Beatrice Wood: The real Rose of the Titanic
On the 3rd of March 1893, the American artist and studio potter, Beatrice Wood, was born in San Francisco, California. Her eventful and 105-years-long life would later serve as an inspiration for the character of ‘Rose’ in James Cameron’s 1997 film, Titanic. Rebellious, uncompromising and ever so romantic, she lived her life to the fullest, avidly pursuing her childhood dream of becoming an artist.
Born into a wealthy blue-blooded family, Beatrice’s highly individual character shone through since early childhood, often colliding with the expectations of her dominating and conservative mother. According to her, Beatrice “wasn’t like the rest of them” (Beatrice Wood, I Shock Myself). Despite her parents’ initial opposition, Beatrice eventually left New York, where the family moved from San Francisco, for Paris to study acting at the Comédie-Française and art at the prestigious Académie Julian. Her stay in France provided her with many inspirational and memorable moments. Amongst them was meeting Monet and watching him during his painting sessions in his garden in Giverny, or appearing on the stage of the Comédie-Française alongside many famous names of the time, including Sarah Bernhardt. However, with the outbreak of World War I, she was forced to go back to New York. There, in spite of her mother’s major criticism, Beatrice joined the French National Repertory Theatre, where she played over sixty roles under the stage name ‘Mademoiselle Patricie’, in an attempt to protect her family’s name and reputation.
While working for the theatre, she became acquainted with the French artist Marcel Duchamp. “…We immediately fell for each other,” Beatrice recalled of her meeting with Duchamp. “Which doesn’t mean a thing because I think anybody who met Marcel fell for him. He was an enchanting person.” (beatricewood.com). Duchamp on the other hand introduced Beatrice to Henri-Pierre Roché, a French diplomat and writer who was fourteen years her senior. “Roché was to become her first lover, introducing her to the vibrant world of modern art and encouraging her own creative pursuits. He was also the first man to break her heart. Claiming to be a “monogamous woman in a polygamous world”, Beatrice had found herself surrounded by bohemian men who thought little of bourgeois morality. “Marcel shocked me because he said that sex and love are two different things,” Beatrice later recalled. Yet, she fell into a relationship with him because she felt they should become, “as close physically as they were emotionally” and they remained life-long friends.” (beatricewood.com). Despite her claims of her ‘monogamous’ life style, Roché, Duchamp and Wood were allegedly involved in a love triangle.
Later on, Beatrice was introduced to the art patrons Walter and Louise Arensberg, who hosted regular gatherings for artists, writers and poets. There, she met many leading figures of the time including Man Ray, Francis Picabia, Mina Loy, Charles Demuth, Joseph Stella, Charles Sheeler and Edgard Varese. Her relationships and an active engagement with the avant-garde group would eventually earn her the title of ‘The Mama of Dada’. Although, later on, in an interview with Sandip Roy, she thought this to be rather funny: “I am not the Mama of Dada,” she chuckled. “I was on the sidelines, in love with two of the men.” (Sandip Roy, How I met the real Rose of Titanic).
The bohemian period of her life, however, was merely an introduction to her real artistic career. It was not until her early forties that Beatrice Wood found her true passion and committed the rest of her life to it. After ending her marriage with the British actor and director Reginald Pole, she moved to Los Angeles, California, to be closer to the Indian sage Jiddu Krishnamurti. Under his influence, she eventually became a lifelong member of the Theosophical Society – Adyar. Her new career started unexpectedly, and was more of a coincidence than a planned venture. Allegedly, after buying two baroque plates with a luster glaze, and being unable to find a matching teapot to go along with them, she decided to make one herself. She enrolled in a ceramic class at Hollywood High School, and eventually turned her hobby into a successful career. “I never meant to become a potter,” Beatrice later offered. “It happened very accidently… I could sell pottery because when I ran away from home I was without any money. And so I became a potter.” (beatricewood.com). She became so successful in what she was doing, that in 1947 she was able to afford her own house. In 1948, she moved to Ojai, California, across the street from Krishnamurti, where she lived and created pottery art until her death in 1998.
Film Credit: DAVIDASTERISCO