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Beatrice Wood Collection

Identifier: BWC

Scope and Contents

This collection includes archival material documenting the life and work of Beatrice Wood, with contributions made by Beatrice Wood herself and by Conrad C. M. Arensberg, the great nephew of Walter Arensberg, a close friend of Wood’s. The collection includes correspondence from Beatrice Wood to Conrad C. M. Arensberg, between 1989 and 1996, and a letter from Wood to Charles C. Arensberg, Conrad’s father, in 1986. In her letters to Conrad Arensberg, Wood often affectionately reminisces about “Lou and Walter”--Louise and Walter Arensberg, art collectors and her good friends. The collection also includes ephemera comprised mostly of Wood exhibition announcements, invitations, and pamphlets. There are also copy prints of Beatrice Wood, her friends (the Arensbergs and Marcel Duchamp), and her artwork, including personal photographs of her 96th birthday celebrated with Conrad C. M. Arensberg and his parents.


  • 1917-2001
  • Majority of material found within 1978-2001


Language of Materials


Conditions Governing Access

The collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

The Beatrice Wood Collection is the physical property of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Archives. The Museum holds literary rights only for material created by Museum personnel or given to the Museum with such rights specifically assigned. For all other material, literary rights, including copyright, belong to the authors or their legal heirs and assigns. Researchers are responsible for obtaining permission from rights holders for publication and for other purposes where stated.

Biographical / Historical

Beatrice Wood (1893-1998) was born on March 3, 1893 in San Francisco and raised in New York City. The daughter of affluent socialites, Wood studied painting at the Julian Academy and acting at the Comédie Francaise in Paris at the age of 18. Upon her return to New York, she joined the French Repertory Company and in 1916, befriended the artist Marcel Duchamp and the writer and diplomat Henri Pierre Roché. The three founded and published the short-lived little magazine The Blind Man, one of the earliest manifestations of Dada in America. Through Duchamp, Wood met the art collectors Walter and Louise Arensberg, artists Man Ray, Francis Picabia, and Charles Sheeler, and the poet Mina Loy. Wood became a regular participant in the frequent gatherings of intellectuals, artists, and writers at the Arensbergs' West 67th Street apartment. With Duchamp's encouragement, Wood returned to drawing and painting, submitting a work to the 1917 exhibition of the Society of Independent Artists.

Wood relocated to Montreal in 1919 to continue her acting career and there she married Paul Renson, a theater manager. She soon annulled the marriage and returned to New York City. Around 1926, Wood moved to Los Angeles and then to Hollywood, California, where she renewed her friendship with the Arensbergs. In 1938, she married Steve Hoag, an engineer. By all accounts the marriage was not a happy one, yet the couple lived together until his death in 1960. In 1948, they relocated to Ojai, California to be near the Indian sage Krishnamurti, the leader of the Theosophical Society, to which Wood had belonged since 1923.

Wood first became interested in ceramics in 1933 after purchasing a set of luster-glaze plates at an antique store. She soon enrolled in a pottery course in the Adult Education Department of Hollywood High School. She later studied briefly with the Austrian ceramists Gertrud and Otto Natzler. For the next sixty years, Wood supported herself creating and selling pottery and in 1956 she opened her own studio. At first, she concentrated on dinner sets, but by the mid-1970s she began to specialize in more elaborate, decorative bowls, vases and chalices with complex luster glazes. Wood continued to work at her potter's wheel until two years before her death in 1998 at the age of 105.

Wood had her first solo exhibition in 1949 at American House in New York City. Other notable solo exhibitions include shows at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 1951; at the Pasadena Museum of Art in 1959; at the Takishamaya Gallery in Tokyo in 1962; and a retrospective at the Phoenix Museum of Art in 1973. Since 1981, Wood's work has been shown regularly by the Garth Clark Gallery at both their Los Angeles and New York locations. In 1994, Wood was declared a "California Living Treasure" by Governor Pete Wilson and was named an "Esteemed American Artist" by the Smithsonian Institution.

Works Consulted

  1. (New York : Abrams, 1994). Naumann, Francis M. New York Dada, 1915-23.
  2. Obit. New York Times (Mar. 14, 1998). Smith, Roberta, 1947- "Beatrice Wood, 105, Potter and 'Mama of Dada.'"
  3. (Ojai, CA : Dillingham Press, c1985). Wood, Beatrice I Shock Myself: The Autobiography of Beatrice Wood.


0.5 linear feet (1 legal document box)


This collection includes archival material documenting the life and work of Beatrice Wood (1893-1998), a central figure in the New York Dada movement and a notable ceramicist. The collection contains contributions by both Beatrice Wood and Conrad C. M. Arensberg, the great nephew of Walter C. Arensberg, one of Wood's close friends. It includes documentation of several exhibitions and events; photographs of Woods, her friends, and her artwork; and, letters from Wood to Conrad Arensberg and his father, Charles C. Arensberg.

Custodial History

The Beatrice Wood Gift was presented to the Francis Bacon Foundation by Beatrice Wood in December 1993. In 1995, it was given to the Henry E. Huntington Library and Art Gallery. The collection was transferred to the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 1996, and was formally given by the Huntington in July 2001. The Conrad C. M. Arensberg Gift was presented by him to the museum in March 2002. Another portion of the collection, gifted by Beatrice Wood, went to the Prints, Drawings, and Photographs Department then was transferred to the Archives.


The following items were given by Conrad C. M. Arensberg in 2003 February Feb: TLS from BW to Charles Arensberg, dated Oct. 10, 1986 and env.; photocopies of ALS from BW to Conrad C. M. Arensberg dated Jan. 31, 1989 and Mar. 30, 1989.

Processing Information

These materials were arranged and described by Katherine Stefko. Funded by a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Guide to the Beatrice Wood Collection
Finding aid prepared by Katherine Stefko in 2006. Updated by Sophie Basalone in 2019.
2006, 2019
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note
Funded by a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation

Repository Details

Part of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Library and Archives Repository

Philadelphia Museum of Art
PO Box 7646
Philadelphia PA 19101-7646 United States