Art, Modernism, and Bohemia
Mabel Was More
Mabel Dodge was never "just" a patroness. Mabel Dodge was a confidant, collaborator, and motivator for the artists who she formed relationships with. To call her a muse or patroness as history tends to remember her is a huge understatement. The case of Dodge’s relationship with Gertrude Stein is a prime example of Dodge’s active and complexly pivotal role to the growth of Bohemia. Through Stein’s own work, Dodge and Stein’s correspondence, and Dodge’s personal accounts of their relationship, Dodge’s unique role in the development of Stein in the public eye and within the artistic community becomes clear.
In Stein’s “Portrait of Mabel Dodge at the Villa Curonica” and the poem “Sacred Emily”, both written during the years Stein and Dodge corresponded and met in person most frequnetly, the influence of Dodge’s ideology and persona is present in Stein’s work. Both display a new type of literary tone, one without clear interpretation or concrete message. Openness and exploration are a core values of Dodge and the main philosophy behind her “Evenings” she would develop in The Village. Dodge in a sense is embodied by Stein's work.
Dodge and Stein aren’t distant, though. They aren’t business partners or art critics. Dodge acts as a patron in that she donates money, but she does not embody the stereotype of the distant and removed benefactor. Because of Dodge’s open and inviting nature, she fosters a sort of closeness to Stein that can be seen in their correspondence. Dodge’s ability to enter the confidence of the artist is partially because of her charm and partially because of how she understands that in order to understand art, one must also understand the individual. Dodge describes in detail in her memoirs her own “portrait” of her friend, writing, “She [Stein] intellectualized her fat, and her body seemed to be the large machine that her large nature required to carry it. Gertrude was hearty. She used to roar with laughter, out loud. She had a laugh like a beefsteak. . . . Yet with all this she was not at all repulsive. On the contrary, she was positively, richly attractive in her grand ampleur” (Barolonini 280). Dodge’s intense connection with art and artists is what allow her to assist them in ways the typical patroness would be unable and frankly uninterested.
Dodge’s writing reveals tensions between Stein and Dodge. This tension illuminates the complicated role which Dodge takes with Stein and with other artists. The artists Dodge promotes lose some agency through Dodge’s pursuits of publicity. Dodge wants the public to see the art. In the process of trying to promote the art, she tends to over simplify the wishes of the artist. One publication Dodge writes about Stein’s work creates tension in their relationship because of her over simplification of the material. Dodge was the first one to write about Stein in New York or in the whole country. In this sense, Dodge and Stein are a marvelous lens from which to see how Dodge’s social and economic power allow her to take control of other people’s creations. Dodge’s role interpreting and promoting art create a barrier between her and becoming a true “artist” or “reformer” like her peers. Stein would criticize Dodge’s push for notoriety lamenting, that Americans “were more interested in me than in my work,” (Hegemen). Hegeman also comments how Dodge's role in the Armory show was, "foreshadowing the emerging importance of advertising and public relations to the arts and letters of the twentieth century, Dodge helped create an enduring link between Stein’s writing, cubism, the Armory Show, and herself, as a modernist muse."
Baralonini, Helen. "Mabel Dodge Luhan: in search of a personal South."
Southwest Review 8.3 (1998): 280-1. Print.
Hegeman, Susan. "Gertrude Stein and the Armory Show." The Armory Show at 100.
Ed. New York Historical Society. New York Historical Society, 8 Oct. 2013.
Web. 8 June 2016.
Luhan, Mabel. Intimate Memories. Comp. Lois Rudnick. Albuquerque: University of
New Mexico, 1999. Print.
Rudnick, Lois. Mabel Dodge: New Woman, New Worlds. Albuquerque: University of
New Mexico, 1984. Print.
Mabel’s Purposeful “Collection” of Divergent, Differing, and Diverse Individuals
Mabel Dodge doesn’t take a long time to get to know the “Movers and Shakers” of wherever she sets up shop. By the time she’s finished decorating her apartment and finally distances herself successfully from Edwin Dodge, she already has systematically begun to acquire contacts and visitors. What is so interesting and marvelous about Dodge is that she doesn’t just connect people: Dodge is connecting ideas and concepts that come along with individuals. Her memoir illustrates how Dodge has almost a systematic and strategic process for connecting people through the groups and ideals they hold. Dodge doesn’t just collect contacts — she builds relationships, pairings, and stages discourse. Dodge is like a match maker for intellectuals of the areas where she operates. Her personal writing displays her approach to building these important relationships and also illustrates the breadth of influence Mabel Dodge had in the Village. Lois Rudnick writes in her detailed exploration of Dodge’s memoirs that, “In the early 1920s, a Chicago newspaper reporter claimed she [Dodge] was “the most peculiar common denominator that society, literature, art and radical revolutionaries ever found in New York and Europe” (47). A short memoir excerpt alone illustrates that even the term “denominator” falls short of encompassing the complexity of Dodge’s expansive influence.
