David Pearson sits on a blanket by the Foggy Bottom Metro station weaving hemp jewelry. A bench behind him displays an assortment of hemp necklaces; beads and glasswork lie at his side. One of his larger pieces hangs around his neck under a long gray ponytail, but he’s traveling lightly. He won’t stay too long.
Five years ago, Pearson made the final payment on his house in Washington state and left the place he calls home to see the East Coast.
It’s not for everybody, Pearson said. Some people like to stay in the same place all the time. Some people gotta travel. I’m one of those whose gotta go.
Supporting himself with his hemp art, Pearson is a traveler. He takes public transportation to his destinations of choice, camps out or stays in youth hostels or motels and visits tourist attractions.
I get the kids who tell me all the time that I should go on shows, Pearson said. But it’s not on my schedule. It’s not what I want to do. Right now I’m being selfish, I’m doing the things I want to do.
Last week, he wanted to be goofing around in Manassas, Va. This week, he wants to travel down the Eastern Seaboard, maybe stopping in North Carolina before heading to Key West, Fla., and then Louisiana for Mardi Gras in February. Encouraged by people he has roomed with in youth hostels, he said he may set up shop in Europe.
But, for now, he’s a familiar face in the Foggy Bottom neighborhood.
Hey, I thought you were leaving, said Alice, a GW student.
One of Pearson’s loyal supporters, Alice stops and talks with Pearson about local art shows, her travels and work. But she is not his only loyal local customer. Pearson said he has made friends with several customers since he began setting up shop twice a year in Georgetown and at the Metro station.
I have one older couple and they’ve been buying stuff from me for years, Pearson said. They’re in their 70s and must have bought between 15 and 20 pieces. Every time I see them, they’re wearing my stuff.
After attending Evergreen State College and a community college in Washington, Pearson worked on construction projects and mix of other short-term jobs before settling on art-related work.
I’ve always had this curse, Pearson said. I’ve always had to do some artsy fartsy type stuff. For years I thought (hemp) was too trendy, I kind of turned my nose up at it. But, now I turn my nose up at the other (construction) stuff, it’s too heavy.
Pearson charges $10 for standard necklaces. The larger ones that include glasswork cost $30. On a good day in the summer Pearson said he makes $300. He made $28 the day The Hatchet stopped by.
The cost of the material itself is not that exorbitant, it’s the craftsmanship and collectability, Pearson said. But, I try to make a two dollar profit off these damn things.
If the profits from his hemp business fail to cover his traveling and living expenses, Pearson said he will do day labor. But before long he will move on to a new place and a new line of work. This time, he may save up a couple thousand dollars to purchase a glass blower and try his hand at glasswork, he said.
Eventually, I’ll go home and pursue bigger stuff, Pearson said. I’ve got a little shop where I used to work with my stone. I’m getting tired of this. I’ve been doing it for so long. That’s why I’m thinking about the glass.
Pearson said he may move on to painting and sculpturing, but for now he will find a city to settle in for a couple weeks, buy a bike and a city map and just be a tourist.