Thelma Wood

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Thelma Wood
Thelma Wood.jpg
Born Thelma Ellen Wood
(1901-07-03)July 3, 1901
Kansas, United States
Died December 10, 1970(1970-12-10) (aged 69)
Danbury, Connecticut, United States
Nationality American
Known for Sculpture, drawings

Thelma Ellen Wood (July 3, 1901 – December 10, 1970) was an American sculptor. She was born in Kansas and raised in St. Louis, Missouri.[1] She was a sculptor and silverpoint artist who is best known for her lesbian relationships, particularly with Djuna Barnes.

Early life[edit]

Wood was born the second child to Maud Crawford Wood and William Barg Wood, who moved the family to St. Louis, where in 1918 her mother and younger brother succumbed to the influenza epidemic of 1918.[2] Two months previous to their deaths, Wood enrolled at the St. Louis School of Fine Art at Washington University.[3] There, she is presumed to have learned the technique of silverpoint drawing, for which she is best known.[3] In 1920, Wood and a fellow art student, Myra Marglous, applied for passports and left for Paris to continue their study of art.[3]


While in Paris, Wood frequented Berlin and was said to have enjoyed excessive alcohol consumption, and being involved in casual sexual relationships. Accounts have described her as "boyish-looking", standing almost 6 feet tall, and "sexually magnetic".[1]

In the fall of 1921, Wood and photographer Berenice Abbott met. They were briefly lovers and remained close friends for life.[1] She later introduced Wood to poet Djuna Barnes, and made photographic portraits of both of them.[4] Wood also had a brief relationship with the poet Edna St. Vincent Millay during the early 1920's.[5]

Wood's relationship with Djuna Barnes began in 1921 and ended in 1929. Barnes was known for her jealousy with her lovers; Wood was known to be promiscuous with many women. Their relationship was deemed the "great love" of each of their lives, though fueled by sex, alcohol, and marred by infidelities, jealousy, and violence. Although Barnes wanted their relationship to be monogamous, Wood regularly sought out casual sexual partners of both sexes. Barnes, also, was never faithful.

Wood soon became involved in an affair with a wealthy woman named Henriette McCrea Metcalf (1888 – 1981), which effectively caused Barnes to end her relationship with Wood.[1][6] When Wood moved to Greenwich Village in New York City in 1928, Metcalf followed. Wood continued to write and visit Barnes, to whom Wood still professed her love, and the two did occasionally have sexual encounters during that time, but Barnes refused to become involved with Wood on a regular basis. By 1932, Wood was more of an unofficial courtesan to Metcalf, and Metcalf supported Wood's art studies in Florence. In 1934, they moved to Sandy Hook, Connecticut. In Westport, Connecticut, Wood tried (with Metcalf's financial assistance) to run a gourmet catering business that failed. Her relationship with Metcalf was complicated by Wood continuing to seek out drinking and sexual companions of both sexes, and Wood became increasingly unfaithful.[1]

When Nightwood, Barnes' best-known novel, was published in 1936, Wood, called "Robin Vote" in the book, was outraged and stopped speaking to Barnes completely. Wood is said to have felt misrepresented, and claimed that the publication of the book ruined her life. Barnes reportedly did not object to their no longer speaking to one another, and never made any apologies.[1]


Although very little of her work survives, Wood's drawings were exhibited at least once, at Milch Galleries in New York City in 1931, where they were favorably reviewed. Her silverpoint work featured erotically charged drawings of animals, exotic plants, and fetishistic objects such as shoes.[7][8] Wood's sketchbook from a trip to Berlin is in the Barnes papers at the University of Maryland, College Park.[1]

Later life[edit]

Around 1942 or 1943, her relationship with Metcalf had deteriorated to a breaking point due to Wood's unfaithful sexual activities and lack of any gainful employment. Metcalf offered Wood money to move out of their shared house and effectively ended their sixteen-year relationship. Once the separation was complete, Metcalf reportedly never spoke to Wood again, even when Wood, dying, is said to have requested to see her. [1] One factor bringing on the break with Metcalf, Wood became involved with Margaret Behrens (1908–1986), a fairly wealthy realtor and antique dealer, and she moved into Behrens' home in Monroe, Connecticut. Their relationship ended upon Wood's death twenty-seven years later.[1] Wood's ashes were interred in the Behren's plot.[2]


In the late 1960s, Wood developed breast cancer, which spread to her spine and lungs. She died in Danbury Hospital, aged 69. Her ashes were interred in the Behrens family plot in Bridgeport, Connecticut.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Claude J. Summers (2004). The Queer Encyclopedia of the Visual Arts. Cleis Press. p. 350. 
  2. ^ a b "Thelma Ellen Wood". Find a Grave. 
  3. ^ a b c Joanne Winning (Oct 2013). "Dreams of a Lost Modernist: A Reevaluation of Thelma Wood". Modernist Cultures. p. 288-322. 
  4. ^ Corinne, Tee A. (2002). "Wood, Thelma Ellen". glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Culture. Retrieved 2006-09-21. 
  5. ^ Herring, Phillip (1995). Djuna: The Life and Work of Djuna Barnes. New York: Penguin Books. p. 158. ISBN 0-14-017842-2. 
  6. ^ "Henriette McCrea Metcalf". 
  7. ^ Bonnie Kime Scott (1995). "Refiguring Modernism: Postmodern feminist readings of Woolf, West, and Barnes". Indiana University Press. p. 75. 
  8. ^ Jane Marcus, "Laughing at Leviticus: Nightwood as Woman's Circus Epic," in Silence and Power: A Revaluation of Djuna Barnes, edited by Mary Lynn Broe (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1991), page 227.