Peter Beard and My Visit to His House in Montauk
Who is Peter Beard
Known as a wealthy playboy, writer, and photographer, 78 year old Peter Beard is a legend in Montauk. His photographs and mixed media collages dot the bars throughout the town, as he reputedly used them as payment for tabs that could run as high as $20,000. Beard has long been a resident both in Montauk and in his other home in Kenya, where he owns a ranch next door to Karen Blixen of Out of Africa fame.
Peter Beard was born to money (railroads on his mother's side, tobacco on his father's) and a leads a life free from the constraints of 9-to-5 employment. His art centering on African wildlife is perhaps his most critically acclaimed, but it is his snapshots of the star studded life in Montauk during the groovy 1970's that attract voyeurs on the East End of Long Island.
I guess I am one of those voyeurs because one time I wormed my way onto his property for a look!
My Visit to Peter Beard's Montauk House
Several years ago, long before phones had cameras, Larry and I went to a party at Peter Beard's house in Montauk. His home is located on the very last, oceanfront private parcel before you get to the state and federal lands that comprise the Montauk Lighthouse and Camp Hero. We entered down a tiny, bumpy dirt path that appeared little more than a hiking trail. "No trespassing" signs lined the drive. About halfway down, security guards halted our car to vet our credentials.
We parked and began our search for the party. A very modest cape cod cottage was deserted. We were shocked at its tiny size considering it's owner's fortune.
The House and Studio
Soon we came upon a burned out fire pit with a solitary chimney rising from the ashes. A very tragic fire occurred here. At one time, Montauk's historic windmill sat on the property . Once located on the bluff at Ditch Plains, Beard purchased the windmill and added it to his 6 acre spread. Sadly, in 1977, the windmill burned down taking many of Beard's early journals as well as his artwork with it.
A delapidated shed was close to the house. The door was open.
We wandered in and discovered Beard's studio.
It was packed with scraps of paper, as well as natural debris such as rocks, shells, seaweed and the like.
Back then, I knew that Beard was famous for his photographs of African wildlife. I did not know that Beard embellished his photographs with drawings, grass, seashells, and even his own blood (!) to created mixed media collages. In retrospect, his messy studio perfectly reflected his detailed work.
Finally, we came upon a large party tent pitched on the edge of the Montauk bluffs. I got a chill when I peered over the edge. The drop to the sea was at least 100 feet.
A very ricketedly staircase led down to a small patch of rocky ground. Clearly the slim line of land would be underwater at high tide. If you braved the descent at all, best not linger.
I did not meet Peter Beard that night, although I searched in vain for his handsome face. The party was a gala to benefit a Shakespeare performance in the nearby Theodore Roosevelt park and a young drama camp for children. Beard donated the use of his property for the party rightly guessing that the curious (guilty as charged!) would pay to see the place. Even without seeing Beard, it certainly was a New York Adventure.
Recently I had a closer look at Peter Beard's work when I attended a retrospective currently on view at Guild Hall in East Hampton. (See that here.) Now I desperately wish I could return to that studio! Imagine what secrets it must hold.
Photo credits: House from Whalebone magazine. Collage from Vanity FairPeter Beard in his studio. First photo and image of Peter Beard and his diaries by Lynn Byrne shot at the Peter Beard retrospective.