The Naughtiest Snake in the Woods KSR
Beatrice Wood’s life was extraordinary in every way. She was a charismatic artist who died at the age of 105, which was extraordinary in itself. I only met her twice both times in her home in Ojai, Ca., and was hooked on her whimsical, sometimes naughty clay sculptures. More than that, I was hooked on her! She was about 100 at the time we discovered her home/studio in the hills of beautiful bucolic Ojai, a charming town above Santa Barbara, which we had always loved. As a fellow sculptor and lover of clay, I had long been familiar with her work, and her life story. She had appeared both in newspapers and on TV, so when she suddenly appeared around a corner, she was not a visual surprise.
A tiny, spry and witty little lady, she was like a barefoot hummingbird, draped in colorful sari, and loaded with Indian turquoise and silver jewelry. I had been a lover and collector of Indian jewelry since my time of living with the Southwest Indians. Her masses of long grey hair were held in check with more silver, and large Indian earrings bounced from her ears as she pounced about the gallery describing each of her sculptures, and the reason behind the creation of each one. Her general factotum, was a small Indian man, who had answered the door at our knock, and introduced himself as her “miserable and humble servant,” though I am sure he was more than that! I suspected perhaps even a sometime lover! She had lived for a time in India and adopted the colorful sari as her day-to-day garb forever after. I believe her connection to India was to be lifelong.
She was rebellious, radical and romantic, and determined to be an artist, so she fled to Paris in the 20’s for several Bohemian seasons as a painter and actress, where she fell into the loving clutches of two Frenchmen: Henri-Pierre Roche, the author of Jules and Jim, and Marcel Duchamp, the iconoclastic Dadaist, who cemented his artistic fame by entering a men’s urinal upside down in an art exhibit to thumb his nose at the current darlings of the art world. Both men would break her heart, as would a future husband, giving the subject line for many of her subsequent sculptures and paintings. She took up pottery in her 40’s in So. California and her glazed pots and crudely-made sculptures are intriquing, as is her wonderful transluscent glaze. I did a series of small pieces using her method, and found they were fun and exciting and immediate One of our favorite Beatrice sculptures is that of a bordello with all the ladies screaming out the windows as a fire burns brightly around them. In the rear, men are rapidly scrambling to escape, with the names of the mayor, the police chief, etc. inscribed on the building. Her humor was bawdy, funny, and left no doubt that the broken heart of her youth was being healed with “spit-in-your-eye” jesting. Her white German Shepherd dog was named “Roche” as a salute to one of her earlier romances. James Cameron of “Titanic” fame, fashioned the role of the adventurous 101-year old Rose after Beatrice Woods. When asked to what she attributed her longevity, her stock answer was always “A piece of chocolate every day, and I like young men”!