Remembering Beatrice Wood
Last Lunch with Beato:
Beatrice Wood has died, but she is still here in my heart. I'd only known her for a few years, yet we had powerful common ground - both of us obsessed with the singular pursuit of in-glaze lusters. It's a small club we lusterers. Membership demands visions of the unattainable and years of costly, dangerous heartbreak and euphoria at the hands of magical light and color.
Like many others, I'd spent time in Ojai, sitting on the famous blue couch, being regaled, scolded, scandalized and even threatened with seduction of my very simpatico husband, Marvin. But I had a huge extra privilege - I was turned loose in her studio for many days during the never-to-be-forgotten "First Annual Beatrice Wood Studio Workshop" in 1996. Three of us, plus David VanGilder, her manager, had the run of her library, kilns, kitchen, crash couch and hourly access to Beato, then in a wheelchair but the first to crack every experimental kiln.
Vegetarian lunch on the terrace went on for hours, with Beato always redirecting conversations to the present. Sure, she had a wild and entertaining past, yet she was about the here and now as only she could translate it. (Her anti-war solution was to provide every adolescent male with a nurturing concubine to obliterate his aggressive nature.)
I will always recall her as a remarkably tenacious, non-pretentious worker at her craft who found a way to make a remarkable life as a singular artist and craftsperson. Behind the face of the entertainer was the soul of an intrepid laborer who took notes on every single firing and mainly was interested in what was yet to be.
In her last letter to me, a thank-you note written just a few days before her death, she said: "It's worthwhile reaching 105 to receive such a handsome tile. Since I am convinced we should all die at 16, the tile is beginning to give me a new point of view. It certainly is provocative with its different surfaces but I cannot close without telling you that officially I insist my age is 32 and only unofficially accept the other."
-Gail McCarthy, Ceramics Monthly
I Shock Myself. The Autobiography of Beatrice Wood (1998; 1992)
Playing Chess With the Heart: Beatrice Wood at 100. Photographs by Marlene Wallace (1994)
California Herb Cookery From the Ranch House Restaurant Ed. Alan Hooker. Illustrations by Beatrice Wood (1996)
Beatrice Wood: A Centennial Tribute. Ed. F. S. Nauman (1997)