1 Sculpture in Collection
Works in Select Public Collections
Philadelphia Museum of Art, PA; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY; Museum of Fine Arts, Sante Fe, NM; Oakland Museum of Art, CA; American Craft Museum, New York, NY, Everson Museum of Art, Syracuse, NY
Selected Recent Exhibitions
Beatrice Wood: A Centennial Tribute, American Craft Museum, New York, NY, 1997. Traveled to Santa Barbara Museum of Art, CA, 1997-98
Intimate Appeal: The Figurative Art of Beatrice Wood, The Oakland Museum, CA, 1989-90. Traveled to The Craft and Folk Art Museum, Los Angeles, CA, 1990
Beatrice Wood Retrospective, Cal State Fullerton, CA, 1983
I Shock Myself: Beatrice Wood Career Woman of Art, autobiography by Beatrice Wood, Schiffer Craft, 1985
Beatrice Wood: A Centennial Tribute, exhibition catalog edited by Francis Naumann, American Craft Museum, New York, NY, 1997
Intimate Appeal: The Figurative Art of Beatrice Wood, exhibition catalog, The Oakland Museum, CA, 1989-90
Trailor for Film: Beatrice Wood: The Mama of Dada, Written and Directed by Thomas Neff, 1994: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UuiYq0injNM
Video by Steven Watson: A Conversation with Beatrice Wood, Philadelphia, PA, 1987:
Born 1893 San Francisco, CA
Died 1998 Ojai, CA
Beatrice Wood is recognized worldwide for her ceramic pottery that is defined by simple, loose shapes adorned with lustre and matte glazes. During her remarkable century-long life, Wood also created a substantial body of figurative sculptures and drawings that have a naïve, folk art quality. Her art is held by major museums in the United States and her irreverent and fascinating life is celebrated by artists, critics and collectors alike.
Wood was born in San Francisco to a wealthy, conservative family. After the earthquake in 1906 the family moved to New York where Beatrice was enrolled in elite finishing schools, including a year at a Paris convent to prepare for coming out to society. Early in her life Wood identified the bohemian lifestyle of artists as a way to break from her family’s staid upper crust society. Despite their objections, she insisted on pursuing the arts.
After graduating from high school, Wood visited Paris with her parents. While there they indulged her artistic impulses and enrolled her in a life drawing class at the Académie Julian. In 1912, accompanied by a chaperone her parents had hired, Wood rented a studio in Giverny, near Monet’s garden. Wood disciplined herself to do a landscape, a still life and “a fantasy” each day but found the chaperone overbearing and none of her art very good. Nevertheless, it was a taste of the life she had been dreaming of. Wood, who was fluent in French, went on to pursue acting at Comédie-Française, appearing on the stage with leading actors.
At of the onset of WWI, Wood reluctantly left France and returned home to New York where she continued to act with a French repertory company. In 1916 while visiting composer Edgard Varèse, Wood met Marcel Duchamp with whom she would remain close friends until his death in 1968. Through Duchamp, Wood met French collector and diplomat Henri-Pierre Roché. The two became lovers and Roché and Duchamp encouraged Wood’s creative pursuits, introducing her to an array of interesting artists, thinkers and patrons working in New York.
Because of her parents disapproval, Wood did not have a space to make her art. Duchamp invited her to use his studio which was above the home of Walter and Louise Arensberg, collectors who opened their home regularly to the city’s most progressive writers and artists. Wood pursued her drawing and attended evening soirees at the Arensberg’s with New York’s Dadaists. It was at the Arensberg’s that Wood had an epiphany about Modernism when a Matisse painting opened her up to its’ possibilities.
In 1916 Duchamp and Roché formed the Society of Independent Artists and began to hold annual exhibitions. Wood had two pieces in the first show in 1917 and became the publisher of the society’s magazine The Blind Man. Later that same year she broke off her relationship with Roché, who had been unfaithful, and Duchamp left for Paris. Shortly thereafter the Arensberg’s moved to Los Angeles. Without her clan, Wood pursued an acting opportunity in Montreal, Canada and briefly married the theatre’s manager. The marriage horrified her parents and was legally dissolved. In 1920 Wood returned to New York where she met feminist, socialist and leading member of the Theosophical Society, Annie Besant, and Indian philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti, who viewed Besant as a surrogate mother. Wood befriended them both and eventually followed Krishnamurti and the Arensberg’s to southern California.
In 1930 on a trip to Holland with Krishnamurti, Wood purchased six Baroque lustreware dessert plates. Unable to find a matching teapot, she decided that she would make one and enrolled in a ceramics class at Hollywood High school. It was 1933 and Wood was 39 years old. This was her first encounter with clay and it didn’t take long for her to realize the difficulty of the medium. She persisted and learned the craft and eventually secured a small studio and kiln and began to sell pottery and small figurative sculptures, many of which were three dimensional renderings of her early drawings.
