“I’ve noticed three times in the past week boxes of discarded books left in the rain,” long-time Pacific Palisades resident Anthony Pearson wrote on Nextdoor on April 12. “I know it can be difficult to find a home for these books with most donation centers being closed.”
Pearson offered to come to residences and collect books (plus magazines, DVD’s and CDs), then distribute them to the Little Free Libraries around town and in sections of Brentwood and Santa Monica. “Books are sacred to us,” he said, “so please do not hesitate to message me.”
Pearson is an acclaimed sculptor, artist and photographer, whose work is in permanent collections at the Hammer Museum, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles and the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis.
He told Circling the News, “My place of business can’t function now because of the pandemic. Galleries and museums are closed. Like many people, I’m sitting around, anxious, wanting to do something positive. I asked myself, ‘What could I do to contribute and not just be agitated?’”
The son of Ben and Jean Pearson, Anthony grew up in the Huntington Palisades. His father was a theatrical agent and his mother a community volunteer, who headed the Palisades Elementary and Palisades High PTAs and served on the Tenth District PTA. She was active in the March of Dimes, the Pacific Palisades Woman’s Club and, in 1985, was recognized by the Lions Club for her community activism.
Anthony dropped out of PaliHi as a senior. “I was a good student,” he said, but death was all around him, causing him to suffer more than teen angst.His dad died in 1988, and his girlfriend was killed in a car crash. The L.A. Times noted in a November 1988 story (“Community Beset by Tragedies: Palisades High Counts Its Dead and Wonders Why”) that “In the last 16 months, 10 young residents of the community – seven of them students at ‘Pali High’ – have suffered violent deaths, most involving alcohol or drugs.”
Striving to come to terms with his reality, Pearson attended Santa Monica College after getting his GED. He then studied photography at the California College of Arts and Crafts, where he met his future wife, Ramona Trent. The two returned to Los Angeles and received master degrees in Fine Arts from UCLA in 1996.
After graduating, Pearson had a huge studio, about 5,000 sq. ft. on Jefferson Boulevard, and part of it was used for storage. He began accumulating a large collection of books, phonograph records, magazines and “cartons and cartons” of periodicals and other print publications, and when his lease was up last year, he realized “I had to get rid of 80 percent of the books” (an estimated 1,000 volumes).
Pearson learned that the Salvation Army will not take books and that Goodwill accepts only one box at a time. Fortunately, the Jewish Woman’s Council took almost everything. He donated some of the remaining books to the Friends of the Palisades Library and put others in the Little Free Library at the corner of Ocean and Entrada Drive.
“Stuff would just fly out of it,” he said, so he continued to place his remaining books in the little library. Then he discovered that somebody was taking these books and selling them to Book Monster, a store on Santa Monica Boulevard near the Promenade.
To stop this theft, a nearby resident volunteered to write KYN on the binding of each book Pearson deposited, which enabled the people at Book Monster to know the books had come from that location and not to buy them from the guy.
Then came Covid-19 and a topsy-turvy world where work and donations were halted – and Pearson saw boxes of books getting wet from the rain. “It was like a void in the community and a void in my life,” he said.
After he posted on Nextdoor that he would collect books for the Little Free Libraries, there was a huge response from residents. In a follow-up post, he wrote: “Today our family distributed 621 books, CDs and DVDs to seventeen little free libraries in our area, as well as set aside books for two charities.”
“I’ve become my father who talks about the good old days,” said Pearson, who put community activism to work with help from his daughters, Chantal, 14, and Delphi 11, and his wife Ramona, who is also working with regional food banks to supply food to South L.A.
“Our hope was that our action will fill a need,” he said.
About 45 children’s books were donated to the RTLA church on Broadway in South L.A., where the food collected by Ramona was going.
“We sorted the donations to the best of our ability, disposing of heavily damaged items and ‘junk,’” Pearson said,
He and his family repaired the Little Free Library on the Las Casas loop and the one on the Almar Street island, cleaning, caulking and waterproofing.
They also stocked little libraries at Marquez Elementary, Highlands Center, Presbyterian Church, 1100 block of Iliff, Entrada at Ocean, Canyon School, Brooktree Road, Latimer Road, San Vicente at 10th, Montana Avenue at 15th, 22ndand 26th, Yale Street south of Montana, Old Ranch Road and Westgate south of Sunset.
The Pearsons are planning to place new books between May 1 and 5, filling the little libraries two or three times a day depending on the need.
Pearson urges people to stop by and take a look. “We will do this until the Palisades library reopens,” he said. “I don’t want to interfere with all the good work the library has done,” referring to its patio bookstore.
And when the community reopens, Pearson will go back to his art. In Forbes magazine (July 2017, “Artist Anthony Pearson Creates an Art Sanctuary in New Exhibit at David Kordansky Gallery”), the author wrote:
“Pearson’s latest body of work is debuting tonight at David Kordansky Gallery in Los Angeles. This array of works that Pearson calls ‘The Embedments’ finds him stretching a length of cotton fabric in a wooden frame and then pouring over it with layers of liquid hydrocal treated with different pigments to create different hues that form patterns colliding and merging with one another on the canvas.
“Pearson removes the fabric to leave behind the texture of the weave. The result are works that feel painterly but are closer to pieces of sculpture that hang upon walls, forcing the viewer to meditate on the two mediums and consider what constitutes a painting and what constitutes a sculpture.
“But they are also contemplations on pure, natural beauty. These are not shiny art objects made to stand out at an art fair, they are quiet and breathless works of art that are made to interact with one another in a single space engaging with negative space and light.”
But for now, the Palisades Community is lucky that Pearson has the time and resources, including willing family members, to fill an absolute need with books.