“I owe it all to art books, chocolates, and young men,” artist Beatrice Wood would often tell visitors at her Ojai studio about the secret to her longevity.
It was 20 years ago that Wood, one of Ojai’s most intriguing and beloved residents, passed away on March 12, 1998 at the age of 105 years old.
Her legacy, passion for the arts, and enduring compassion and wit continues on at her studio, appropriately named the Beatrice Wood Center for the Arts.
The center in the Upper Ojai Valley (also known as Happy Valley) celebrates the life and work of Wood, who was and continues to be an important figure in art history.
Her life was so intriguing that it was inspiration for the character Rose DeWitt Bukater in the 1997 movie “Titanic.”
Wood came from an affluent family, but was somewhat of a rebel who had an affinity for art and nonconformity (much like the character Rose).
She eventually became part of the avant-garde Dada art movement in the early 20th century, producing drawings and forming a close relationship with renown painter Marcel Duchamp. It earned her the distinction as the”Mama of Dada.”
Wood would later become passionate about ceramics, studying with many of the masters of the time.
She moved to Ojai in 1948, and was central to the town’s growth as a spiritual center and art community. With the help of Annie Besant, a supporter of progressive movements, the Beatrice Wood Center for the Arts was born.
Today, the center, an activity of the Happy Valley Foundation, is dedicated to creating and sustaining an environment of compassion where all forms of life are nurtured.
Kevin Wallace, the director of the Beatrice Wood Center for the Arts, along with his wife Sheryl, has lovingly preserved the late artist’s legacy. They make visitors feel welcome at the center, as they introduce them to the life and work of “Beato” (Wood’s nickname).
Wood’s studio is a wonderland, filled with all the tools an artist can imagine.
Wood had her own unique technique, specializing in “lusterware,” which involved coating her ceramic creations with luminescent and shimmering glazes that make them look like precious metals.
The studio still has many of the mixtures that Wood used in her work.
Wood also created molds to form faces and figures, and they too are found throughout the studio.
To this day, artists that work in her studio pull from these original molds, use the glazes she developed, and fire work in her kiln.
(A YouTube video by VideoCeramica shows Wood working in her studio and the techniques she used: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yxv8k6g3i-A)
The highlight of the center is, of course, seeing her completed work. Her drawings, ceramics, sculptures, and numerous other objects are on display as part of the center’s permanent collection.
A few items from the vast collection:
What makes the center truly unique is that you are actually in the home where Wood created her art and lived. There are photos, documents, memorabilia, and personal collections of Wood throughout the center.
The center’s gift shop features artwork (by Wood and other artists) that can be purchased, as well as a variety of art related books.
A must have is Wood’s 1985 autobiography “I Shock Myself.”
Even director James Cameron was so enthralled with Wood’s story, that he chose her as the basis of Rose after reading her book.
There is good reason that former Governor Pete Wilson once declared Wood a ”California Living Treasure.”
Even for a non-artist, it is hard not to be entranced by Wood’s ‘joie de vivre” (joy of living) and her wonderful sense of humor. One of the many photos of Wood inside the center shows her smiling while sitting with a group of young men and chocolate.
Another highlight of the center is the panoramic views of Happy Valley and the Topa Topa Mountains.
In 2017, the massive Thomas Fire surrounded the center, but luckily firefighters were on-hand to prevent any serious damage. Much of the landscape is growing back with the help of spring rain.
The center boasts an ongoing full calendar of exhibitions, performances and educational opportunities for both children and adults.
See http://www.beatricewood.com/schedule.html for a full schedule.
The center, located at 8585 Ojai Rd., is open from 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. on Friday, Saturday and Sunday; beatricewood.com
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