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R S V P / ORANGE COUNTY : Smithsonian Pays Tribute to an Art Institution : Ceramist Beatrice Wood, 101 and recovering from a recent illness, attends via satellite the dinner honoring her works and her view of life.

November 15, 1994|KATHRYN BOLD

Beatrice Wood, the 101-year-old ceramist and "mama" of Dada--the radical art movement of the early 1900s--offered wise and witty commentary on politics, art and sexuality Saturday when she was honored by the Smithsonian Institution's Archives of American Art.

Because she was recovering from a recent illness, Wood could not accept the archives' Esteemed American Artist Award in person at the Surf and Sand in Laguna Beach. Instead, she communicated with the 130 guests via satellite from her home in Ojai.

The $500-per-person dinner was expected to net $40,000 for the archives, which collects the records of American artists for research.

Of Men and Chocolate

To actress Tippi Hedren, the evening's honorary chairwoman, Wood is much more than a great artist:

"She's my wonderful friend and mentor. I'm sorry I haven't known her all of my life," Hedren said. "Her whole philosophy of life is having fun and doing and saying outrageous things.

"At 101, she still watches Ted Koppel every night. She has an opinion on everything. And, she's an incredible flirt."

After Hedren introduced Wood "live from Ojai," guests "oohed" when the image of the artist came on a big screen. Wrapped in her trademark saris and sporting silver bangles, the white-haired Wood gleefully fielded questions from the audience, making numerous references to her oft-quoted secret to longevity: chocolate and young men.

Remarking on her age, she said, "Actually, I'm only 32."

Asked about the origin of her nickname "Beato," she explained that a friend's baby--now 60--could not pronounce "Beatrice."

"Also, it's easier to sign pottery 'Beato.' "

Summing up her art, she described herself as an artist rather than a craftsman, not worrying whether her work was technically perfect.

"My interest was not in art. It was in being in love. I think that's how it should be for women."

Asked about her future plans, she said: "I hope still to be able to work, and I like laughing at young men."

She then invited the entire group up to her home, with one condition: "Chocolate is my passport. Anyone who comes here must bring chocolate if they want a nice visit."

Toast by Satellite

Hedren was joined at the podium by archives board president Max Berry and archives director Richard Wattenmaker, who presented Wood with the award--a cushion-shaped sterling silver bowl from Tiffany & Co. engraved with an irreverent stick figure created by Wood in the '20s for a ball in New York City.

The broadcast ended with guests standing to toast the artist and sing a few refrains of "For she's a helluva potter."

Many were impressed by the high-tech production. Gerald Buck, an archives board member from Orange County, noted that Wood was born in 1893 when "the light bulb was just coming on," and with the gains in technology made during her lifetime "she's coming to us via satellite."

Unfortunately, Wood still missed out on one portion of the evening: an elegant dinner of roasted filet mignon or halibut with tarragon sauce served at tables adorned with greenery and pots filled with ceramist's tools. In Wood's honor, dessert was a mousse torte of pure chocolate.

Proceeds from the dinner benefit the archives' West Coast center at the Huntington Library in San Marino.

Buck was largely responsible for bringing this year's awards dinner to Laguna: "I think it's time Orange County had a national event to recognize one of California's great artists," said Buck, who attended with his wife, Bente.

The archives is the largest collection of records on American art in existence. More than 12 million objects, including letters, photographs, sketches and other documents from American artists, are available to researchers at centers across the United States.

Wood is the oldest living artist to have given her papers to the archives. "She's a living link to the past," said Paul Karlstrom, director of the archives on the West Coast.

Faces in the crowd included Ram Pravesh Singh, Wood's manager; Electa Anderson, event coordinator; Kathryn Linehan, who produced a film on Wood shown to guests; Darrel Anderson and Marsha Grinberg; Robert and Mary Anne Emett; Pat Hancock; Mary Hendrickson; Patricia House; Gilbert and Victoria LeVasseur; Carolyn Machado; William and Irene Matthews; John and Susie Meindi; Jim and Pam Muzzy; Jo Ellen Qualls; Elaine Redfield; Bud and Marilyn Schlain, and David and Susan Starry-Sheets.

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