Artist. Writer. Entrepreneur.
She consorted with the major 20th-century avant-garde movements—
Futurism, Dada, and Surrealism—
yet was wedded to none.
She moved among the metropolitan centers of modernism—
London, Paris, Florence, New York, and Berlin—
yet rarely felt at home.
She wrote poems, plays, and experimental prose;
created drawings, paintings, sculptures, and assemblages;
designed lampshades, toys, Christmas lights, cleaning tools, and corselets.
Born in London in 1882, Mina Gertrude Lowy was the child of an English, Protestant mother and a Hungarian, Jewish father. She was raised with two sisters in a Victorian household that aspired to middle-class respectability.
Mina, the first-born, was the problem child. Imaginative and precocious, she was prone to inventing colorful stories and drawings—and disinclined to proper feminine decorum. She was sent to art school: first in London, then Munich, then Paris.
In Paris, Loy met fellow artist Stephen Haweis, who was attracted to her beauty and intelligence. Though her feelings toward him were deeply ambivalent, she married him in 1903 out of necessity. Their daughter, Oda Janet, was born 1904 (five months after the wedding). That same year, Loy exhibited six watercolors at the prestigious Salon d’Automne under the self-styled name, Mina Loy.
Just as her career began to take off, her personal life crashed. Oda died of meningitis in 1905, Loy’s marriage felt apart, and she was plagued by grief, self-doubt, and neurasthenia, which today would be diagnosed as depression. When Loy became pregnant by the doctor who treated her, Stephen agreed to claim paternity if she moved with him to Florence. Divorce was financially impossible, socially unacceptable, and legally very difficult, so Loy complied, and the couple moved to Florence in 1907.
While in Italy, Loy had two more children but grew more estranged from Haweis. Meanwhile, she developed sustaining friendships with Mabel Dodge Luhan, Gertrude Stein, Carl Van Vechten, and her ward and artistic protégé, Frances Simpson Stevens, who introduced her to the Italian Futurists in 1913.
In 1914, Loy became involved in love affairs with F. T. Marinetti and Giovanni Papini. She also embarked on a literary career, publishing her first poems, manifestos, and plays in various American and European little magazines.
When her affairs with the Italian Futurists ended, Loy served briefly as a nurse for the Italian Red Cross during World War I. In 1917, she left her children with their Italian nursemaid and sailed to New York, determined to reinvent herself as an artist.
In New York, Loy found artistic compatriots in the avant-garde circle that gravitated around Walter and Louise Arensburg. She met Marcel Duchamp, Man Ray, Beatrice Webb, and the love of her live, Arthur Cravan—a boxer, Dada poet, and nephew of Oscar Wilde.
Loy secured a divorce from Haweis in 1917. The next year, she and Cravan sailed to Mexico so that he could escape the draft, and they got married there. Loy became pregnant, and they set off for Argentina on separate boats. Cravan never made it: his sailboat disappeared off the coast of Mexico, and he was never heard from again.
Heartbroken, Loy returned to London and delivered her fourth child, Jemima Fabienne Cravan Lloyd. She then resumed her transatlantic migrations, moving to Geneva, to Florence, to New York, back to Florence, and then to Paris, where she resided from 1921-1936, running a lamp shop funded by Peggy Guggenheim and then acting as an purchasing agent for her son-in-law Julian Levy’s art gallery in New York, serving as a key figure in Surrealism’s New York reception. In 1933, she befriended the Surrealist painter Richard Oelze and drew upon their relationship for her novel, Insel.
Loy returned to New York in 1936, where she interacted with Joseph Cornell, Kenneth Rexroth, Djuna Barnes, and Charles Henri Ford. She became an American citizen in 1946 and moved to the Bowery in 1949, living in a communal household and creating artistic assemblages from local refuse and found objects.
In 1953, she moved to Aspen, Colorado, to be near her daughters. She died there in 1966.
In her lifetime, Loy published two books, Lunar Baedecker [sic] in 1923 and Lunar Baedeker and Time Tables in 1958, as well as dozens of poems, plays, and essays in little magazines. In addition to exhibiting art at the Salon d’Automne and Salon des Beaux-Arts in Paris and Carfax Gallery in London early in her career, she showed Surrealist paintings in Julian Levy’s New York gallery in 1933 and “Constructions” at an exhibit curated by Marcel Duchamp at the Bodley Gallery in New York in 1959.
Today, many of Mina Loy’s creations remain unpublished, undated, lost, or in private collections, making her career as difficult to chart as it is fascinating to follow.
- Carolyn Burke. Becoming Modern: The Life of Mina Loy. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1996.
- “Mina Loy Chronology.” The Salt Companion to Mina Loy. Eds. Rachel Potter and Suzanne Hobson. London: Salt Publishing, 2010. 12-15.
- “Time-Table.” Mina Loy. The Last Lunar Baedeker. Ed. Roger L. Conover. Highlands, NC: The Jargon Society, 1982. lxiii-lxxix.
Loy’s Artistic and Social Network
Lepers of the moon
all magically diseased
we come among you
of our luminous sores
– Mina Loy, “Apology of Genius”
These short biographies of figures in Loy’s artistic and social network in Florence, New York, and Paris were written by undergraduate and graduate students at Davidson College, Duquesne University, and the University of Georgia. Students participated in cross-institutional peer critique, and final editing was completed by graduate students at Duquesne University, who worked closely with the faculty editors of this site. Visit our project blog to read more about the Biography project or see the Bio Project Assignment.
Bio: Alfred Stieglitz
Bio: Rachel Blau Du Plessis
Bio: Dorothy Day
Bio: Janet Flanner
Bio: F. T. Marinetti, Thomas Merton
Rochel L. Gasson
Bios: Walter Conrad Arensberg, Kathleen Fraser, Marianne Moore, Ezra Pound
Bio: Denise Levertov
Bio: Glenway Wescott
Bio: Neith Boyce
Bios: Ford Madox Ford, Richard Oelze
Bio: Hermine David
Bios: T.S. Eliot, Stephen Haweis
Bio: Thelma Wood
Bio: Elsa Schiaparelli
Bio: Joseph Stella
University of Georgia
Bio: Joseph Cornell
Bio: Tristan Tzara
Bio: Mary Baker Eddy
Bio: Eugene Jolas
Bio: Peggy Guggenheim
Bio: Djuna Barnes
Bios: Berenice Abbott, Arthus Cravan, Nancy Cunard, Marcel Duchamp, Isadora Duncan, Robert McAlmon
Bio: Man Ray
Bio: Max Ernst
Bio: Luis Bunuel
Bio: Charles Henri Ford
Bio: Giovanni Papini
Bio: Gertrude Stein
Bio: Jean Cocteau
Bio: Fernand Leger
Bio: Williams Carlos Williams
Bio: Lee Miller
Bio: Jane Heap
Bio: Beatrice Wood
Bio: Katherine Dreier
Bio: Natalie Barney
Bio: Jules Pascin
Bio: Julien Levy
Bio: Constantin Brancusi
Bio: Andre Breton
Other student contributors
Bios: Sylvia Beach, Basil Bunting, James Joyce
Bio: Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loinghoven
Bio: Frances Simpson Stevens
Bio: Francis Picabia
Bio: Carl Van Vechten
Bio: Mabel Dodge Luhan
Bio: Alfred Kreymborg
Bio: Gabrielle Buffet-Picabia
Bio: Clara Tice