Type of Document Dissertation Author Hennessey, Helen Dixon URN etd-04122004-220824 Title Beatrice Wood: Sophisticated Primitive Degree Doctor of Philosophy Department Humanities Program Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title W. T. Llamon, Jr. Committee Chair Karen Laughlin Committee Member Nancy Smith Fichter Committee Member William Cloonan Committee Member Keywords
- Marcel Duchamp
- American Ceramics
- New York Dada
- Beatrice Wood
Date of Defense 2003-12-04 Availability unrestricted AbstractBeatrice Wood (1893-1998), at 104, was declared a “Living Treasure” in her native California and “Esteemed American Artist” by the Smithsonian Institution in 1997. She was an internationally recognized ceramicist, known especially for her
trademark luster glazes, and was the last surviving member of the New York Dada group
of 1915-1923. Featured in “late-bloomer” books, she did not begin pottery until the age
of forty, and according to her dealer and art historian Garth Clark, created her “masterpieces” in her last two decades. Her involvement with the New York Dada group and especially Marcel Duchamp was, in a sense, rediscovered by another art historian, Francis M. Naumann, in the late 1970s who wrote several articles usually concerning her
drawings and her association with the Arensberg Circle and curated a bi-coastal retrospective of her work. She was quite celebrated at the end of her life, evidenced by over 600 articles about her work and her life. She also worked in other media beyond the luster pottery: often humorous
sculptural forms in clay she named “sophisticated primitives;” professional acting in French in her youth; and writing, including four plays (one published here for the first time), an autobiography, three travel books, among others. But the pieces and the performances were not the whole of Beatrice Wood’s appeal: her dramatic persona, wit, and openness to people kept her doors open to hundreds of visitors a month toward the end of her life.
Part biography and part analysis, this study considers issues such as her aesthetic
approach, choice of media, being a woman and an artist, balancing career and life, spiritual thought and feeling, and politics. I extend a phrase Naumann uses to describe her drawings, “compatible contradictions,” to much of her other work and her life as well. Her “Dada state of mind” is joined to the Victorian, Romantic, as well as the Pragmatic. While she is not, unlike Picasso or Duchamp, the single most important artist of the twentieth century, she can be seen as a “little artist” (her term) who bridges and is an exemplar for many contemporary concerns.
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