When we tinker … we think with our hands. 

A Life Made By Hand

“An artist is not special.  An artist is an ordinary person who can take ordinary things and make them special.”  Ruth Asawa

“In Ruth Asawa’s hands, simple wire turned into graceful sculptures as light as air.” 
Inspired by the world around her,  Asawa saw beauty in the ordinary:  spiders’ webs, insects’ wings, and drops of water found in the garden where she spent her childhood.  She studied at the historic Black Mountain College.   During the 1930s and 1940s the school flourished, becoming well known as an incubator for artistic talent.
The author of “Life Made By Hand” does a beautiful job of connecting the imaginative life of Ruth Asawa as a child with the professional artist she became.  The illustrations are a charming combination of pencil drawings and collage.
Book read by the author, Andrea D’Aquino:


KQED video about Ruth Asawa:


The Art of Tinkering…..

Tinkering does not come with a set of instructions for building things.  Tinkering is more active than just following instructions.  It’s like playing with Legos and just building stuff.  When we tinker we experiment with ideas, tools and materials to discover the possibilities that everyday objects can hold.  Tinkering allows us to invent wonderful creations through working with our hands.

Milk Carton Sculptures

Aiko Cuneo, Ruth Asawa’s daughter

Having studied with architect and inventor Buckminster Fuller, Ruth Asawa was inspired to work with a group of artists and a mathematician to explore recycled milk carton art by cutting the cartons into strips.


Materials:   milk carton or cereal box, scissors, staplers or masking tape.

Preparation:  cut your carton or box into narrow, long strips.

Open-Ended Activity

Today, let’s make small constructions using scissors, staplers and strips cut from milk cartons. In the spirit of Ruth Asawa, let’s playfully experiment.  

  • There is no “right” way to do it.

  •  No step-by-step instructions. 

  • This activity is designed for success in a variety of ways and allows children to investigate and succeed on their own terms.

I couldn’t resist tinkering a bit…..

Researching for this lesson, I discovered a publication from the Exploratorium in San Francisco. 

One of the most interesting and rich questions that comes up regularly when we talk about our work is also one of the hardest to answer: what are people actually learning while tinkering? The question becomes really difficult to answer if one tries to quantify learning according to externally imposed measures, like the ones used in a school setting. However, anyone who has been directly involved in facilitating tinkering activities can feel that there clearly is learning happening, and that it can be very powerful.”



Ruth Asawa “Art Is for Everybody”
Artist Ruth Asawa is a champion of accessible arts education.
By Milton ChenRuth Cox

Edutopia –


Our beloved San Francisco artist and arts education activist Ruth Asawa is being celebrated with a set of Forever® stamps by the U.S. Postal Service.  These beautiful stamps are available beginning today, August 13, 2020.