Mina Loy was born Mina Gertrude Lowy, to Sigmund Lowy and Julia Bryan Lowy. Her father, a Hungarian Jewish immigrant, and her mother, a middle-class Englishwoman, had an unhappy marriage. Their tumultuous relationship, described by Loy in her long poem Anglo-Mongrels and the Rose, negatively affected her childhood, and she blamed her mother for her repressive upbringing. Her father, however, encouraged her artistic talent, and she began formal study of painting at the age of fifteen. She studied at the Women’s Academy in Munich from 1899 to 1901, and after spending several years back in England, she moved to Paris in 1903.
After 1903, she never returned to England for any substantial amount of time. She drifted between Paris, Florence, and New York for most of her adult life and spent her last sixteen years in Aspen, Colorado. During her first prolonged stay in Paris, she married English painter Stephen Haweis and gave birth to her first child, Ada, who died of pneumonia a year later. In 1906, she and Haweis moved to Florence, where she gave birth to another daughter, Joella, in 1907 and a son, Giles, in 1909. Although her years in Florence were tainted by her unhappy marriage and physical and mental fragility, she became acquainted with several people who encouraged her artistic development, including Mabel Dodge, Gertrude Stein, and prominent Futurists Filippo Tommaso Marinetti and Giovanni Papini. Her earliest poems were inspired by her relationships with Marinetti and Papini and the Futurist movement. Although she admired the energy and experimental dynamism of Futurist poetics, she criticized Futurism’s misogyny and sexual politics. While her marriage was deteriorating in Florence, she had affairs with both Marinetti and Papini. Her reactions to these affairs motivated some of her earliest poetic endeavors, most notably her influential serial poem Love Songs (also known as Songs to Joannes), various forms of which were published in 1915 and 1917.
By 1916, Loy had established a reputation as an innovative and controversial poet through a handful of publications in New York’s little magazines, such as Others and Rogue. She moved to New York, hoping to find both economic opportunities and a community of like-minded artists. She quickly became part of the group later referred to as New York Dada, which included Williams, Marcel Duchamp, and Moore. She was extremely prolific during her first stay in New York, publishing many poems and several plays, and acting as part of the avant-garde theater group, the Provincetown Players. She also started a moderately successful lampshade business.
In 1917, she met Arthur Cravan, her second husband, whose mysterious disappearance profoundly affected the rest of her life. At Cravan’s request, she joined him in Mexico City, where he had gone to avoid the draft; they married on January 25, 1918, soon after her arrival. Although Cravan worked as a boxing instructor, they had very little money and, at times, were near starvation. Despite these difficulties, Loy recalled this time period as the happiest of her life. After Cravan disappeared en route to Buenos Aires, where the pregnant Loy planned to meet him, she returned to England and gave birth to their child, Fabienne Cravan Lloyd, in 1919.
During the next few years, Loy migrated between Switzerland, Florence, New York, Mexico, and Berlin, and in 1923, she finally settled with her daughter Fabienne in Paris, where she remained until 1936. She quickly became part of the expatriate community, which included James Joyce, Man Ray, and Djuna Barnes. She published a significant number of poems throughout the 1920’s, most frequently in The Dial and The Little Review ....
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In 1923, sections of her lengthy autobiographical poem,Anglo-Mongrels and the Rose, appeared in The Little Review, followed by her first book of poetry, Lunar Baedecker. In 1925, with the financial assistance of Peggy Guggenheim, Loy opened a shop to market her experiments in interior design: lamps crafted from flea-market bottles, illuminated globes, and other handmade, unusual artwork. The store dominated her creative attention for several years. She eventually sold it in 1930, when she became the Paris agent for New York art dealer, Julien Levy, who had married her daughter Joella in 1927.
Loy continued to exhibit paintings in the 1930’s and worked on several longer prose works, including Insel; however, she did not publish anything new between 1931 and 1946. She followed her daughters to New York in 1937, and during the next ten years, she fought depression and suffered from a period of artistic sterility. Although she became increasingly reclusive, she developed a close relationship with artist Joseph Cornell, and in 1948, she moved to the Bowery to focus her creative energy on composing poems and three-dimensional assemblages based on the district’s poor and homeless populations. In 1953, her daughters convinced her to join them in Aspen, where she spent the remainder of her lifetime. She experienced two significant artistic achievements in her final years: A volume of poems, Lunar Baedeker and Time-Tables, was published in 1958, and her Bowery assemblages were exhibited in New York in 1959. She died of pneumonia at the age of eighty-four.