Peter Beard’s Family Shares Messages as Search Prospects Dim

Artist Peter Beard with his daughter, Zara, a travel companion and subject of many of his works of art, at the opening of his current exhibition at Guild Hall.
Artist Peter Beard with his daughter, Zara, Photo: Daniel Gonzalez

Famous for his brilliant images, mixed-media collages and journals of African wildlife, Montauk artist Peter Beard remains missing since he wandered away from his home off Old Montauk Highway, east of Deep Hollow Ranch, at around 4:45 p.m. on Tuesday, March 31.

A massive search was launched to find the 82-year-old who suffers from dementia and, according to his daughter Zara Beard on April 1, a heart condition that requires medication, but the East Hampton Town Police concluded their effort three days later, on April 3. Now, nearly two weeks since Beard disappeared, his family has been forced to accept that their worst fears might be true.

Peter Beard

On Easter Sunday, April 12, Beard’s family, including his wife of 35 years Nejma and daughter Zara, shared a message on his @peterbeardart Instagram account, noting that “each passing day darkens the prospect of his safe return.”

April 12, 2020, A statement on behalf of Peter Beard’s family:

“The Beard family is devastated by Peter’s disappearance ten days ago, and while they continue to hope and pray for his safety, they have been advised that each passing day darkens the prospect of his safe return.”

“It is most important to the family that at this confusing and uncertain time Peter be thought of as the person he is and the way he has always lived: an extraordinary artist, an insatiable traveler, a hero of the conservation movement, a lover of life, of Africa, of adventure, of his family and friends. The family remains in regular contact with the East Hampton police, who are leading the investigation into his disappearance.

The family asks for privacy as they await further news.”

When the police search ended some 10 days earlier, Zara shared her gratitude for the tremendous effort, which included the Montauk Fire Department, East Hampton Town Police, NY State Park Police, state police K-9 units, a drone, a Suffolk County Police helicopter and more agencies and volunteers—all while most of the country was sheltering in place at home. She was not, however, done looking for her beloved father.

Artist Peter Beard and his brother, Anson, reminisce over a large collage of images from the years spent in Montauk.
Peter Beard and his brother Anson, reminisce over a collage of images from years in Montauk, Photo: Daniel Gonzalez

On April 3, Zara—who was the subject of Beard’s 2004 book Zara’s Tales and called him her best friend, partner in crime and “the most magical person in my world” in a 2018 Facebook post for her father’s 80th birthday—wrote a message to supporters on her personal Instagram account (@zara_beard):

We are so thankful for the help of both local and state police, the DEC, Homeland Security, the Coast Guard, marine patrol, K-9 units, and all volunteers who have been working tirelessly trying to find my dad. At this point, past the three-day mark, they have exhausted all of their resources and their search has been concluded.

I know this is the most difficult time, amidst a pandemic, to ask for your help. It is a time when we need to stay at home for the good of everyone around us, but my father is out there somewhere, missing. He is strong but the nights have been cold and he has a heart condition and I am afraid that as every minute passes by, so does the hope that he is able to survive. I am asking for all those who are healthy and able bodied to please aid us in a socially responsible way, as we continue the search for my father. Please keep in mind, out of respect for our healthcare workers and Covid protocols, to only go out responsibly and practice social distancing. I know he is out there, and with your help we can bring him home.

Anyone who would like to join our rescue mission please text me at 917-586-0718. It is just in our hands now…He has been missing since March 31st, last seen around 4:45pm.

To help organize her personally-led search, Zara created a Google Docs page and shared the URL on Instagram, asking that anyone taking part in the effort mark their progress and let others know where they looked, with “notes or dots” on a collection of area maps. Visit that page here.

Beard’s work and adventurous spirit is celebrated by admirers the world over. He has commiserated with and photographed a long list of luminaries and beauties such as Mick Jagger, Iman, Francis Bacon (who also painted Beard’s portrait), Brigitte Bardot, Karen Blixen, Pablo Picasso and Andy Warhol among many others.

“PB in croc (I’ll Write Whenever I Can)” by Peter Beard
“PB in croc (I’ll Write Whenever I Can)” by Peter Beard, Courtesy Guild Hall

He was last seen wearing a blue pullover fleece, black jogging pants and blue sneakers. He is 5 feet, 8 inches tall and about 176 pounds, with grey hair and blue eyes.

A 2013 short film by David Peck, “Private View: Peter Beard“—part of a NOWNESS series unveiling the art and design process of each subject—captures the artist’s charisma, his magic and passion for wildlife conservation as he works at home in Montauk.

If you have any information about Beard’s whereabouts, please call the East Hampton Town Police Department at 631-537-7575 or call 911.

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