Obituary: Beatrice Wood

BEATRICE WOOD, one of the world's oldest working potters, has died at the age of 105. In all aspects of her life Wood was equally capable of shocking by either her outrageous remarks, her life style, or her choice of lovers and friends.

A recent photograph of her at work on the potter's wheel captures her in typical pose, adorned in a turquoise blue, loosely fitting sari, a huge silver necklace, large earrings and neatly applied lipstick. Few potters wear such exotic costume for such an earthy task. The title of her 1985 autobiography, I Shock Myself, suggests nonconformity in her life and art, an approach borne out by her remark that she owed her longevity to "chocolates and young men".

Born in San Francisco and brought up in New York, she alarmed her wealthy parents by her early concern with art and an offbeat life. Aged 18 she escaped to Paris to study at the Academie Julien and later to perform at the Comedie Francaise, making friends with many avant-garde artists. Back in New York she maintained contact with European artists including Francis Picabia and Man Ray, with American new wave artists such as Charles Sheeler, and the film star Myrna Loy.

Her closest companion was Marcel Duchamp, and, along with him and the diplomat and writer Henri-Pierre Roche, she founded and wrote for Blind Man, a journal which supported the Dada movement in New York. Encouraged by Duchamp, who was reputed to be her lover - a fact she neither verified or disputed - Wood took up drawing. Often known as the "mama of dada", she was also thought to be part of a menage a trois with Duchamp and Roche, later inspiring Francois Truffaut's 1961 film Jules et Jim.

In response to family pressure Wood married her first husband, a theatre manager from Montreal, in 1919, but the marriage was declared void when it was discovered that he already had a wife living in Belgium. Her second marriage, in 1938, to Steve Hogg, an engineer, was one of convenience in that it allowed them to apply for Red Cross funding when the house they had bought together in North Hollywood was washed away in a flood. Although they lived together until his death in 1960, Wood claimed the marriage was unconsummated, saying that she had loved seven men she didn't marry, and married two men she didn't love.

It was not until the late 1920s that Wood took up ceramics, spurred on by failing to find a teapot to match some neo-rococo lustre-glazed plates. Following a course at Hollywood High School she began to research into lustre glaze techniques, a highly skilled process which was to remain a major characteristic of her ceramics.

In fact, she did not make teapots at this time, but freely modelled figurines which sold well and helped her survive the Depression. Her deepest involvement with ceramics came in the early 1940s when she studied with Glen Lukens and the Austrian ceramists Gertrude and Otto Natzler.

Working from a small studio in Ojai, California, she had an idiosyncratic approach to form and materials, often shocking the generally conservative world of ceramics by her sense of experiment and innovation.

She was never impressed by notions of perfectionism, arguing that "knowing what one's about to take out of a kiln is as exciting as being married to a boring and predictable man", and she freely admitted to being a "terrible craftswoman". Her chalices, bowls and vases, some with stylised figurative drawings, were not intended to be used, but to be beautiful in their own right. But it is this sense of individual vision of her vessel-based forms and sculptural ceramics which is her greatest strength and fascination.

Some, such as the ceramic sculptor Peter Voulkos, responded positively, seeing her ceramics as valid, unique and radical. Anais Nin described Wood as "a modern ceramist creating objects today which would enhance your life".

There was also a quieter, less flamboyant aspect to Wood's character. A vegetarian who neither smoked nor drank, in 1913 she became a member of the Theosophist movement, and in 1948 she moved to Ojai to be near the charismatic Indian sage Krishnamurti.

Public recognition, though late in her life, was fulsome, culminating in a show at the American Craft Museum in New York in the 1990s. In 1994 Pete Wilson, Governor of California, declared Beatrice Wood a "California Living Treasure".

Beatrice Wood, potter: born San Francisco 3 March 1893; married secondly 1938 Steve Hogg (died 1960); died Ojai, California 12 March 1998.

Arts and Entertainment
books
Voices
Caustic she may be, but Joan Rivers is a feminist hero, whether she likes it or not
voicesShe's an inspiration, whether she likes it or not, says Ellen E Jones
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Sport
Diego Costa
footballEverton 3 Chelsea 6: Diego Costa double has manager purring
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Life and Style
3D printed bump keys can access almost any lock
techSoftware needs photo of lock and not much more
Arts and Entertainment
The 'three chords and the truth gal' performing at the Cornbury Music Festival, Oxford, earlier this summer
music... so how did she become country music's hottest new star?
Life and Style
The spy mistress-general: A lecturer in nutritional therapy in her modern life, Heather Rosa favours a Byzantine look topped off with a squid and a schooner
fashionEurope's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln
News
i100
News
The Digicub app, for young fans
advertisingNSPCC 'extremely concerned'
Arts and Entertainment
Star turns: Montacute House
tv
News
i100Steve Carell selling chicken, Tina Fey selling saving accounts and Steve Colbert selling, um...
Arts and Entertainment
Unsettling perspective: Iraq gave Turner a subject and a voice (stock photo)
booksBrian Turner's new book goes back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
News
Dr Alice Roberts in front of a
peopleAlice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Some of the key words and phrases to remember
booksA user's guide to weasel words
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior Data Scientist (Data Mining, RSPSS, R, AI, CPLEX, SQL)

£60000 - £70000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Senior Data Sc...

Law Costs

Highly Attractive Salary: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - This is a very unusual law c...

Junior VB.NET Application Developer (ASP.NET, SQL, Graduate)

£28000 - £30000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Junior VB.NET ...

C# .NET Web Developer (ASP.NET, JavaScript, jQuery, XML, XLST)

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Web De...

Day In a Page

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model of a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor
She's dark, sarcastic, and bashes life in Nowheresville ... so how did Kacey Musgraves become country music's hottest new star?

Kacey Musgraves: Nashville's hottest new star

The singer has two Grammys for her first album under her belt and her celebrity fans include Willie Nelson, Ryan Adams and Katy Perry
American soldier-poet Brian Turner reveals the enduring turmoil that inspired his memoir

Soldier-poet Brian Turner on his new memoir

James Kidd meets the prize-winning writer, whose new memoir takes him back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
Aston Villa vs Hull match preview: Villa were not surprised that Ron Vlaar was a World Cup star

Villa were not surprised that Vlaar was a World Cup star

Andi Weimann reveals just how good his Dutch teammate really is
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef ekes out his holiday in Italy with divine, simple salads

Bill Granger's simple Italian salads

Our chef presents his own version of Italian dishes, taking in the flavours and produce that inspired him while he was in the country
The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

If supporters begin to close bank accounts, switch broadband suppliers or shun satellite sales, their voices will be heard. It’s time for revolution