Public Commissions

“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.”

Beginning in the mid 1960s, Asawa received many commissions to make public sculptures and fountains. These works can be found in San Francisco, San Jose, and other places in Northern California. For some of the works, Asawa drew upon her life-long interest and experimentation with paper folding, also known as origami.

As a child, Asawa studied origami at the Japanese cultural school she attended on Saturdays. In college, her teacher Josef Albers assigned design problems in which students transformed paper from two dimensions (flat) to three dimensions (3-D) by folding it. Two of her commissions, Aurora and the Origami Fountains, at the Buchanan Mall in San Francisco’s Nihonmachi are paperfold designs.

Commissions such as the San Francisco Fountain at the Hyatt Hotel on Union Square and the Japanese American Internment Memorial owe their existence to her work as an arts activist in public schools. For these works, she used baker’s clay — a simple, easy-to-make, non-toxic dough which she mixed for thousands of children over the years — and cast the finished baker’s clay designs in bronze. These large public commissions gave Asawa a chance to experiment with new materials and techniques.

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Find out how to make baker’s clay >