A piece of us goes up at the Smithsonian

It's not quite as exciting as the real deal was, almost 34 years ago. But still it's huge for Sonoma County that a major exhibition on The Running Fence is coming to the Smithsonian American Art Museum in D.C.

The Fence's co-creator, Christo, who lost his wife and partner, Jeanne- Claude, just three months ago, will speak at the April 2 premiere. Also sure to attend are some of the 59 west Sonoma/Marin ranchers who initially shook their heads at the notion of an 18-foot-high, 24.5-mile-long curtain crossing their land. But they came around.

The art museum's Betsy Broun is elated about the exhibition.

"We believe The Running Fence was the most lyrical and in many ways the most important project that Christo and Jeanne-Claude ever created," Broun said.

She notes that the artists were little known when they came to the North Coast in 1972 and began talking up their idea to stretch a hugely expensive and technically elaborate nylon-and-cable fence from near Cotati to the sea. "They had no fanfare or celebrity to persuade people to work with them," Broun said.

People who were here at the time remember the epic, highly entertaining process of Christo and Jeanne-Claude promoting their audacious vision to ranchers, government officials, environmen-

talists and fellow artists.

The Running Fence went up at last in September 1976 and stayed up just two weeks. The museum exhibition includes original panels, Christo's large conceptual drawings, a 58-foot-long scale model and more than 240 photos — many of the Fence's Sonoma County presence.

There also are two films, one by Wolfram Hissen, who interviewed local veterans of the artistic odyssey during a visit here last fall. An accompanying book includes a chapter by Santa Rosa attorney Ed Anderson, who represented Christo and Jeanne-Claude and who'll be in D.C. on April 2.

The exhibition runs through Sept. 26. After that, the museum hopes to put it on the road from sea to sea.

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