Back to Scholarship

Doubled Abstraction: Ruth Asawa’s Stamp and Its Afterlife

In Ruth Asawa's final year at Black Mountain College, c. 1948–49, she used a rubber stamp borrowed from the laundry room and featuring the college's initials (BMC) to make a body of work. Three years later, a pattern derived from this work was mass-produced and marketed across the US under the name Alphabet – without attribution to Asawa, nor to the school for which the pattern's acronym stood. This essay examines the doubled abstraction of Asawa's stamp (in the sense of both material tool and figurative signature), as the letters that she first abstracted into images were subsequently disassociated from both her name and that of the school itself. By tracing Asawa's eventual reclamation of her authorship from this contextual abstraction, this essay makes a broader case for recognizing artistic practices of self-definition.