Mabel Dodge (Luhan), “art collector”


Biography draft:

Mabel Dodge, dressed in velvet or silk clothes that reflected her mood of the day, hosted a salon of Anglo-American writers at Villa Curonia in Arcetri, just outside of Florence. Mina Loy saw Mabel as regal: being in Mabel’s presence felt like being in the presence of a duchess (Burke 120). Mabel saw herself as a queen—Villa Curonia, which formerly belonged to a physician of the Medici family, was well suited to her (Mabel Dodge Luhan 33). Mabel curated herself by collecting decorations for her villa, where each room illustrated a facet of her personality, and by collecting artists to have as her guests (Burke 121, Mabel Dodge Luhan 35). From 1905 to 1912, Mabel filled Villa Curonia with art, its artists, and their gossip.

Mina Loy met Mabel in Florence, at Villa Curonia, when Mina arrived in 1910. Early in their friendship, Mina felt comfortable around Mabel and began to confide in her—about her then-husband Stephen Haweis and their troubled marriage, and about her affairs with F.T. Marinetti and Giovanni Papini (Burke 120, 175). But Mabel also spoke to Stephen Haweis about his marriage to Mina and his infidelity (122). Mabel collected gossip while remaining close to all parties, turning herself into the centerpiece of Anglo-American society in Florence. And Mabel was the centerpiece of Mina’s life in Florence, a liaison between Mina and all the other American artists in Florence at the time (120). Through Mabel, Mina met Gertrude Stein, an influence on Mina’s growth as a poet, and Margaret Sanger, an influence on Mina’s growth as a feminist (179).

Mabel, too, exchanged letters with Mina as she developed her feminism. In their letters, which often discussed matters more personal than artistic, Mabel and Mina took small breaks from discussing their personal lives by discussing Mina’s work. In 1914, Mina, still in Florence, sent a manuscript of her “Feminist Manifesto” to Mabel, who had moved back to New York. Though Mina’s manifesto is certain and violent—including like “wrench” underlined, bolded, and enlarged—to Mabel she is more timid. She writes in the margins of the first page to make sure Mabel knows she is reading a “first draught” and even backs down from some of the manifesto’s striking claims: “of course it’s easily fallacious” (Loy and Dodge Luhan). Loy nervously presented “Feminist Manifesto” to Mabel in a gesture of artistic confiding. And Mabel admired Mina’s work behind her back; in a letter to Gertrude Stein in 1914, Mabel praises Mina’s newly published “Aphorisms on Futurism” (Dodge and Stein 228). But Mabel, who could have supported herself financially—as the New Woman of the era sought to—but who chose to rely on men due to a belief that her romantic relationships formed a large part of her identity, seems like an unlikely recipient of Loy’s manuscript, and an unlikely supporter of her work (“The Male-Indentified Woman” 125).

Mabel was born in Buffalo, New York in 1879 to a Victorian, stoic, and emotionally reserved family—this upbringing provided her with an interest in American art, which she sought as an escape from the static life her parents gave her, and with a traditional coming-out as a debutante, which instilled in her the value of finding a husband (Mabel Dodge Luhan 19, 22). Mabel contradicted herself, and embodied a New Woman of her own sort, rather than the New Woman.

Mabel embodied the New Woman through her support of women’s sexual freedom, but she created her celebrity in the unorthodox manner of entertaining and inspiring writers, and becoming a central figure to literary life. She was “famous for being famous,” and in this sense, does not represent the archetypal New Woman (Barolini 131). And although Mabel wrote her own memoirs in the 1930s, long after the height of the Villa Curonia salon, she may be better known for her appearance in Gertrude Stein’s poem, Portrait of Mabel Dodge at Villa Curonia. Mabel delighted in seeing her name in the title of a Gertrude Stein poem (147).

Mabel’s identities as a socialite, who mastered the art of salon hosting, and as a literary muse and guide are inextricable in her relationship to Mina Loy. Mina turned to Mabel in confidence for both personal and artistic advice. Mabel helped Mina navigate and become prominent in the Anglo-American art scene in Florence, but Mabel made her own name by being able to act as such a liaison for Mina, and for others. Mabel costumed herself—often in white silk, as Alice Toklas remembers her—and made her name as a collector of art and of people (Barolini 145).


