My early memories of my father are crowded with the events surrounding the conclusion of World War II. Through the eyes of an eight year old boy, in 1945, I witnessed the return of the victorious U.S. Pacific Fleet to its home bases in California, and I was thrilled to accompany my father as he responded to the countless invitations by captains and admirals to visit their commands. Beau would invariably spend two or three hours on the dock sketching the ever-changing Navy scenes. The working conditions were frequently difficult. Apart from the occasional inclement weather, the undertaking always attracted a crowd of admirers. The assemblage watched in amazement at the speed with which he would complete a fine watercolor sketch of a great Iowa class battleship or an equally impressive Essex class aircraft carrier, many of which had just recently survived the constant risk of a Kamikaze attack.
The turmoil of the noisy shipyard activities made it difficult to sustain concentration, yet the result was an exciting stream of "plein air" works of art. Beau preferred to work on location, over many years executing thousands of sketches on his naval tours and field trips. Working on a pencil sketch, he would invariably stand the entire time, with his sketchbook held horizontally. If he was painting in watercolor, his favorite medium, he would sit at a portable easel with the surface of the paper vertical so that the paint would run down the paper, thus achieving great fluidity in the final composition.
Our family called him "Pop" while close friends called him "Beau". Whenever I was home from school, he would take me to the harbor, where I eagerly awaited his announcement of which ship or base we would visit that day. A trip always included an obligatory courtesy call on the Commanding Officer, and frequently included a meal with the senior officers embarked. As a special treat, I was usually taken on a thorough tour of the ship escorted by an orderly or a young Ensign. I especially enjoyed visiting the USS Los Angeles. The "LA" was a particularly graceful heavy cruiser which "Pop" had helped raise millions of dollars to build through an extensive "War Bond" fundraising effort. I was Fascinated to visit the hanger deck on the "fantail" where two or three seaplanes were stored, which in time of war, served as scouts for the surface Fleet. The end of the day culminated with the presentation of a just finished painting, followed by a visit to the local Officers Club. Beau would exchange his ever present artist's hat, for that of the raconteur, entertaining the assembled guests with his endless and frequently hilarious sea stories. Beau lived to be nearly eighty-eight years old. He joked, in his later years, that his longevity was attributable to the "re-charging" of his batteries which occurred when he became radioactive while acting as Fleet Artist for the atomic bomb tests at Bikini Atoll in 1946.
Our family was very fortunate to have him around for so many years, as he had survived many brushes with death. In his early years, when he first arrived in California as a twenty year old, he contracted typhoid fever and nearly died. Although he was over six feet tall, he wasted away to less than one hundred pounds before mounting a recovery. In later years, as a cowboy foreman on the Miller and Lux Ranch, he was savagely beaten when he intercepted a group of cattle rustlers. He emerged from the fracas with a fractured skull and impaired hearing for the rest of his life. In the 1930's, he was crossing the Pacific Coast Highway in a "safety zone" when he was struck by a speeding car in front of his studio at the Pacific Coast Club. He was seriously injured, but he survived another close call.
During the war years, the engine of a bomber in which he was flying as a passenger erupted in flames. He was seconds away from making his first emergency parachute jump when the fire was finally brought under control. At the war's end, he contracted a tropical fever with symptoms similar to malaria while on maneuvers in the Caribbean aboard the aircraft USS Midway. And finally, when he was seventy years old, he was appointed staff artist on an expedition to the South Pole in the Antarctic. While on the expedition, he was trekking across an ice field and a snow bridge collapsed. He fell into a shallow crevasse within a few feet of the icy water. The floating ice was so slippery that he was unable to climb out on his own. The movement of the ice threatened to crush him. His photographer companion mustered sufficient strength to grab his arm, and with one great yank pulled him out of the crevasse. The effort saved his life, but the price he paid was the dislocation of his painting arm. His recovery was slow and painful!
Beau will be remembered by his extensive and adoring family as its benevolent patriarch. He will be remembered by his many friends as a great storyteller and confidant. He would want to be remembered by everyone for his continuous search for adventure, for his love of ships and the sea, and for his final legacy of historic art.
Geoffrey Campbell Beaumont