Ruth’s Table Honors Asawa’s Legacy

By Jean Schiffman

New Mission District arts facility will host exhibitions and arts programs for people of all ages.

When you enter Ruth’s Table, a new Mission District art center created under the auspices of Bethany Senior Housing, the first thing you see is a lightly stained wooden dining room table that belonged to iconic San Francisco sculptor and arts advocate Ruth Asawa (1926-2013). It was made by her architect husband, Albert Lanier; around that table Asawa raised her family, crocheted her famous abstract wire sculptures and gathered together artists and politicians to discuss issues of the day. Her influence on education in the arts is ongoing.

In 2009, Asawa donated the table to Bethany, a low-income housing facility, and the seeds for Ruth’s Table were planted. What began as a program of activities for creative aging and interactive, intergenerational artmaking has grown into a dedicated building that strives to be a center for creative learning for people of all ages, rooted in the life of artist Asawa. Ruth’s Table has a butterfly roof, an urban art garden that connects it to Bethany and such details as one-of-a-kind etched-glass windows and an 80-foot magnetic, dry-erase-board wall on rollers, upon which you can do “anything,” exults director Jessica McCracken: “storyboarding, poetry, Matisse-inspired stop-motion animation!”

The first in a series of rotating exhibits at Ruth’s Table is “Beyond the Warp and Weft,” an eclectic exhibit of textiles and weaving by 15 mostly local and California-based artists. It is one of four celebrating the 100th anniversary of Bauhaus, the German art movement that famously married fine art to function. It was chosen to honor Asawa’s legacy; she was best known for her intricate wire sculptures, which are on permanent display in the tower of the de Young Museum. Each of the exhibits—which include color interaction and theory, photography and activism in the arts—is on display for two months. In between, the work of students in the public classes—taught by the exhibiting artists as well as other professionals—will grace the walls.

“This is by no means a historical retrospective,” McCracken emphasizes. “It’s looking at what contemporary artists are doing with Bauhaus concepts”—how they’re incorporating today’s various media. In “Warp and Weft,” she explains, we’re “seeing the breadth of choices artists have made exploring textiles: wire, digital technology, tapestry, paper . . . giving viewers a real sense of how large the concept is.” She notes a few examples: There’s German-born artist Sabine Reckewell’s large-scale, site-specific installation that applies geometry in crafting a three-dimensional architectural composition that hangs just behind Ruth’s table, and there’s Miguel Arzabe’s complex and beautiful paper weavings inspired by both indigenous textiles and modernist abstract painting.

Ruth’s Table’s new building, notes McCracken, was purposefully designed to be interactive and inclusive; it’s where artists and members of the community can gather, just as they once did around Ruth Asawa’s modest dining room table. “We want to continue that legacy of arts that changes communities,” says McCracken.

Beyond the Warp and Weft: The Enduring Legacy of Bauhaus

July 11-August 30

3160 21st St., San Francisco