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Hundreds Celebrate Life, Work of ‘Beato’

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

They spoke of her pioneering work in ceramics, her crush on Clark Gable, her uncanny wit and her lust of anything chocolate. But in the end, renowned artist Beatrice Wood had the best line.

“The last years of my life were the happiest,” Wood said in a videotaped interview as she discussed the 50 years she spent creating and teaching in Ojai. “I’m also--don’t tell anybody--so old that my libido has calmed down.”

Wood, famous for her lustrous glazed pottery--clay figures that played on the battle of the sexes and sensual abstracts--was equally known and adored for her liaisons with famous artists and her naturally flirtatious manner.

Wood was 105 when she died March 12 at her mountainside ranch in the shadow of the Topatopa Mountains outside Ojai, the expanse that is home to the progressive and private Happy Valley School, where she taught for more than 25 years.

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“I always admired her work and her life. And she had some sense of humor,” said Cheri Uno, a Los Angeles painter and potter who met Wood in 1977 at a birthday party for Wood.

Uno was one of about 500 artists, former students, museum curators and friends from around the world who came to celebrate Wood’s life Sunday afternoon in an open-air tent outside the school founded in the 1950s by philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti, Aldous Huxley and others.

After an hour’s worth of humorous stories from art dealers Francis Naumann, Garth Clark and others, it was the artist’s own words in a video made between 1985 and 1996 that summed up the woman known as “Beato.”

Jorge Uribe, president of the Happy Valley Foundation, said he first met Wood in 1956 when he was a ceramics student at Happy Valley School.

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“She was an unforgettable character. What a lot of people don’t know is that she loved young people, she loved teaching. Her students thought of her as this zany old woman who was always full of life,” Uribe said.

Radha Sloss, whose mother, Rosalind, was Wood’s closest friend, told a story of how Wood, a great admirer of Gable’s, sat next to the Hollywood leading man on a sofa at a party one night and promptly fell asleep on his shoulder.

“To her amazement, he endured this discomfort for the whole evening,” Sloss said in a brief speech.

Sloss talked of Wood’s interest in the culture of India and her ability to teach the aesthetics and practicalities of art. She told about weekly tango classes held at the school that were taught by a Russian beekeeper and of America’s newfound appreciation of Wood after she was loosely portrayed as the adventurous 101-year-old Rose in the movie “Titanic.”

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“Beato had a remarkable gift for moving between different worlds without losing track of who she was,” Sloss said.

Ken Tennen, a 1966 graduate of the school, said he met Wood in late 1964 and studied the way she used natural light to shoot photographs of her pottery.

“She was quite remarkable. I mean, I had never met anyone like her,” he said. “To me, and I was 17 then, she looked pretty strange, and I had never known anyone that jingle-jangled so much.”

After a 1962 visit to India, Wood wore only saris--long colorful wraps--and numerous pieces of silver jewelry.

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The afternoon gathering opened with a prayer and dance presentation from southern India. Following the speakers and video, about 500 people took turns sitting on a chair in a nearby field and answering questions for a video diary of the artist’s life.

Several others signed a notebook and requested an appointment to tour the Beatrice Wood Studio, which will remain closed during the administration of the late artist’s estate.


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