Room 26 Cabinet of Curiosities

Unsophisticated Mary

Posted in Beinecke Library, Yale Collection of American Literature by beineckepoetry on September 28, 2012

Beatrice Wood, “A Nickellette, or Unsophisticated Mary” manuscript and painting, (YCAL MSS 219)

Otherwise known as the “Mama of Dada,” Beatrice Wood was an American artist influential in the first half of the 20th century. Interestingly, Wood was the inspiration for the character of Rose in James Cameron’s Titanic. Though she was primarily a potter and teacher, Wood also dabbled in the literary arts. Beinecke library has recently acquired one of her manuscripts, A Nickellette, or Unsophisticated Mary, adding to its already-extensive Beatrice Wood Papers (YCAL MSS 294).

The manuscript relates a story of Mary, a romantic woman who encounters a series of surreal adventures in contemporary New York City, which includes references to the Woolworth building and cobblestone streets, in a quest to find her lover. Written with pencil in a notebook, the heavily illustrated manuscript has increasingly decorative text that graphically represents action in the story, in addition to ink and pencil drawings and watercolors that depict situations and characters. In an inscription by Wood in 1978 on the front flyleaf, “I wrote this when I was twenty – I am now ashamed at its adolescent crudity.” The watercolor depicts the visage of the main character of the manuscript and had previously served as the cover for the notebook, August 1918.

–Ariel Doctoroff, Yale 2013

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