Teachers Do Impossible Things All the Time


At the end of December, I opened up a gallery talk for Lilli Lanier. Lilli is the granddaughter to artist Ruth Asawa.  Ruth was a San Francisco based artist who is best known for her woven metal sculptures.  She has an incredible story–when she was young, she was sent to a Japanese internment camp in Arkansas and like Nelson Mandela, never held a grudge against her “captors.”  Instead, she used the time to explore art and later ended up studying with Buckminster Fuller, Josef Albers among others.

Lilli had come to the Oakland Museum to talk about the inspiration behind her ofrenda to her grandmother Ruth that was created as part of the Museum’s Day of the Dead celebration.  Lilli had created a life-sized portrait of her grandmother entirely out of origami squares that looked like small 2×2 cm tiles. It’s an extraordinary piece.

I opened the conversation with my favorite quote from Alice in Wonderland:

“There is no use trying,” said Alice; “one can’t believe impossible things.” “I dare say you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen.  “When I was your age, I always did it for half an hour a day.  Why sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

I felt as if I were standing in front of something impossible! How could she have possibly folded all those squares over a three-month period with two kids in tow? There were over 1000 squares and some were barely 5mm x 5mm.  And did I mention she’s an art teacher too?! Yes. Everyday teachers do impossible things and I was reminded of it as I looked at an amazing portrait of Ruth Asawa created entirely from origami squares.

Ruth’s art is seemingly impossible too.  She takes a straight line (a wire) and crochets it using traditional basket weaving techniques she learned. She makes a hard straight line have curves, connectedness and a softness as if you were slowly blowing a bubble.  Impossible.

I ended the talk with a quote from Ruth which is my wish for you in 2016:

“The best ideas come unexpectedly from a conversation or a common activity like watering the garden.  These can get lost or slip away if they are not acted on when they occur.” 

So here is to more common activity and inspiration that we can act upon together in 2016!

C.