Bio Template:

Name: Mabel Dodge Luhan (Mabel Dodge in Florence, when Mina Loy met her)

Date of Birth: February 26, 1879

Place of Birth: Buffalo, NY

Date of Death: August 13, 1962

Place of Death: Taos, NM

Country of origin, citizenship: America/American

Gender: Female

Race: White

Kind of artist/cultural worker: Salon hostess and memoirist

Addresses in Florence and New York: Villa Curonia, Arcetri, Italy; 23 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY

Dates and places of overlap with Loy: Florence, 1910-1912 at Villa Curonia; New York, 1916-1917 at 23 Fifth Avenue; letter correspondence

Avant-garde movements Dodge was associated with: Futurism via Loy, involved with the Armory Show in 1913

Brief summary of the figure’s biographical/historical significance: Mabel Dodge, with her husband Edwin, hosted a salon at Villa Curonia in Arcetri, just outside of Florence. While the Dodges never rose to social prominence among the Florentines, Mabel placed herself at the center of Anglo-American society in Florence from 1905-1912. At her salon, Mabel talked to writers about their art and about their personal lives—Mina Loy sent her the manuscript of “Feminist Manifesto” in 1914, Mabel and Mina also discussed Mina’s marriage to Stephen Haweis. Mabel also talked to Haweis himself about his and Mina’s marriage; she sided with no one in particular, keeping all parties close. Mabel therefore occupied the center of the worlds of art and gossip in Anglo-American Florentine society. Mabel was a muse to the artists she hosted, often inspiring and appearing in their work. She also published a four-volume memoir in the 1930s, which explicate her life as well as her experience of Native American culture, while living in New Mexico.

Brief summary of the figure’s relationship to LoyMabel was both an artistic and personal confidante to Mina Loy. The two met at Villa Curonia in Florence, and Mina became a regular attendee of Mabel’s salon. Mina tentatively sent her manuscript of “Feminist Manifesto” to Mabel, with notes at the top calling the writing a “rough draught” and backing down from the manifesto’s strong claims: “of course it’s easily fallacious.” Mabel was an artistic muse to whom Mina felt close: the two also discussed Mina’s troubled marriage to Stephen Haweis as well as her affairs with Marinetti and Papini. And Mabel was not excluded from Mina’s group of friends from whom she often solicited money.

What was the nature of their overlap or connection? Was it social, literary, artistic? Were they involved in collaborative ventures (publications, exhibitions, performances, readings)?Though Mabel and Mina met at Mabel’s salon while the two both lived in Florence, their overlap was mainly through letter correspondence. Their connection was social as well as literary—Mina sent her manuscript of “Feminist Manifesto” to Mabel before it was published, looking for advice and comments. Their relationship was also intellectual; Mabel was a friend of Margaret Sanger, and introduced Sanger’s ideas to Mina. These ideas may have informed Mina’s feminism. Mabel and Mina’s connection was not collaborative; they never published or exhibited any art together. Their overlap was mainly social, with interspersions of artistic discussion along the way.

What other artists or writers did the figure come into contact with?: D.H. Lawrence, Leo Stein, Gertrude Stein, Alice Toklas, Carl Van Vechten, John Reed, Margaret Sanger, H.G. Wells, Isadora Duncan, Gordon Craig, Max Eastman, Maurice Sterne

Bibliography—Works Cited or Consulted:

Barolini, Helen. “Mabel Dodge Luhan: In Search of a Personal South.” Their Other Side: Six American Women and the Lure of Italy. New York: Fordham University Press, 2006. 129–175. Web.

Burke, Carolyn. Becoming Modern: The Life of Mina Loy. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1996. Print.

Loy, Mina, and Mabel Dodge Luhan. Feminist Manifesto. 15 Nov. 1914. Letter. Web. <http://brbl-dl.library.yale.edu/vufind/Record/3483102>.

Luhan, Mabel Dodge, Gertrude Stein, and Patricia R. Everett. A History of Having Many Times Not Continued to Be Friends: The Correspondence Between Mabel Dodge and Gertrude Stein, 1911-1934. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1996. Web.

