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The prolific California artist Beatrice Wood (1893—1998) led a long and fascinating life. Born to a wealthy family in San Francisco, she studied art in Paris then settled in New York to pursue acting. There she became associated with the leading figures of Dada such as Marcel Duchamp. A radical figure for her time, she has been described as the very embodiment of the Dada movement and one who dissolved the boundaries between life and art. Wood returned to the West Coast in 1928, first living in Los Angeles, then moving to Ojai in 1948, where she remained for the rest of her life.

Wood took her first ceramics class in 1933 at the age of 40, and proceeded to study with California’s most renowned ceramicists, Glen Lukens and later Gertrud and Otto Natzler. She became particularly respected for her use of opalescent luster glazes, which she would incorporate into the process during a single glaze firing, instead of applying the luster afterward as a surface decoration. While she did not invent this approach, her facility with the technique introduced a whimsy and an expressiveness that were groundbreaking for the medium. Her earthenware work consisted of vases, bottles, teapots, cups, bowls, and small sculptures which evinced her skills with color, texture, and form, as well as the influence of modernism, folk art, and Eastern philosophy on her work.

This tile mural from 1967 is an unusually monumental piece for Wood, who tended to focus on smaller-scale works. It features five simplified figures standing before a boat resembling a Viking longship. A sense of ritualism is created by the figures’ interlocked stance and by the exquisitely colored beaded necklaces that hang around their necks. This intricately detailed work is accompanied by a fascinating letter from Wood, written in 1979, in which she explains that the work was commissioned by a friend for the entrance to their swimming pool. She sums up her feelings in her final line: “...ten years passed before I again saw the finished product. As far as an artist can evalute [sic.] his work, I thought the mural was the finest thing I have done.”

“Beatrice Wood.” Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Renwick Gallery. N.p., n.d. Web. 07 Apr. 2017.\rSawelson-Gorse, Naomi. Women in Dada: Essays on Sex, Gender, and Identity. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 2001. 106. Print. “About Beatrice Wood.” Beatrice Wood Center for the Arts. N.p., n.d. Web. 07 Apr. 2017.