Responses by Ethel Kessler, president/creative director, Kessler Design Group
Background: The purpose of the project was for the United States Postal Service to honor pioneering Japanese American artist Ruth Asawa (1926–2013), who is best known for her intricate abstract wire sculptures. Inspired by nature, Asawa transformed industrial materials into transparent, seemingly weightless works that challenged the traditional definitions of sculpture. A tireless advocate of community-based arts education, she is also acclaimed for her paintings, prints and large public projects. Showcasing Asawa’s wire sculptures, this pane features 20 stamps, two each with ten designs.
Reasoning: Every time I start to design a new set of stamps, I find it important to use the stamps to tell a story. I ask myself the question: “How much visual information do I need to tell the story?” In researching Ruth Asawa and her work, it was clear that the wire sculptures would figure prominently in the “story” illustrated by her art works featured on the stamps. And within the selection of her wire sculptures, I wanted to make sure that a strong variety was featured. The diversity of the wire sculpture designs would present the dynamic energy to enliven the stamps and tell the story of Asawa’s unique creativity.
Challenges: Arranging the pieces of art in the stamp pane format. It was a lot like putting puzzle pieces together: the balance of shapes and types of visual distinctions of Asawa’s sculptures had to consist of precisely the right balance in the format.
Favorite details: The more you look at each sculpture, the more you are aware of the subtleties of color. Even though many of the images appear to be black and white, the tones of the wire play a big part in the dynamic. When the sculptures are hung, the shadow from the lighting adds drama. We relied heavily on Asawa’s children, Addie Lanier and Aiko Cuneo, and their lifelong knowledge of their mother’s work. Their unique understanding of her creative process and experience of being present in Asawa’s life during the creation of some of the sculptures featured on the stamp was invaluable in bringing the project together.
Anything new: Everything about Ruth Asawa was new to me, like her early life in a Japanese internment camp where her interest in art originated and her studies with Josef Albers, Merce Cunningham and other notable artists at Black Mountain College in the late 1940s. Learning about her unique vision and the way she expressed it in creating wire sculptures in these beautiful biomorphic forms was a revelation for me. And I also have a quote by Ruth Asawa as to why she was drawn to wire sculpture, “I was interested in it because of the economy of a line, making something in space, enclosing it without blocking it out. It’s still transparent. I realized that if I was going to make these forms, which interlock and interweave, it can only be done with a line because a line can go anywhere.”