“I was never a poet,” Mina Loy (1882-1966) asserted to T.S. Eliot in the 1950’s (qtd by Burke viii). Yet, much of the scholarship on Loy has been focused on her poems — defiant and difficult as they are. By way of contemporary recovery projects, Loy has increasingly come to be known as a key figure contributing to the gendering of Modernism; her fragmented, unconventional and sometimes inconsistent writing provides new contours to a literary period often critiqued for being male-centric in its approach. [i] But throughout the course of her life, Loy pursued many other creative avenues beyond poetry — from setting up a lampshade shop to designing a children’s toy. Most scholars acknowledge Loy’s inventive spirit, but very few make it the sole focus of their analysis. This project is an effort to bring Loy the entrepreneur to the forefront.
“When you went into Mina’s apartment you threaded your way past lamp shades that were everywhere: she made them to support her children. She made all her own clothes, also, and perhaps theirs. Her hats were very like her lampshades; or perhaps it was the lamp shades that were like her hats. She wrote poetry whenever she had time.”
— Sylvia Beach, Shakespeare and Company (113).
Our collaborative research project on Mina Loy seeks to shed light on her entrepreneurial and creative pursuits beyond writing. We join Jessica Burstein in attempting to cast Loy “not just as a poet, but something more as an entrepreneur whose work included word as well as objects, like lampshades and fashion accessories” (Burstein 6). Building on Carolyn Burke and Susan Rosenbaum’s research on Loy’s lampshade shop in Paris in the 1920’s, we explore various facets to Loy’s creativity: its roots in financial insecurity, emphasis on functionality, and interest in domestica, to name a few.
In the spirit of Loy’s sophisticated yet unconventional style, this site is designed with a pictorial focus; each picture relates to some aspect of Loy’s entrepreneurial adventures, linking to short descriptions providing explanation. This collage style allows users to take ownership of their experience, charting their own path on the site as they navigate between pictorial representations.
The site also includes an e-Marketplace containing many of Loy’s inventions. The products are not actually for sale, yet the hope is that “window shopping” for Loy’s products will be both enjoyable and informative to users. The idea that shopping is pleasurable and worthy of scholarly attention is a relatively unexplored one, in part because by way of Marxist critique, scholars have been wary of consumer culture and commodity fetish. Our work here seeks to suggest that shopping can still be pleasurable even as it may simultaneously pose deeper questions about the commodification of objects–and of avant-garde objects in particular.
We are grateful to Dr. Susan Rosenbaum, Associate Professor of English at the University of Georgia, for generously sharing with us her archival research and writing about Loy’s lampshade shop and inventions, including images from the Carolyn Burke Collection on Mina Loy at the Beinecke Rare Books and Manuscripts Library. Our site would not be possible without her research and generosity.
Images used on this site are drawn from the following collections:
- Mina Loy Papers. Beinecke Digital Collections. YCAL_MSS_6. Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University.
- Carolyn Burke Collection on Mina Loy and Lee Miller. Yale Collection of American Literature. Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University.
This site has been compiled by undergraduates at Davidson College enrolled in the seminar ENG 486: “Navigating the Avant-Garde: Mina Loy and her Network,” taught by Dr. Suzanne Churchill in the Fall of 2018. We are four senior English majors with a love for Loy. This project combines many of our shared passions: design, innovation, entrepreneurship, and fashion. We hope you enjoy it!