From Pole to Pole, The Arctic and The Antarctic: 1957 – 1961

At an age when most of his contemporaries were retired, Beau continued to accept nomadic assignments. In 1957, at the age of 67, he packed up his cold weather gear and headed north to the Arctic on a Navy assignment. As the official staff artist to Task Group 572 West he recorded the activities of the International Geophysical Year expedition. The task force set out to establish and supply sites along the DEW (Distant Early Warning) line, a cold war defense project designed to alert the U.S. and Canadian military as to intrusions by unfriendly aircraft. Based in Point Barrow, Alaska, aboard the flagship, USS Eldorado, Beau sailed and flew more than 30,000 miles, painting and sketching the Arctic territory. And this expedition would make history. He captured the action as the Canadian ice breaker Labrador led the way through the Beaufort Sea and the Amundsen Gulf to the famed Bellot Strait. Deep water vessels of the expedition traversed from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean through the ice for the first time in history. The true "Northwest Passage" had been mastered after many failed attempts! Beau wrote in his diary that he was "attracted to many strange places and peoples, but none has held the fascination for him as much as the Northwest Passage....I have the honor to be the first artist to transit the Bellot Strait and first to paint it."

The paintings produced on this expedition, often in difficult conditions, represent some of the most unusual and exquisite works of his career. “Arctic Ice Blink” and “USCG Ice Breaker Making a Lead” and many more works were created during the expedition, and the paintings would later be shown at military and civilian venues throughout the United States.

Two years later, when the Navy launched Task Force 43 to the Antarctic in, November of 1959, Beau was on his way again. This time he was appointed the Official Staff Artist for Operation Deepfreeze 60. The Task Force assignment was to explore the “Eights Coast” and the Bellingshausen Sea.
The artist painting on the ice in Antarctica, Dec, 1959
The artist painting on the ice in Antarctica, Dec, 1959 Antarctica proved to be treacherous. The weather was unpredictable as were the constantly changing ice flows. At one point, while crossing a snow bridge across the ice, Beau suddenly fell into an ice crevasse. He dangled dangerously above the dark and freezing water below him. Slowly, as he continued to slip toward the frigid water, in one great yank, his companion, Captain Roy Champion, pulled him of the crevasse. He had been lucky, although his painting arm was injured once more in the process of being saved. The pain he experienced subsequently was the price he paid for having his life saved.
Beau completed 25 paintings and 350 sketches during the six months of his first expedition to Antarctica. But one of his ambitions was unfulfillesd; weather interfered, and he was unable to achieve his goal of making the pilgrimage to the South Pole. Inspired nonetheless by the intense beauty of the ice and the Antarctic landscape, Beau would persist in his quest to visit the South Pole by returning to the Antarctic in the winter of 1960-61. He was, once again appointed the Official Staff Artist for operation Deep Freeze 61.

As plans his second expedition were drawn up, Commodore MacDonald asked him pointedly, are you up for it? At the age of 71 Beau replied, “Yes sir, on three conditions. If I am able physically do so; if weather conditions of blizzards, white-outs, wind and plain exhaustion do not defeat me; and if you can get me to the Pole!"

Once again, encourages by the beautiful scenery he wrote: "Antarctica is fantastic, indescribable, unpredictable, inexplorable and ruthless, yet hauntingly beautiful....It is alone, apart, defiant and awesome. A great white desert."

With great persistence, Beau finally made it to the South Pole. Planning to stay for just six hours at the pole Station, the weather changed abruptly, and his transport plane was unable to make the landing and pick him up. He and his companions were marooned for seven days at an altitude of 9,000 feet and 20 degrees below zero. He described his experience as "the most rugged in a lifetime of adventure and excitement." The Pole Station is twenty feet underground, and Beau described it as living in a freezer. Despite these challenging conditions, Beau was successful in creating multiple watercolors on location at South Pole Station using the scientists' observation dome as his studio. He also created watercolor sketches, painted in 30-second increments, outdoors in the brilliant sunlight in almost impossibly cold conditions. He wore two pairs of gloves, with hand warmers inside. In the end, he was the first artist in history to create, in plein air, paintings at the geographic South Pole. What was his secret in combating the extreme cold? He mixed torpedo alcohol with water so that his paint would not freeze on his brush. "Mission Accomplished!" he exclaimed. It is remarkable that Beau traveled to Antarctica at over seventy years of age, while producing paintings of historical relevance and dramatic beauty. The first Painting ever created at the South Pole rests today in the collection of the Explorers Club in New York City.