In 1939 Wood enrolled in a class with Glen Lukens, a potter who taught at the University of Southern California. Lukens had included pieces of Wood’s in LACMA’s first exhibition of California ceramics. After Lukens class, Wood studied with Gertrud and Otto Natzler, ceramists from Vienna who were respected as technical masters. The Natzler’s were important mentors to Wood. Gertrud taught her how to throw on a potter’s wheel and Otto taught her glaze chemistry and shared their precious glaze formulas with her. This was when Wood’s career as a potter began to gain traction. She showed frequently in group exhibitions and critics noted her skill with glazes as well as her sense of humor.
In 1948 Wood purchased a small home in Ojai, California that was across the street from Krishnamurti. She taught ceramics at the Happy Valley School (now the Besant Hill School) and was exhibiting widely with one person exhibitions in San Francisco, Phoenix and New York while actively selling her wares at high end stores like Gump’s, Neiman Marcus and Marshall Fields.
By the 1950s Wood’s lustreware ceramics were in high demand. The respected ceramic scholar and dealer Garth Clark notes that the lustre tradition in the western world up to this moment had been restricted to surface decoration that was added in small amounts as highlights to already glazed pottery. Wood’s approach was unique as her iridescent surfaces are created by applying the lustre as an all over glaze on the pot’s surface.
The precious quality of Wood’s shimmering surfaces are wonderfully balanced by her loosely thrown vessels and her willingness to let the clay and the kiln’s fire play a role in the pot’s outcome. What other potters would deem mistakes or flaws, Wood declared art. Her vases, bowls and chalices are often spattered with clay imperfections and pitted glazes but they are wonderfully proportioned and captivating in their honesty and freshness. The luster glazes reflect and diffract light and the iridescent colors change from blues to greens to pinks as you move around the pieces.
In 1961 Wood met Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay, who was chairwoman of the All India Handicraft Board. After a visit to Wood’s studio, Chattopadhyay was determined to share Wood’s pottery in India. The result of her commitment was an invitation for Wood to do a 14 city tour of India sponsored by the State Department. During this trip Wood was deeply impressed by India’s customs, costumes and folk art. She shared her artwork and made subsequent visits in 1965 and 1972, eventually adopting the sari as her own. For the remainder of Wood’s life she accessorized colorful saris with beautiful Indian bangles and necklaces. In addition to the handicrafts of India, Wood absorbed the styles and decorative approaches of both Hindu and west African cultures.
The Untitled piece in the Wolfson Collection is illustrative of how non-western cultural influences enter into Wood’s approach. This vessel with its ziggurat-like shape was made by Wood in 1988 to commemorate the anniversary of the Women’s Building in Los Angeles, a feminist art and education center founded in 1973 which allowed women to develop and showcase their artistic skills outside of a traditional environment. The vessel is a lively combination of Wood’s two approaches to her ceramic art. The all over matte aqua surface is a testament to her skill with glazes. The female figure, that serves as the lid and finial adornment on this covered jar, could easily be interpreted as a self-portrait of Wood who often wore her hair swept up. The shiny glaze that adorns the woman’s face draws attention to the female figure underscoring the pro woman work that was the mission of the Women’s Building. The plant forms and decorative medallions that are applied around the center of each of three tiers reflect the whimsical, naïve style Wood used to make her figurative sculptures.
Wood’s figurative sculptures are often autobiographical with references to friends, lovers and specific incidents in her life. Oftentimes they are humorous commentaries on heterosexual marriage. The sculptures are generally small in scale and the objects—people and animals typically—are unrefined and sparse in detail but there is an honesty and liveliness to them that is compelling. Wood used this form of her ceramics to comment on the foibles of human nature and the power plays embedded in relationships. Throughout her life she referred to these pieces as her ‘naughty’ figures. And while the figurative works are not as well known as her pottery, they are a reflection of the ease, humor and delight with which Wood approached her life.
As Wood entered her eighth and ninth decades she continued to make art on an almost daily basis. In 1985 she wrote an autobiography entitled I Shock Myself. Wood had an important retrospective at Cal State Fullerton in 1983 and another at the American Craft Museum in 1997, a year before her death. In 1996 when she was 103 the National Arts Club of New York awarded Beatrice Wood a Lifetime Achievement Award.
In 1974 Wood was invited to build a new home and studio on the grounds of the Happy Valley Foundation in Ojai, California. At the end of her life she gifted this home, some of her work and her library to the Foundation. Since her death the Foundation has opened her studio to visitors.