Monday, April 1, 2013

Ojai and Beatrice Wood

I spent most of this last weekend reading Beatrice Wood's fascinating autobiography, I Shock Myself.   I bought the book in the gift shop at the Beatrice Woods Center for the Arts, when my travel buddy and I had the long-coveted opportunity to visit her home and studio in Ojai, California, a few weeks ago.

I have been to several of her exhibitions in museums.  She is one of my favorite artists, as well as one of my favorite style icons.  To read that she was not interested in fashion caught me totally by surprise because I have always considered her extremely stylish.  She lived to be 105 years old.  She is easily recognizable in her colorful Indian saris and big chunky jewelry.

 After reading her book, I can say she did not live only one life; she lived many.  She is known as a famous ceramicist, but the truth is, she came to this profession rather late in life and quite by accident.  It is what made the autobiography so inspiring.  She spent most of her youth trying to escape from an over-bearing mother.  At first it read like a Poor Little Rich Girl novel.  I have very little sympathy for people born into wealth and given great opportunities only to complain about it, but in her case, she took the opportunities, ran with them, and never looked back.  She became a true Bohemian.   An actress, a writer, a lover, a traveler and a philosopher. Lifelong friendships with Marcel Duchamp and the art collectors, Walter and Louise Arensberg, were clearly strong influences in her decision to finally turn full time to art and to move out west.

"Ojai was the pot of gold at the end of a long, obstacle-strewn rainbow," she writes.
The above two photographs are views of the Ojai Valley from her backyard.  "Ojai had a unique aura of its own, for the mountains with their gentle configuration rewarded us with sunsets of remarkable blues and pinks, making our souls gasp at the splendor."  Clearly, it is such beauty that she translated into her lustrous and imaginative pottery.
The Center for the Arts hosts many exhibits of local artists.  It's a wonderful place to spend an afternoon, to look at the art and to walk around the house.  Of course, there is art everywhere.  In the gardens, the patios, and even tucked within the branches of trees.
It's always interesting to read a famous person's autobiography.  What you hope to read is often not what they write about.  She wrote mostly of her relationships with men.  What shocked her at the end is the realization she was living an "upside-down experience."  As she put it, "I never made love to the men I married, and I did not marry the men I loved."  Read the book to find out why!

For me, however, what was shocking was her self-deprecation.  When I read, "I would not say I had great gifts as a potter, but I organized myself to become one . . . In the end, it is only hard work that counts," I could not believe it.   For most of us, maybe, but not for her.  She was pure talent.  A real one-of-a-kind.

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