Beatrice Wood

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Untitled (Two Women) earthenware with glazes by Beatrice Wood, 1990

Beatrice Wood (March 3, 1893 – March 12, 1998) was an American artist and studio potter who was depicted as the "Mama of Dada" later in life 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.

Beatrice Wood, 1908

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.[1]

Dada and the Avant-garde[edit]

Marcel Duchamp, Francis Picabia and Beatrice Wood, 1917

Woods involvement in the Avant Garde began with her introduction to[2] 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[edit]

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.[3][4] 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.[5] 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[edit]

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."

Ojai, California[edit]

In her early forties, after a succession of artistic careers (most notably as an actress) and an annulled marriage, Beatrice moved to Los Angeles, California.

Luster Chalice by Beatrice Wood, Permanent Collection, Beatrice Wood Center for the Arts & Happy Valley Foundation

While on a trip to hear J. Krishnamurti speak in Holland, 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, and she studied with a number of leading ceramists including Gertrude and Otto Natzler. She ultimately developed a signature style of glazing, an all-over, in-glaze luster that draws the metallic salts to the surface of the glaze by starving the kiln of oxygen.[6]


Figures were an important part of the artists output during the 1930s and 40s and she explored both vessel forms and sculpture throughout her career. As her skills increased, she consciously retained a naive, illustrative style to communicate her commentaries on life and love. This approach makes clear her love of all types of non-Western folk and primitive art.[7]

Ojai and longevity[edit]

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 J. Krishnamurti and became a lifelong member of the Theosophical Society – Adyar, events which would greatly influence her artistic philosophies. She also taught and lived on the same land as the Happy Valley School, now known as Besant Hill School.

At the age of 90, Beatrice became a writer, having been encouraged to write by her friend, Anais Nin. Her best known book is her autobiography, I Shock Myself.

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".

Beatrice left her home and studio to the Happy Valley Foundation. In 2005 it became The Beatrice Wood Center for the Arts.


  • 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. 

Films inspired by Wood[edit]

  • 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.[8]


Beatrice Wood kept daily journals for 85 years. Francis Naumann, a leading Dada historian and close friend of the artist, is currently working on an annotated publication of them.[9]


  1. ^ Internet Broadway Database: Beatrice Wood Credits on Broadway
  2. ^ Bobbye, Tigerman (2013). Handbook of California Design. Cambridge, Massachusetts, London, England: The Los Angeles Country Museum of Art and The MIT Press. pp. 302–303. ISBN 0262518384. 
  3. ^ Spencer Jon Helfen Fine Arts
  4. ^ clayart - thread 'beatrice wood - new york times obit.'
  5. ^ Bright Lights Film Journal | Jules and Jim
  6. ^ Gilded Vessel: The Lustrous Art and Life of Beatrice Wood, Garth Clark, Guild Publishing, 2001
  7. ^ Gilded Vessel: The Lustrous Art and Life of Beatrice Wood, Garth Clark, Guild Publishing, 2001
  8. ^
  9. ^ “Unearthing Lost Treasures in California”-March 13, 2010-N.Y.Times


  • 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.

External links[edit]