Thelma Wood

Biographical Information
black and white photograph of Thelma Wood

Thelma Wood


July 3, 1901, Kansas


December 10, 1970, Danbury, Connecticut

Country of Origin/Citizenship

United States/American

Kind of Artist/Cultural Worker

Sculptor, Visual Artist (Silverpoint)

Avant-Garde Movements Associated With

Date & Places of Overlap with Loy

1923-1928, Paris: The Left Bank, rue Saint Romain

Thelma Ellen Wood was born in Kansas on July 3, 1901 to Maud and William Wood. She was one of four children and claimed Native American heritage (Herring 10). Wood loved animals, cooking, and nature (Corrine). By the time Wood reached adulthood she was almost six feet tall, and was frequently described as “boyish looking” and “sexually magnetic” (Summers).

When Wood was around 20, she moved to Paris to study sculpture. There photographer Berenice Abbot introduced her to Djuna Barnes. In 1921 or 1922, Barnes and Wood began a romantic relationship fueled by passion, alcohol, and the social life of Paris (Herring 9). In 1922, Barnes and Wood moved in together in a flat near the Café des Deux Magots. While in Paris, Wood’s artistic medium changed from sculpture to silverpoint, in which sketches are drawn with a silver-pointed stylus (Copper 162). Wood’s work consists largely of erotically suggestive flowers and animals (Cooper 163). Her sketches have been described as “fluid” and “sensual” by biographers noting, for instance, her representation of frequently fetishized objects like women’s shoes (Doughty 140). Not much of her work survives, but her silverpoint drawings were displayed at least once (and reviewed favorably) in 1931 at Milch Galleries in New York City (Corinne). Wood’s sketchbook from a trip to Berlin is in the McKeldin Library (Marcus 154).

When Mina Loy returned to Paris with her daughters in 1923 she soon moved into the flat on rue St. Romain where Barnes and Wood were living (Burke 72). Wood’s connection to Loy existed primarily through Barnes, who had met Loy earlier in New York City and would remain a lifelong friend. The three women ran in similar circles, strolling the Left Bank, frequenting Natalie Barney’s salon, and socializing at Café Flore (Herring 10).

While Barnes was arguably Wood’s most important connection to Loy, other figures during the women’s stays in Paris assert the interconnectedness of their social circles. For instance, all three women were financially supported by Peggy Guggenheim (“Djuna Barnes”), were photographed by Abbot and Man Ray (Corinne), and knew Paris correspondent for The New Yorker, Janet Flanner (Friedman).

By 1928, Wood began an affair with Henrietta McCrea Metcalf, ending her relationship with Barnes who longed for monogamy with Wood. Wood left Paris for Greenwich, New York and Metcalf soon followed (Herring 13). In 1934, Metcalf and Wood moved to Sandy Hook, Connecticut, and Wood, financially supported by Metcalf, began a gourmet catering business, which ultimately failed (Herring 17). In the 1950s, after the end of her relationship with Metcalf, she moved to Monroe, Connecticut with Margaret Behrens, where she would live out the rest of her life until dying of breast cancer in 1970 (Herring 18).

Wood’s ashes are interned in the Behrens’ plot in Bridgeport, Connecticut (Herring 18).

Wood is notoriously memorialized as the seductive figure of Robin Vote in Djuna Barnes’ Nightwood, which Barnes wrote after the end of their relationship.

Works Cited

Doughty, Franklin. “Gilt on Cardboard: Djuna Barnes as Illustrator of Her Life and Work.” Silence and Power: A Reevaluation of Djuna Barnes, Ed. Mary Broe, pp.137-55, Southern Illinois University Press, 1991.

Burke, Carolyn. “’Accidental Aloofness:’ Barnes, Loy, and Modernism.” 67-80. Silence and Power: A Reevaluation of Djuna Barnes. Ed. Mary Lynn Broe. SIU Press, 1991.

Cooper, Emmanuel. The Sexual Perspective: Homosexuality and Art in the Years in the West. New York: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1986.

Corinne, Tee A. “Thelma Ellen Wood.” GLBTQ Encyclopedia, 2002. GLBTQ, Inc.

“Djuna Barnes.” New World Encyclopedia Online.  Retrieved 10 October 2017.

Friedman, Alice T. “Queer Old Things: Image, Myth, and Memory in 20th-century Paris.” Places Journal, Feb. 2015, Accessed 15 October 2017.

Herring, Phillip. “Djuna Barnes and Thelma Wood: The Vengeance of Nightwood.” Journal of Modern Literature, vol. 18, no. 2, 1992, pp. 5-18. JSTOR,

Marcus, Jane. “Laughing at Leviticus: Nightwood as Woman’s Circus Epic.” Cultural Critique, 13, 1989, pp. 143-90, JSTOR,

Summers, Claude J. “Thelma Ellen Wood.” The Queer Encyclopedia of Visual Arts. Cleis Press, Inc. 2004.

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