Beatrice Wood (March 3, 1893 – March 12, 1998) was an American artist and studio potter, who late in life was depicted the "Mama of Dada," and served as a partial inspiration for the character of Rose DeWitt Bukater in James Cameron's 1997 film, Titanic. Beatrice Wood died nine days after her 105th birthday in Ojai, California.
Beatrice Wood was born in San Francisco, California, the daughter of wealthy socialites. Despite her parents' strong opposition, Wood insisted on pursuing a career in the arts. Eventually her parents agreed to let her study painting and because she was fluent in French, they sent her to Paris where she studied acting at the Comédie-Française and art at the prestigious Académie Julian.
The onset of World War I forced Wood to return to the United States. She continued acting with a French Repertory Company in New York City, performing over sixty roles in two years and spent a number of years thereafter performing on the stage.
Dada and the Avant-garde
During this time period, Wood was introduced to Marcel Duchamp, who in turn introduced her to her first great love interest, Henri-Pierre Roché, a man fourteen years her senior. She worked with Duchamp and Roché in the 1910s to create The Blind Man, a magazine that was one of the earliest manifestations of the Dada art movement in New York City.
Roché, Duchamp, and Jules et Jim
Though she was involved with Roché, the two would often spend time with Duchamp, creating a love triangle. Biographies of Wood traditionally link Roché's novel (and the consequent film), Jules et Jim, with the relationship between Duchamp, Wood, and himself. Other sources link their triangle to Roché's unfinished novel, Victor, and Jules et Jim with the triangle between Roché, Franz Hessel, and Helen Hessel. Beatrice Wood commented on this topic in her 1985 autobiography, I Shock Myself:
Roché lived in Paris with his wife Denise, and had by now written Jules et Jim ... Because the story concerns two young men who are close friends and a woman who loves them both, people have wondered how much was based on Roché, Marcel, and me. I cannot say what memories or episodes inspired Roché, but the characters bear only passing resemblance to those of us in real life!
The Arensbergs and their circle
Wood was next introduced to the art patrons, Walter and Louise Arensberg (who would become her lifelong friends). They held regular gatherings in which artists, writers, and poets were invited for intellectual discussion. Besides herself, Duchamp, and Roché, the group included Man Ray and Francis Picabia. Beatrice Wood's relationship with them and others associated with the avant-garde movement of the early 20th century, earned her the designation "Mama of Dada." Beatrice did not stay at the academy because it was too academic for her.
In her early forties, after a succession of failed artistic careers (most notably as an actress) and an annulled marriage, Beatrice moved back to Los Angeles, California.
It was at this time that she bought a pair of baroque plates with a luster glaze. She wanted to find a matching teapot to go along with it, but was unsuccessful. Deciding to make the teapot herself, she enrolled in a ceramic class at Hollywood High School. This hobby turned into a passion that would last over the next sixty years, as she developed a unique form of luster-glaze technique that proved successful.
In 1947, Beatrice felt that her career was established enough for her to build a home. She settled in Ojai, California in 1948 to be near the Indian philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti and became a lifelong member of the Theosophical Society – Adyar, events which would greatly influence her artistic philosophies. She also taught and lived at the Happy Valley School, now known as Besant Hill School.
Ever the comedienne, when asked the secret to her incredible longevity, she would respond, "I owe it all to chocolate and young men."
In 1994, the Smithsonian Institution named Wood an "Esteemed American Artist".
Her home still rests on the campus of Besant Hill School and can be visited by appointment as it is still an active art gallery called The Beatrice Wood Center for the Arts.
The secondary market in Beatrice Wood art still thrives, and the largest collection can be viewed at BeatriceWoodArt.com, where major pieces such as Good Morning America, Madame Lola's Pleasure Palace, Chez Fifi, Waiting for Kennedy, and the last figurative work completed by Wood in 1997, Men With Their Wives, can be viewed.
- Clark, Garth (2001). Gilded Vessel: The Lustrous Life and Art of Beatrice Wood. Guild Publishing.
- Wallace, Marlene (1994). Playing Chess With the Heart: Beatrice Wood at 100. San Francisco: Chronicle Books.
- Wood, Beatrice (1985). I Shock Myself: The Autobiography of Beatrice Wood. San Francisco: Chronicle Books.
- "Beatrice Wood". New Mexico Museum of Art. Retrieved 9 December 2013.
Films inspired by Wood
- Beatrice Wood: Mama of Dada: This documentary was released as a 16 mm film in Los Angeles, California on March 3, 1993, to coincide with Wood's 100th birthday.
- Titanic: Wood found a new audience when she was 104. She served as a partial inspiration for the 101-year-old character of "Rose" in James Cameron's epic 1997 film, Titanic. In Titanic: James Cameron's Illustrated Screenplay, Cameron notes that Bill Paxton's wife loaned a copy of I Shock Myself to him. He realized upon reading it that "the first chapter describes almost literally the character I was already writing for 'Old Rose'...When I met her she was charming, creative and devastatingly funny...Of course, the film's Rose is only a refraction of Beatrice, combined with many fictional elements" (overleaf for page 7). According to her obituary in the Ojai Valley News, six days before her death, Wood awarded the Fifth Annual Beatrice Wood Film Award to Cameron.
The Santa Monica Museum of Art, will exhibit diaries by Beatrice Wood. She kept daily journals for 85 years. The museum's director Elsa Longhauser said: The entries are “enigmatic.” "But I think they will be revealing, going beyond the myth of Beatrice Wood to show the real artist and thinker.” The Dada expert, Francis Naumann, brought the museum’s attention to the journals. He is preparing a corresponding publication. (It will be part of the “Pacific Standard Time” exhibitions opening in the fall of 2011 at small galleries to museums in Southern California, about different aspects of California art history from World War II to 1980, organized by the Getty.)
- Cameron, James. Titanic: James Cameron's Illustrated Screenplay. New York, Harper: 1998.
- Laskas, Jeanne Marie. "Beatrice Wood: Breaking the Mold". In We Remember: Women Born at the Turn of the Century Tell the Stories of Their Lives in Words and Pictures. New York: William Morrow and Co., 1999.
- Internet Broadway Database: Beatrice Wood Credits on Broadway
- Spencer Jon Helfen Fine Arts
- clayart - thread 'beatrice wood - new york times obit.'
- Bright Lights Film Journal | Jules and Jim
- http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/18/arts/artsspecial/18PACIFIC.html “Unearthing Lost Treasures in California”-March 13, 2010-N.Y.Times
- Beatrice Wood Center for the Arts
- Oral history interview with Beatrice Wood, 1976 Aug. 26, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution
- Biography from the Philadelphia Museum of Art
- NPR: Beatrice Wood Obit - National Public Radio
- MacNeill, Bonnie. "Mama of Dada Beatrice Wood dies at 105." The Ojai Valley News. (Issue 44, Friday, March 13, 1998, p. A-1).