Rudnick, Lois Palken. Mabel Dodge Luhan: New Woman, New Worlds. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1984. Print.

—. “The Male-Identified Woman and Other Anxieties: The Life of Mabel Dodge Luhan.” The Challenge of Feminist Biography. Ed. Sara Alpern. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1992. 116–138. Print.

5 Comments on “Mabel Dodge (Luhan), “art collector””

  1. I love the opening that focuses on Mabel Dodge’s clothing: it’s fun, creative, and really paints her in color (literally and figuratively) as a character. I also really liked the quotes from the letters that you included. Those are some pretty cool “insider” insights that are hard to find elsewhere. Structurally, I might start with her birth place and background and family, etc. rather than diving directly into her relationship with Mina Loy. Great job overall!

  2. Thoroughly researched and beautifully written, this narrative brings to life the friendship between Dodge and Loy, illuminating the excesses of Dodge’s tastes and behaviors. Like Ellie’s, though, you’re on the verge of writing an excellent article about their friendship, rather than an informational biography on Dodge that includes brief discussion of her relationship to Loy. I would suggest you move up the basic information about Dodge and then discuss her friendship with Loy. While that friendship is important and should be covered here, you should also try to get the arc of Dodge’s life and her significance beyond Loy. For example, didn’t she help organize the Paterson Strike Pageant of 1913? I also thought she was married (more than once) and moved to New Mexico, where she established another salon, possibly that included D. H. Lawrence.

  3. Hi Erin! This is beautifully written. I have been reading a lot about Mabel Dodge in passing (it was through her that my artist, Frances Simpson Stevens, met Loy), so it was nice to learn a little bit more about her! And your fun, stylized writing made her all that much more engaging.
    Your first paragraph is particularly engaging… I love how you contrasted how Loy saw Dodge with how she saw herself! It made me wonder about the difference between being regal and being a queen. That description, along with your depiction of her clothing and her home, created an alluring image that made want to continue reading. I also love the “curator” language. It implies that Dodge didn’t simply carve out a place for herself within the avant-garde… rather, she created herself and, in part, the modernist artistic communities she was a part of.
    I agree with the comments encouraging you to focus more on the biographical details of Dodge’s life and a little bit less on her relationship with Loy, but it honestly doesn’t bother me that some of those facts (birthday, family, etc) don’t pop up until halfway through the piece. Ultimately, they aren’t the most important (or most interesting) things about her. Your narrative of her as a gossip queen of sorts who mastered the artistic social scene and collected facts about Loy and her husband all seemed to connect back to the image of her as a curator, gathering people, art, and secrets. It’s brilliant, and I wonder if you could push it further, connecting it to more people in her life (apart from Loy) or some more of those biographical facts that seem to be missing. It makes me wonder how she acted with her romantic partners and family members…
    What an interesting person! Thanks for sharing.
    Sarah

  4. Hey Erin! This is amazing writing. She’s such an interesting character and that makes this so engaging and enjoyable to read. I wonder if there are things we can consider from the letter to Dodge when we analyze the manifesto–does her self-deprecating style suggest that the Manifesto is intentionally over the top or is it simply a private shyness? I don’t know if this is something you could–or even should–address in this piece, but I think it’s really interesting. And I think the fact that it’s raising these questions about Loy’s work fits in really well with the overall intention of the website. I do think sometimes your transitions can be a little jarring, especially in places where you’re trying to work plain raw fact into the more exciting and interesting parts. On the whole though, I think this is a gorgeous piece.

  5. I actually enjoyed how you didn’t mention the basic biographical information (birth date, death, home, etc.) until later in the piece. Though the information is relevant, those things aren’t what define her, and you make that clear. Her relationship with Loy is very interesting and sounds as though it had many different levels. However, it does seem like you discuss their relationship a lot, yet I still don’t feel like I know much about Mabel’s life. Maybe reduce their relationship to a more simplified and focused section, so that you save room to discuss Mabel as an artist, writer and person. On that note, I would like to know more about her work too. Overall though its really good with a lot of intriguing information, I especially like how you have structured it.

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