Gov. Gavin Newsom and First Partner Jennifer Siebel Newsom on Tuesday inducted the California Hall of Fame 14th class, the first class of honorees to be recognized posthumously, during a webcast streamed by the California Museum.

Ruth Asawa was a visionary who was known for her wire sculptures as well as her activism on behalf of arts education. (2021 Imogen Cunningham Trust. All Rights Reserved.)

The new inductees, who join 134 inspirational Californians previously inducted for embodying the state’s innovative spirit, are celebrated in a new California Hall of Fame website featuring online exhibitions and tribute videos exploring the lives and legacies of the latest inductees.

The California Hall of Fame 14th class includes:

• Artist Ruth Asawa (1926-2013)

• Singer-songwriter and guitarist Jerry Garcia (1942-1995)

• Labor activist Larry Itliong (1913-1977)

• Gay rights activists Phyllis Lyon (1924-2020) and Del Martin (1921-2008)

• Crossover rock music icon Ritchie Valens (1941-1959)

“Jennifer and I are pleased to induct this group of extraordinary Californians into the Hall of Fame,” said Newsom. “There is no doubt their lives and legacies have helped make California synonymous around the world with innovation, imagination and progress.”

“These luminaries represent the best of California,” said Siebel Newsom. “Each one has left their own indelible mark on history and reminds us of the creativity, ingenuity and courage that lives inside all of us.”

The California Hall of Fame launched in 2006 to honor trailblazing Californians who embody the state’s spirit of innovation and have made history. Inductees are selected annually by the governor and first partner for achievements in arts, business and labor, entertainment, food and wine, literature, music, public service, science and sports. Traditionally, inductees are celebrated in an annual ceremony held at the museum.

“We’re thrilled to welcome this new class of inductees with Gov. Newsom and the first partner,” said California Museum Board of Trustees Chair Richard S. Costigan III. “We look forward to inspiring visitors virtually with their remarkable stories through the online exhibitions published on the new California Hall of Fame website.”

About Ruth Asawa

Asawa’s artistic talent was evident from an early age, but she had little spare time for the art-making she enjoyed while working on her family’s farm and attending school. In 1942, her family was forced into detention, along with all other Japanese Americans on the West Coast. She got her first chance to study with professional artists while imprisoned at Santa Anita Racetrack and graduated from high school in an incarceration camp in Rohwer, Ark.

Released to attend teacher’s college in 1943, she learned after three years that she would be denied a credential because of her Japanese ancestry. At the urging of close friends, she continued her education at Black Mountain College in North Carolina. There, her creativity blossomed as she studied under many of the leading lights of Modernism, including Josef Albers, Buckminster Fuller and Merce Cunningham. She also met architectural student Albert Lanier, whom she married in 1949.

The entrance to the San Francisco home of Ruth Asawa and Albert Lanier featured several masks.

In San Francisco, the couple raised six children and built their careers. Over the next half-century, Asawa produced sculptures and works on paper. Her innovative use of material and original form brought her growing acclaim. Her work has been exhibited widely since the early 1950s and is in the permanent collections of museums nationwide. She also is known for her public commissions throughout the Bay Area, including fountains in Ghirardelli Square and outside the Grand Hyatt Hotel in San Francisco, and the Japanese American Internment Memorial in San Jose.

Asawa was devoted to expanding access to arts education, believing that when children make art, they make “history for themselves.” She co-founded the Alvarado Arts Workshop in 1968 and was instrumental in creating the first public arts high school in San Francisco in 1982, which was renamed in her honor in 2010.

In 2020, Asawa was honored with a U.S. postage forever stamp.

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  1. So well deserved. I have loved her work, especially the fountain at Ghiardelli Square in San Francisco. Any trip to San Francisco includes a visit to the mermaid mothers.
    And an ice cream cone!