Angel Island Insight #4: Imogen Cunningham

ANGEL ISLAND IN SIGHT 2021 is a visual storytelling project focused on Angel Island — a collective portrait of Angel Island drawn from a multitude of views — near and far, past and present. Del Sol Performing Arts Organization’s ANGEL ISLAND INSIGHT explores the history of the Angel Island Immigration Station by offering a suite of virtual and in-person programs that examines the musicality of the disappearing Hoisan-wa dialect by The Last Hoisan Poets and The Del Sol Quartet. public engagement with Del Sol Quartet & Huang Ruo’s Angel Island – Oratorio for Voices and Strings.

“The formula for doing a good job in photography is to think like a poet”

— Imogen Cunningham

IMOGEN CUNNINGHAM (April 12, 1883 – June 23, 1976) was an American photographer known for her botanical photography, nudes, and industrial landscapes. Cunningham was a member of the California-based Group f/64, known for its dedication to the sharp-focus rendition of simple subjects.

“Angel Island, 1952” by Imogen Cunningham depicts a young man at the San Francisco ferry landing.

Imogen Cunningham. Angel Island, 1952. © 2021 Imogen Cunningham Trust

When we wrote to the Cunningham Estate to request permission to share this photo, we enjoyed the exchange with her granddaughter Meg Partridge. Meg spoke of Imogen’s friendship with photographer Benjamen Chinn, a relation to Lenore Chinn.

Meg also fondly recalled her grandmother Imogen’s special relationship with artist Ruth Asawa.

As the Asawa family notes on their website, “Beginning in the 1950s and until she died in 1976, Imogen Cunningham was a close personal friend. Many of Imogen’s photographs document Ruth’s early work and family life.”

When artist LILLI LANIER shared a lithograph that she made in college of her great grandmother Haru Asawa, drawn from a photograph taken by Imogen in 1966, we were delighted. Haru Yasuda came through Angel Island when she immigrated to the United States to marry Umakichi Asawa.

It is a special pleasure to link generations of artists through this special project.

Lilli Lanier. Haru (after Haru Asawa, 1966, by Imogen Cunningham). Lithograph on paper. 2006.

This project was made possible with support from California Humanities, a non-profit partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Visit

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this website do not necessarily represent those of California Humanities or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

ANGEL ISLAND: IN SIGHT 2021 at the Angel Island Immigration Station is made possible with support from North East Medical Services (NEMS).

Folding an Origami Butterfly

Teaching Artist Lilli Lanier demonstrates how to fold an origami butterfly. Rooftop’s 6th grade students collaborated to make hundreds of yellow, gray, and black origami butterflies that were used to create a silhouette portrait of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly.  6th graders learned about the characters of the opera — Cio-Cio-San, Pinkerton, Sharpless, Goro, Suzuki and Trouble — in advance of their invitation to attend the final dress rehearsal of San Francisco Opera’s 2010 production of the operatic classic.

Students learned about the Japanese art of Origami (from ori meaning “folding”, and kami meaning “paper”).

Origami is the traditional Japanese folk art of paper folding, which started in the 17th century AD and was popularized in the mid-1900s. It has since then evolved into a modern art form. .

Link to San Francisco Opera’s Education Program’s classroom materials for Giacomo Puccini’s Madama Butterfly

Link to Origami Club website, featuring lots of simple origami folds, unit folds and printable origami paper designs.

Shadow Puppets

2010 Family Art Workshop: Shadow Puppetry

Artists extraordinaire Aiko Cuneo, founder of the Rooftop Art Program, and Lilli Lanier led the Rooftop kindergarteners and their families in a shadow puppet workshop in conjunction with the 2010 art study “Art Is… Illumination.”  Families came together with art to play with light and shadow for a magical evening.

Rooftop’s 2010 Kindergarten Family Art Night was held on September 16th at Rooftop’s Burnett Campus.