A rekindled interest in pottery activity around the Ojai Valley.
Story by Anca Colbert
In Ojai’s history and reputation of attracting artists and creatives of all kinds we know that potters and ceramic artists have long been drawn to live and work here, in this place, this small town nestled in a heavenly mountain valley.
Naturally, Beatrice Wood’s storied life and career first comes to mind. “Beato” lived here from 1947 (when she built her house and studio in the East End) until her death in 1998, at the ripe age of 105. For many, she put Ojai on the map. She did so for this then-young art lover, freshly arrived from Paris to Los Angeles, who first came to Ojai in 1973 invited to lunch by Beatrice, who at the time was just settling into her new home in the Upper Valley, next to the Happy Valley School. That home and studio, now transformed into The Beatrice Wood Center for the Arts, welcomes visitors on pilgrimage seeking a glimpse into the famed artist’s inner and outer landscapes.
Read the rest of the article in the Ojai Magazine.
The following article first appeared in the July 12, 1981 edition of the Ojai Valley News. It is reprinted here with their permission. Photos have been added by the Ojai Valley Museum.
Friends of Howard Bald Gather in His Memory
One thing is certain – you can’t be in two places at the same time. Up there in the High Sierras, I couldn’t be part of the coming-together that Otto and Vivika Heino had for Howard Bald, their neighbor, last week.
It was done with the simple high style and sense of joy that Vivika always brings to an occasion. In the breezeway of the house that Beatrice Wood built brick by brick, the friends of Howard Bald gathered to do him honor and celebrate the memory of the man. Perched on the wall were three Western-style hats of Howard’s that the Heinos had inherited, as well as a composition in weeds that Vivika had fashioned. Everybody brought something to the occasion, including memories to be shared. What was to be honored was not only a man but a way of life, now by and large gone.
Connie Wash spoke of the man and Peggy Thacher brought a letter she had written back in the days of World War I when patriotic girls had been urged to write the doughboys over in France. Howard Bald, who may well have sensed the senselessness of the slaughter of this “war to end all wars,” treasured that letter that Peggy Thacher as an 8-year-old child, had written him. He brought it home with him from overseas and gave it back to the girl who had written it.
After vittles in the breezeway, the friends gathered, in the cool of the evening just about when the “pink moment” settled on the hills, around the pool in the patio. Remember that time, someone said, when there was a fire across McAndrew Road and Howard came rushing out of his house and put it out? And how about that time, late at night, when Beatrice Wood, that eternal virgin of the spirit, thought that a car parked in front of her house was a threat to her purity? It did not move and finally, in her fright, Beato called good neighbor Howard Bald. He came out, brandishing a pistol, much as he might have gone “over the top” from one of the trenches in Flanders. What he found was a young couple engaged in some heavy petting, as it was called in those days, or making out, as it is described in these days.
A high point of the festivities was the tale often told about the Pierpont boys, Phil and Austin, those hellraisers of a former time. Turned out they had one of the first of those con-sarn horseless carriages in the valley and they drove lickety-split all about the place. Howard Bald, on horseback, vowed that he would get those Pierpont boys for making such a ruckus, and frightening his horse. But as it turned out he didn’t need to worry. Fate took care of those Pierpont boys and Howard didn’t have to take a bead on them.HOWARD BALD believed, for sure, that citizens should be allowed to carry arms and fire them when the occasion demanded. When the blue jays and other predators of his fruit and vegetable rows got too greedy, Howard would suddenly appear and fire his trusty double-barreled shotgun into the air and, momentarily, scatter those varmints. Howard, as an ex-doughboy, may have, from time to time, fired his piece into the air for the simple joy of it. It certainly used to scare hell out of Ann McGarrity, his neighbor up the hill.
After the horror of World War I, Howard settled to a life of the good things and the good neighborliness. Two wives blessed him and he blessed them. And in his neighbors, such as Beato and Vivika and Otto Heino he was especially blessed. During his final days, it had become his custom of an evening to walk over, with his vial of whiskey, which he insisted on bringing, to the Heinos and there share drinks.
