Dispatches, May 1998
'I guess it's kind of a white elephant," Warren Pearson admits, gazing at the hand-tooled copper pyramid towering over his backyard in Benicia, California. "But I think it's beautiful. And my God, I'm giving it away!"
The monument is one of three that Pearson, 64, painstakingly crafted in tribute to the upcoming 40th anniversary of the 1959 Antarctic Treaty. After lavishing five years and $30,000 of his savings on the objets, Pearson is now offering to erect them anywhere in the world, free of charge. But so far, he's found only one taker: The Chileans have agreed to put one at their Antarctic research base. While a British institute is said to be nibbling tentatively at the second (crated and ready to go), Pearson worries that number three may wind up little more than an extravagent lawn ornament.
If all this sounds a bit bizarre, well, that's Warren Pearson. The deeply sincere college biology instructor suffers from a quixotic obsession with Antarctica that consists of equal measures nobility, inspiration, and lunacy. In 1985 he invested $16,840 in a steel-hulled ketch and set sail from Australia for the frozen continent, hoping the publicity surrounding his voyage would promote recognition of Antarctica as perhaps the planet's last unsullied treasure (see "A Simple Quest," December 1985). Having never before sailed, Pearson organized the trip in secrecy for fear of being stopped as a deranged eccentric. Even his wife, Barbara, had no inkling of his plans.
Alas, the voyage went badly awry when a vicious storm blew up in the Bass Strait; a freighter pulled Pearson to safety only moments before his beloved Finegold went under. The incident did garner him plenty of notoriety, but Pearson's message was largely eclipsed. Hence the monuments. "They're an enormous engineering project — you can't imagine all the bevels and angles," he says, musing on the fate of his creations. "It would be a shame if they were melted down for scrap in 20 years."
Photograph by Timothy Archibald