Quality is the first norm for art, but its final norm is love and truth, the enriching of human life, the deepening of our vision.


Asawa, Ruth - VM - Alina Sayre

Ruth Asawa: Group of Architectural Works


by Alina Sayre

I have never considered myself a sculpture enthusiast. But ten feet inside the San Jose Art Museum in San Jose, California, USA, I stopped, arrested, in front of the first thing I saw: the Group of Architectural Works by Ruth Asawa. This sculpture is a group of four pillars of brass and copper wire, a series of irregular, organic shapes from spheres to ovals to bulbs. The repetition of fluid lines makes the pillars appear almost identical at a glance. However, on closer observation, subtle contrasts begin to arise. The heights of the pillars are different. No two are shaped exactly alike. They vary in color from deep amber to almost black.

Yet these contrasts only add to the harmonious balance of the work. The grouping of the pillars emphasizes their unity. Each pillar overlaps another, creating different values of light and shadow between them and casting faint, organic shadows on the wall. Any one of these pillars is visually appealing, yet it is the group as a whole that is most beautiful. As the pillars interact with each other, they draw the eye upward, pulling the viewer into the motion of rising and inspiring a feeling of growth and hope.

Because sometimes the only fitting way to respond to a work of art is to create another work of art, my first response to the Group of Architectural Works was a poem:

It looks like Spirit.   

Different from every angle,
overlapping in shades of

rising from

Each of the four plumes is
yet all of the same material, all the same
style, like
the three members of the Trinity and

Light and
swell and
columns of

Ordinary materials—
brown chicken wire—
made lovely,
made shapely,
made meaningful—

Great are you,
Spirit of beauty,
facets as diverse as
the hearts you touch,
as unique as the eyes that behold

Perhaps you wait in
ordinary wire
to breathe on those who

This artwork redeems the merely utilitarian material of wire and makes it into art, just as God’s breath, God’s ruach, turned the simple material of dust into a human being in the image of God.  As I sat with the Group of Architectural Works, I felt like one of the pillars, rising into their life, unity, and harmony as into the divine dance. For me the beholding became like a prayer, a moment of meeting the Spirit in a work of art.


Ruth Asawa: Group of Architectural Works, created between 1955-1965, copper and brass wire, variable size when installed.

Ruth Asawa (1926-2013) was a Japanese-American artist whose experiences in an American internment camp and studies in Mexican basket weaving informed her woven-metal sculptures. 

Alina Sayre is an author and seminary student located in the San Francisco Bay Area. Her two novels for children explore her passion for the themes of art and faith. Website:

ArtWay Visual Meditation May 10, 2015