Beatrice Wood was a ceramicist, who lived in the Ojai Valley for fifty years. During the First World War, she made what was to be a lifetime acquaintance with Marcel Duchamp. He was a leader of New York Dada, and a pivotal figure in the history of modern art. He was also the painter of Nude Descending a Staircase, which was such a scandalous success at the Armory Show in 1913. Beatrice Wood, at the same time, was an accomplished artist on her own merits, as a ceramicist and author, an actress and dancer, who also drew compelling line drawings.
Beatrice was born in San Francisco on March 3, 1893; but by 1900 was in Paris, attending a convent school, about which she retained pleasant memories. “I learned to read French before I learned to read English,” she recalled. She received an excellent education at the Ely School in New York City and the Shipley School at Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. She studied drawing at the Julien Academy in Paris and also attended the Finch School in New York City. After all this education, she announced that she wished to live a “bohemian life of an artist and paint in Paris.”
Paris was an exciting place to be. She attended the riotous premiere of the Ballet Russe production of Le sacre du printemps. She then joined the French National Repertory Company in New York City, where she appeared in over sixty parts. It was about this time, in 1916, that she met the composer Edgard Varese, who introduced her to Marcel Duchamp and other members of the New York Dada group.
Duchamp encouraged her to draw, and she produced impressive line drawings. One of the drawings was of a stick figure, thumbing its nose as it strode along. It was used for a poster to advertise a Blindman’s Ball. The jaunty figure followed her till the end of her days.
Beatrice’s life changed in the 1920s when she became a member of the Theosophical Society, which she joined in 1923. It was this interest which first brought her to the Ojai Valley. Jiddu Krishnamurti, the Indian philosopher and teacher, at the time associated with the Theosophical Society, was rapidly gaining worldwide attention; and he selected the Ojai Valley as a location for his teaching in the United States. Beatrice Wood came to the valley to attend his first “Star Camp” meeting in 1928.
Beatrice led folk dances at the Star Camp. She had danced professionally in Europe and received lessons from Ivan Clustine, the choreographer for the great ballet dancer Ana Pavlova. Beatrice’s demonstration of her mastery of the dances taught to her by Clustine was performed in the presence of the renown dancer Vaslav Nijinsky. Beatrice was also an acquaintance of the famous dancer Isadora Duncan.
Beatrice developed an interest in ceramics in 1928. She wanted to produce a teapot to match some “luster” plates she had purchased in Holland. “Luster” refers to a metallic finish, simulating silver or gold. The project was more extensive than she thought, and in time she found herself successfully in the profession of a ceramicist. Her works were exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City as early as 1940.
Her workshop and home, located in the San Fernando Valley, were destroyed by a flood in 1938. Ten years later, she moved to the Ojai Valley, where she settled on March 3, 1948 (her birthday). The nearby Happy Valley School, with a founding board of directors which included Aldous Huxley, Krishnamurti and Annie Besant, attracted her attention. She was associated with the Happy Valley Foundation for the rest of her life. Her ceramic work then entered what has been described as “a mature expression of her luster glazing technique.” She didn’t think of herself as a chemist, but she was very methodical about testing different chemical formulas for glazes. She also worked with Otto and Vivika Heino, who where themselves noted ceramicists.
Another great change occurred in her life, when she was selected as a “Goodwill Ambassador” to India by the U.S. government in 1961. She visited India, where her works were exhibited in fourteen Indian cities. She also took up the cause of promoting India’s traditional handicrafts. Before long, she took to wearing Indian saris and heavy and abundant Indian necklaces and bracelets. Her appearance was striking, but her explanation was simply that the saris were very comfortable.
During the final three decades of her life, her works were exhibited in galleries and museums around the world. Her book, The Angel Wore Black Tights, was published in 1982. Her autobiography, I Shock Myself, was published in 1985. She received a variety of awards from universities and arts councils. A documentary about her life, Mama of Dada, was shown on public television in 1995.
One of her great achievements was her longevity. Her 90th birthday was celebrated in Los Angeles in 1983 with a Dada Ball. Her 100th birthday was celebrated in 1993; and even through these final years, she was still creatively productive. On March 3, 1998, she celebrated her 105th birthday. She died at her home in the upper Ojai Valley a little over a week later on March 12, 1998.