visitors in a gallery with paintings on the wall.
At the opening of the show in January. Photo by George Lipp

“Generation/The Roots of Making in the Asawa-Lanier Family” celebrates four generations of the famed family’s artwork at Ruth’s Table in San Francisco’s Mission District.  

The show returns Asawa and her progeny to a corner of the Mission that Asawa first visited in the late 1960s, when she was commissioned to do a mosaic for the Bethany House,  a government-subsidized home for seniors on the corner of Capp and 21st streets.  Asawa’s involvement with Bethany Center continued and, in 2009, she donated her kitchen table to the center. Ruth’s Table became the namesake of the art program for seniors and, in 2019, Ruth’s Table came to its own building and gallery next door, on 21st Street.  

The current show comes 10 years after Asawa’s death. It will run through March 31, 2023, and includes work from Asawa and her husband, Albert Lanier; as well as pieces by their daughter and son, Aiko Cuneo and Paul Lanier; their granddaughter, Lilli Lanier; and great-granddaughter, Lucia Ruth Soriano.  

At the entrance, one of Ruth’s entwined metal star sculptures overlooks the kitchen table. It was built by her husband, whom she met in 1947 while studying at Black Mountain College, an icon of avant-garde experimentation during the 24 years it operated between 1933 and 1957.  Asawa was at the North Carolina college for three years at the end of the 1940s, while Lanier was there for one year. They worked with such artists as the abstract painter Josef Albers and his wife, textile artist Anni Albers, as well as Robert Rauschenberg, Merce Cunningham, and William and Elaine de Kooning. 

Unable to marry in North Carolina because of miscegenation laws, Lanier and Asawa moved to San Francisco and lived in a house in Noe Valley for most of their married lives. It was there that they raised six children, with Asawa working as an artist and Lanier setting up an architectural firm. 

The show at Ruth’s Table follows the collaborative artistic thread that runs through four generations of the Asawa-Lanier family. 

At the exhibit’s entrance on the left are a series of striped abstract paintings by their son Paul Lanier, a designer and ceramicist. Next to his painting hangs one of his large clay bowls, decorated by his sister, Aiko Cuneo. Cuneo was an artist/educator in San Francisco’s public schools. Her paper-based collages line the wall on the right side of the gallery next to the wheelchair ramp leading into the gallery. Cuneo sourced her materials from SCRAP, an arts nonprofit that sells recycled materials to artists and teachers. Cuneo’s collages use recycled cut-paper paint-chip samples placed in rhythmic and colorful patterns.  

Along the same wall are wondrous small paintings by nine-year-old, great-granddaughter Lucia Ruth Soriano.  A granddaughter, Lilli Lanier, created two large centrally placed portraits honoring Asawa that are based on photos, but made out of hundreds of folded paper modular units. One portrait was made especially for the show. Lilli Lanier’s elegant paintings follow along the left wall, and consist of colorfully dotted patterns; microscopic worlds. 

The show also features several works by Asawa and Lanier, including a large black-and-white lithograph of a comfortable empty chair on an inside wall by Asawa. Towards the back of the gallery, before you enter the garden area, are several beautifully decorated envelopes made by Lanier.  Each has the name of one of his children, and on birthdays, he would put money into the envelopes. Next to the envelopes are several small intimate abstract drawings made by Lanier in his later years. 

Asawa and Lanier were both actively involved in San Francisco’s arts community, advocating strongly for a public School of the Arts, first founded in 1982. In 2010, it was renamed in her honor as the Ruth Asawa San Francisco School of the Arts. Lanier also helped save the Gottardo Piazzoni murals at the Main Library before their move to the De Young Museum in Golden Gate Park, and Asawa created public works, including fountains at Ghirardelli Square and Buchanan Mall. Asawa joined the San Francisco Arts Commission in 1968 and co-founded the Alvarado School Art Workshop, which brought art classes to San Francisco students.

The exhibit includes programming, such as an online artist talk on Wednesday, Feb. 8.

Ruth’s Table
3160 21st St.
San Francisco, CA, 94110

Gallery Hours
Tuesday to Friday, 10 a.m to 5 p.m.
Select Saturdays
or by appointment

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  1. Wonderful exhibit. The highly personal works of art of this family give a glimpse into the love and devotion to each other and to creativity nurtured over decades. Some of the exhibits also tell of the activism in which family members were involved. Our city has benefited from this activism. Don’t miss this exhibit.