinating story behind this unique artist. This would be an excellent comic to study with students, as there is so much to contemplate about the effects of war but also about resilience, persistence and the love of art.

I received this arc from netgalley in exchange for my honest review.

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This is a lovely book that should appeal to a wide range of ages and interests. It's beautifully illustrated and the story, too, is a compelling one. Anyone interested in art and artists would find this of interest. I'd give it to a budding artist to read as a present, and I'd make sure there was a copy in every school art classroom. Ruth Asawa is a person we should all appreciate.

Thank you to NetGalley for an advance copy of this book. It's an all-around treasure!

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This is such a wonderful book about artist Ruth Asawa! As an artist myself, I really appreciated reading about Ruth’s life and how she began making her unique art. This graphic novel includes some serious subject matter in a very readable format. The book covers how Ruth & her family were treated after the attack on Pearl Harbor, and captures the emotional toll this took. I felt great empathy for what Ruth’s family as well as what all Japanese families endured after the attack.
It was really interesting reading about how Ruth worked to find her place in the world, and art became a powerful tool for her to shape her identity and move forward. This is a fantastic book to discuss with your kids and serves as a spark to learn more about Ruth’s intricate artworks and process!

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This is such an interesting book and describes the life and art of Ruth Asawa very well. It is accessible for children and interesting for adults too.
The illustrations are lovely and the extra photos and information at the end is all very informative.

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Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

The first time I've seen Asawa's art I just fell in love with it, then I've read her bio "Everything She Touched: The Life of Ruth Asawa" by Marilyn Chaseand and I've watched whatever video I could find about her life and her art which I found both inspiring and amazing.
This book could be very helpful for either young or adult readers in order to discover who was this great artist.

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"Ruth: An Artist Takes Shape" is a tender and poignant graphic biography that beautifully encapsulates the remarkable life of Ruth Asawa, a pioneer in the world of art. Through the masterful storytelling of Sam Nakahira, readers are invited on a journey through Asawa's trials and triumphs, from the tumultuous days of World War II to her emergence as a groundbreaking sculptor. Nakahira's intricate illustrations vividly bring Asawa's world to life, particularly in his stunning depictions of nature, which mirror the profound influence it had on Asawa's creative process. However, the narrative falters slightly in its ending, which feels abrupt compared to the engaging storytelling that precedes it. Despite this, "Ruth: An Artist Takes Shape" remains a compelling and inspiring read, showcasing Asawa's resilience, innovation, and unwavering commitment to her craft.

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