As the oral historian of Ruth Asawa's time at Black Mountain College and in celebration of the commemorative postage stamp by the USPS, Thomas T. K. Zung shares a few words on his memories with the Japanese American artist.
The United States Postal Service announced an honor to pioneer Japanese American artist Ruth Asawa (1926-2013) with a commemorative postage stamp. An iconic artist, there are ten stamps featuring her wire sculptures, the stamp unveiled and purchased after August 13th, 2020. With this postage stamp, Ruth Asawa joins her Black Mountain College mentor Buckminster Fuller, and friend Isamu Noguchi with a commemorative stamp. (both were honored in 1983)
Asawa attended BMC where she met Fuller, and her future husband Albert Lanier, an architectural student. Black Mountain College, near Ashville North Carolina was arguably the Rosetta Stone of contemporary American artists. Faculty (late 40’s and 50’s) included Josef & Anni Albers, Wilhem & Elaine de Kooning, Merce Cunningham & John Cage, Charles Burchard, Richard Lippold, Walter Gropius, Agnes de Mille, Arthur Fielder, Ben Shawn, Robert De Niro, Sr., Franz Kline, Robert Motherwell, and others. Some students, Ruth Asawa, Albert Lanier, Robert Rauschenberg, Arthur Penn, Paul Taylor, Don Richter, Ken Snelson, and others. Ruth Asawa wrote about her days at BMC in the two books by Thomas T K Zung, “Buckminster Fuller, Anthology for the Millennium”, St. Martin’s Press, and a reprint by Southern Illinois University Press.
It was Ruth Asawa who suggested to Stanford University Librarian & Vice provost Michael A. Keller that the Buckminster Fuller archives were available. The RBF Estate, Fuller’s daughter Allegra, agreed that the Stanford University Dept. of Special Collections would house Bucky’s collection he called ‘the chronofile.’ The Fuller collection is the most used archives at Stanford.
Stanford University also acquired the Ruth Asawa archives, and requested that Fuller’s architectural partner Thomas T. K. Zung record an oral history about Ruth Asawa’s time at BMC. These interviews with Ruth and Albert are housed at the Department of Special Collections, Stanford University. Memories were revealed to Zung during the recordings, like Bucky’s design for Ruth’s engagement ring, a tetrahedron design in silver with a black stone setting, the stone found by Bucky on a beach. Ruthie beamed when she showed the ring to Zung.
Albert Lanier told about the architectural class working night and day on Fuller’s first geodesic dome. Doing numerous calculations and making the dome strips from old venetian blinds, the day came to erect this amazing invention. Ruth said the entire school came out to view this lightening event, Albert called it, “the second coming of Moses.” Laughing aloud, Ruthie and Albert told Zung, the dome pieces just laid there on the lawn like a plate of cold spaghetti. Elaine de Kooning dubbed it the ‘supine dome’. Everyone but Fuller was disappointed, shouted Bucky in excitement, “we all learn from failure.” The second summer at BMC, the geodesic dome was born, Ruth Asawa writes about it in chapter thirteen for Zung’s Anthology book about Fuller.
(The Ruth Asawa stamp images are on the USPS website.)
Thomas T K Zung
Buckminster Fuller, Sadao & Zung