Thirty-three years after ?Running Fence? electrified Sonoma County and the world, Christo and his wife Jeanne-Claude returned Saturday to revisit the landscape their art briefly transformed in September 1976.
At a picnic in a Bloomfield park organized by documentary filmmaker Wolfram Hissen, Christo and Jeanne-Claude were swarmed by well-wishers, autographing books and photographs and reminiscing with those who helped make Running Fence a reality.
?There will never be another Running Fence,? Christo said, his wild gray hair blowing in the West County breezes that once brought his 2,050 nylon panels billowing to life.
That?s not a statement of preference, just of fact. The fence remained in place for just two weeks, was unique to its location in Marin and Sonoma counties, and will never be repeated, he said. He regularly gets requests from cities or organizations to replicate his works in other places, but that misses the point. The transitory nature of the art is what makes it so powerful, he said.
?A project of this kind is a once-in-a-lifetime thing,? he said. ?You will see it, and if you don?t see it, you will never see it again.?
Many call Running Fence one of the most influential art projects of the 20th century. George Gurney, deputy chief curator at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, said it was certainly one of the most successful.
Gurney was amazed Saturday by how many people said viewing Running Fence changed the way they looked at the landscape forever.
?Somehow, his art, his creation, was able to affect them in a way those (traditional) ?artists? could not,? Gurney said.
Gurney is organizing an exhibition called ?Running Fence at 33,? set to open next April. The documentary film is part of that exhibition.
The fence might never have gotten off the ground if it weren?t for Lester Bruhn.
The Bloomfield rancher was charmed by Christo and helped convinced other ranchers to put their initial skepticism aside and hear him out, said his daughter, Mary Ann Bruhn.
Giving Christo permission run the fence across their ranches became an expression of their private property rights, she said. If they wanted to let a Bulgarian artist erect a floating white fence on their properties for no reason, then they should be allowed to do just that, she said.
Bruhn, who helped organize the event, displayed two items that her mother, Amelia, made with some of the 68-foot-wide panels their family received after the project was dismantled. She turned the woven nylon fabric into a jacket and a tablecloth.
It seemed like half the people at the event found a way to use the materials from the project in their ranching operations. Some built corrals with the poles. Others made windbreaks with the fabric. Bloomfield resident Jerry Murphy said he used a panel to cover the payloads of his pickup truck on dump runs.
While Running Fence is gone, the materials, and the memories, live on.
?If you saw it, it was a beautiful thing ? blowing in the wind or with the setting sun on it ? it was just beautiful,? Bruhn said.