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Thelma Ellen Wood [284340] was an Americanmarker sculptor (July 3 1901December 10 1970). She was born in Kansasmarker and grew up in St. Louis, Missourimarker. She was the second of four children ([284341]).

Sculpting career, volatile relationships

Although very little of her work survives, Wood's drawings were exhibited at least once, at Milch Galleries in New York Citymarker in 1931, where they were favorably reviewed. Wood's sketchbook from a trip to Berlinmarker is in the Barnes papers at the University of Maryland, College Parkmarker. Although always considering herself a sculptor, Wood is little known for her work, and better known for her usually unstable lesbian relationships with other famous women of the time.

Around 1921, she moved from St. Louis to Parismarker in order to study sculpture, and visited Berlinmarker, a party city at the time for those with foreign money. Wood seemed drawn to a partying lifestyle, and was said to have enjoyed excessive alcohol consumption, and being involved in casual sexual relationships. Accounts from the time, and from those who knew Wood, often describe her as being boyish-looking at almost 6 feet tall, and sexually magnetic ([284342]).

In the fall of 1921, photographer Berenice Abbott met Wood and became her lover for a brief time. Abbott remained a close friend to Wood for life. She later introduced Wood to poet Djuna Barnes, and made photographic portraits of both of them. Wood also had a brief relationship with the poet Edna St. Vincent Millay during the early 1920s.

Barnes/Wood, passion and jealousy

Barnes and Wood began a passionate relationship that lasted from 1921 to 1929. Barnes encouraged Wood to take up silverpoint, in which fine line images are created on paper from the residue of silver from a stylus. Wood crafted erotically charged drawings of animals, exotic plants, and fetishistic objects such as shoes.

Barnes was known for her jealousy with her lesbian lovers; Wood was known to be promiscuous with many women. The combination was an explosive one. Fueled by sex, alcohol, and marred at times by infidelities, jealousy, and violence, the relationship was called the "great love" of each of their lives. Although Barnes wanted their relationship to be monogamous, Wood regularly sought out casual sexual partners of both genders. Barnes, also, was never faithful.

Wood soon became involved in an affair with a wealthy woman named Henriette McCrea Metcalf (1888 – 1981), which effectively caused Barnes to end her relationship with Wood. [284343]

When Wood moved to Greenwich Villagemarker in New York City in 1928, Metcalf followed. Wood continued to write and visit Barnes, to whom Wood still professed her love, and the two did occasionally have sexual encounters during that time, but Barnes refused to become involved with Wood on a regular basis. By 1932, Wood was more of an unofficial courtesan to Metcalf, and Metcalf supported Wood's art studies in Florencemarker. In 1934, they moved to Sandy Hook, Connecticutmarker. In Westport, Connecticutmarker, Wood tried (with Metcalf's financial assistance) to run a gourmet catering business that failed. Her relationship with Metcalf was complicated by Wood continuing to seek out drinking and sexual companions of both sexes, and Wood became increasingly unfaithful. [284344]

When Nightwood, Barnes' best-known novel, was published in 1936, Wood, called "Robin Vote" in the book, was outraged and stopped speaking to Barnes completely. Wood is said to have felt misrepresented, and claimed that the publication of the book ruined her life. Barnes reportedly did not object to their no longer speaking to one another, and never made any apologies.

Later life

Around 1942 or 1943, her relationship with Metcalf had deteriorated to a breaking point due to Wood's unfaithful sexual activities and lack of any gainful employment, and Metcalf offered Wood money to move out of their shared house and effectively ended their sixteen-year relationship. Once the separation was complete, Metcalf never spoke to Wood again, even when Wood, dying, requested to see her.

Around 1943, and perhaps one factor bringing on the break with Metcalf, Wood became involved with Margaret Behrens (1908 – 1986), a fairly wealthy realtor and antique dealer, and she moved into Behrens' home in Monroe, Connecticutmarker. She did odd jobs for Behrens in a relationship that lasted until Wood's death twenty-seven years later.

In the late 1960s, Wood developed breast cancer, which spread to her spine and lungs. She died in Danbury Hospital, aged 69. Her ashes were interred in the Behrens family plot in Bridgeport, Connecticutmarker.

References




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