Dodge explains how she is able to use her relationship with Hapgood to grow her New York circles. She writes, “Hutch [Hapgood] was one of the first of these [revolutionaries] and he, in his turn, brought his affinities” (Luhan 2516). With the knowledge that Dodge frequently used her charms to gain favors out of Hapgood, this is even a more interesting starting place for her gatherings. It is clear there was some purpose behind her pursing Hapgood. It’s not a stretch to surmise she could have known she could persuade him because he was experimenting with an open marriage to Neith Boyce. Dodge knew Hapgood had the right connections to build her connections in the city, thus making him an easy tool to building her contact list. Within her letters to Hapgood, Dodge uses her charms frequently to get favors our of Hapgood—though Dodge never commits to Hapgood and Hapgood eventually commits to Boyce (Boyce 213).
The tone Dodge takes addressing some of the more radical activists is somewhat demeaning or diminutive tone. Dodge writes, “In time there came [Lincoln] Steffens and Emma Goldman and [Alexander] Berkman, that group of earnest naive anarchists” (Luhan 2518). Calling them “naïve” illustrates an important attribute that Dodge has. Though she is somewhat condescending and self-involved, her separating the different groups of radicals illustrates that Dodge recognizes the importance of gathering people with conflicting and contrasting views on similar social issues. Dodge also gathers people with views that conflict with her own. For instance, Dodge tends to side more with John Reed, whose political and ideological stances Dodge follows and supports more closely.
Dodge also clusters individuals who are educated and not educated. She describes, “[John] Reed, Walter Lippmann, Bobby Jones, Bobby Rogers, and Lee Simonson, these but lately out of college” (Luhan 2518). This distinction is relevant because the details she takes note of convey how Dodge may not always be sensitive to social class issues, but that she is aware of importance of gathering people not with just different views but also differing classes and levels of education.
After listing the “big names” of her current group, Dodge also makes sure to mention that her company also includes “…all the labor leaders, poets, journalists, editors, and actors” in order to try to quantify her own influence (Luhan 2519). It is typical of Dodge to want to convey that she is reaching a wide audience. The range of figures she already enumerated are quite enough to convey the wide range of people she was connecting an engaging as she established her evenings in New York, but Dodge likes to take things over the top. So by 1912, Barnet writes, “Mabel Dodge’s famous Evenings were born, and with them Greenwich Village’s reputation as a place of art, intellectual foment, freedom, and controversy that quickly spread beyond its borders” (143). Though she was tying ideas together that originated from all corners of the 20th century Bohemian culture, it was Dodge who was cultivating the culture as a collective. Without this common denominator, it is important to understand these figures might not have come together in the direct way that they did when they met in pristine white walled apartment of Mabel Dodge.
Barnet, Andrea. All Night Party: The Women of Bohemia Greenwich Village and Harlem. Chapel Hill: Algonquin Books, 2004. Print.
Luhan, Mabel Dodge. Intimate Memories: The Autobiography of Mabel Dodge Luhan (Kindle Locations 2516-2519). University of New Mexico Press. Kindle Edition.
Rudnick, Lois. Mabel Dodge Luhan: New Woman, New Worlds (Kindle Locations 47-48). University of New Mexico Press. Kindle Edition.
Not Your Typical Hostess
Dodge’s “Evenings” sound almost mythical. They are focal points for a movement. Historically, no one creates a conversation like Dodge. The concept of all the forerunners of artistic, political, and social movements openly talking in one room seems almost too good to be true. Though meetings of intellectual occur across history, Dodge was doing something radical that is part of the reason Greenwich Village in the early 1900s was such a nexus of change and source of radical art and reform. Even similar Bohemian movements paralleled in the 1960s would not create the same atmosphere of openness an exploration that existed in Dodge’s apartment. Dodge didn’t just want to be a hostess — she was applying an ideology of exploration and openness to a gathering. Dodge was actively selecting different viewpoints and background of her guests to push discourse forward. Though Dodge called them “Evenings” the term diminishes the concept. An “Evening” sounds like a lovely dinner party expected to be hosted by a woman like Dodge from strict Victorian upbringings. Everything about Dodge’s “Evenings” support this notion. Dodge is collecting anarchists, labor reformers, poets, and feminists in a space that felt even the concept of “debate” would diminish the complexity of conversation.
Dodge’s Dissemination of and Experimentation in “The New”
Dodge worked to spread the word about modernism as a way of life any way she could. Dodge wrote in mass publications like Art and Decorations and The Globe while also addressing her more “Bohemian” peers in The Village Voice and The Masses. The sole purpose of Dodge’s Evenings was to provide a platform for discourse, but her Evenings weren’t her only methods for furthering Bohemia. Outside of just publications and discussion, Dodge’s own artistic experimentation in art and literature sought to spread her passion about “The New,” though did not ever experience fame or recognition on par with her contemporaries that she helped support. Dodge wanted to spread the “prophecy” of “The New” and she succeeded in not only expanding the views of the circles of Bohemia but also getting the world out to the general public.