Vintage Butch of the Week - Thelma Wood

"I’m not a lesbian. I just loved Thelma."

[K] To be the inspiration for the central character in one of the most iconic modernist texts is no small feed - especially considering, you are a notorious drunk and cheat. Thelma Wood nevertheless managed to do just that: her lover Djuna Barnes based Robin Vote on her and thus made her virtually immortal as the protagonist of Nightwood.


Wood photographed by Abbott, 1922 (from: Sexual Perspective)

While both the accounts of her real life as well as her fictionlized version proof that not all vintage butches were necessarily ‘nice girls’, Thelma Wood is without a doubt a worthy addition to this illustrous group as she had swag and sex appeal to spare. Enough to make Djuna Barnes, author of one of the most notorious accounts of the lesbian happenings on Paris’ Left Bank Ladies’ Almanach claim: "I’m not a lesbian. I just loved Thelma."

          Djuna Barnes and Thelma Wood in Provindetown, Source

At least with the latter part of her statement,Barnes was in pretty good company, among others of photographer Berenice Abbott, Abbott had also introduced the couple, thus proving as early as 1921 how small the lesbian world is/was.Thelma Wood, 1901 - 1970, an American sculptor and painter, was bareky 19 when she made her entrance in Paris’ expatriate community,


              Nude by Thelma Wood, Source

Eeven at such a ‘tender age’, her admirers - and affairs - were numerous. The published diaries of Emily Holmes Coleman, a friend of Djuna Barnes and Peggy Guggenheim, include this vivid description of Thelma’s charmes:

I understood so much of Djuna’s misery. This woman is really attractive. I said. “What gave one the feeling that she lives for sex? […] she has a damnably sweet and unaffected manner, something straightforward about her which, in someone with such a handsome face  is most exciting physically.” […]

I’ve never seen a more attractive woman. Even on the stage, they don’t often have such a compelling face as that. She makes one want ot make love. But it isn’t in obvious ways, that’s what is moving. She seems to be interestet only in what is going on. One fells sthat underneath that reserve there is a tremendous power.

Photographic evidence:


Bonus: go here for a picture of Barnes and Wood together in France.

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