Thursday, August 8, 2013

From the Library's Files: Ruth Asawa's Bakers-Clay Recipe

One of Ruth Asawa's passions was to make the activity of art accessible to all. This philosophy was developed while she raised her own children.  As Sally  B. Woodbridge has written:
As the mother of six children she was always interested in ways to keep small hands busy.  One of the more successful of these was making things with a kind of inedible dough she later called "baker's clay."
While sculpted clay must be placed in a kiln and fired at very high temperatures, baker-clay can be "fired" in an ordinary home oven.  Her recipe, however, also has an extra step of applying lacquer or varnish because flour and salt both react over time to air.

During her exhibit at the San Francisco Museum of Art in 1973, she organized a "dough-in" for the opening.  She prepared "giant batches" of her bakers' clay and supervised 400 participants in creating their own sculptures which she included in her exhibition, and subsequently returned to their creators.

While this technique has proven popular with parents, educator's and children, Asawa also applied it to her own work.  The most famous manifestation of this is her San Francisco Fountain where the detailed images are cast from this modest medium.

There is more detailed information about Baker's Clay on Ruth Asawa's webpage.

San Francisco Public Library Vertical File

Education Department
San Francisco Museum of Art
Van Ness at McAllister
San Francisco, California

Ruth Asawa's Bakers-Clay Recipe:

For those who would like to make bakers-clay sculpture the following recipe is provided:

4 cups flour
1 cup salt
1 1/2 cups water
2 tablespoons dry tempera paint (optional for color)
  1. Mix flour, salt and tempera color (optional) together; add water and mix.
  2. Knead dough for four or five minutes for smooth consistency.
  3. Make sculpture.
  4. Insert paper clip or beer-can pull-top to act as hanger if the sculpture is to be suspended.
  5. Bake sculpture in 300 to 350 degree oven for about one hour or until very hard.
  6. After it has cooled, spray sculpture with clear lacquer or brush on a clear plastic varnish such as Varathene.  Let dry in clean dustless space.
Bakers lay can be stored in well sealed plastic bags kept in the refrigerator for as long as 24 hours.  For best consistency, however, clay dough should be freshly made just before sculpting.


"Ruth Asawa: A Retrospective View" (press release, June 25, 1973) in Ruth Asawa [Artists file], San Francisco Public Library, Art Music and Recreation Center.

Ruth Asawa's San Francisco Fountain by Sally B. Woodbridge (San Francisco Museum of Art?, 1973).

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