Jonathan Fairbanks saw the box first. The director of Fuller Craft Museum, he is also trustee of the late Joan Pearson Watkins’ extensive craft collection, helping to distribute the works of art to appropriate public institutions. At that moment, he and some museum colleagues were sorting through a temporary storage unit.
“We were about to stop for the day,” Fairbanks recalls. “And I saw a box with the big word ‘ASAWA’ on it.”
Inside: a treasure. Ruth Asawa, who died in 2013, is a giant among American sculptors, known worldwide for her exquisite wire works. The piece Fairbanks and his team uncovered is an example of her tied-wire sculpture, a series Asawa began when the structure of a desert plant proved too tangled for her to draw. She had to construct it in three dimensions to understand it – and once she did, it opened her eyes to the possibilities of the medium.
This particular sculpture hangs on the wall; it spans 2.5 feet. “I am amazed at the complexity of this piece and its fragility,” Fairbanks says. It had been packed, with extreme care, to preserve each delicate strand. Also inside the box were drawings Asawa had made to map out the elaborate structure. “If you get up close,” Fairbanks says, “you’ll see that these branches are configured in a systematic, almost mathematical, way to enclose space.”
Visitors to the Fuller can do just that. The piece, a 2014 gift to the museum from the Joan Pearson Watkins Trust, is currently on view as part of its “Crafting a Collection” exhibition. The show, which runs through July 12, highlights significant acquisitions the museum made between January 2012 and September 2014. The Asawa is among its gems. “When we got it out,” Fairbanks says, “I just knew that it had to come into our collection.”