“It will give shape to the wind. It will go over the hills and into the sea, like a ribbon of light.”
– from environmental-impact report for Running Fence
Lost amid the whirlwinds of news—COVID-19, the murder of George Floyd and resultant demonstrations, opportunistic rioting and looting—is the obituary of the artist Christo, who has died at age eighty-four.
With Jeanne-Claude, his wife and collaborator, Christo gave the world wondrous, larger-than-life art installations in public spaces. All were open to everyone at no cost; Christo and Jeanne-Claude financed the projects themselves. They were all temporary, gone without a trace after a couple weeks, with no environmental damage and no public expense.
I recently repatriated from northern California back to Portland. I spent the past twenty-plus years in Santa Rosa, the heart of Sonoma Wine Country. Residing there one becomes accustomed to ever-moving ground and resultant cracked walls and stuck and then unstuck doors. Once a diverse agricultural area, while I was there, Gravenstein apples, hops, prunes and other crops were replaced with vineyards. Nearly every bare patch of ground was planted with wine grapes. Santa Rosa was the setting for Alfred Hitchcock’s murder-suspense “Shadow of a Doubt.” The artist Christo brought notoriety to Sonoma County in the sixties with his “Running Fence.” Every spring, the Rose Parade, smaller scale than Portland’s Rose Festival, brings out thousands of spectators.
When I became a full-time resident, the city’s population was about 125,000; it was about 175,000 when I left last year. What the population is today is a guess; three thousand homes have been destroyed by fire, including the affluent
Fountain Grove neighborhood and the working class Coffey Park area. The Fountain Grove homeowners have the means to be okay sooner than the residents of Coffey Park, many of them renters. Businesses, Trader Joe’s, the Hilton Hotel, K-Mart and dozens more have been destroyed. Chateau St. Jean and Paradise Ridge Wineries are no more; other wineries suffered significant damage. The home of “Peanuts” creator, Charles Schulz burned to the ground. (His widow Jean had been evacuated.) The Charles M. Schulz Museum and adjacent Snoopy’s Ice Rink areunscathed so far. Celebrity chef Guy Fieri, whose Santa Rosa home still stands, recruited volunteers and suppliers for outdoor grilling near the fairgrounds to feed first responders and those who suddenly became homeless.
This is Santa Rosa’s worst disaster since 1906. The epicenter of the San Francisco Earthquake was a couple miles west of Santa Rosa. With about 7,000 residents at the time, Santa Rosa suffered, per capita, greater damage and loss of life than the big city fifty miles south.
Santa Rosa, in transition from small agricultural town to Wine Country destination during my time there, will survive and rebuild, but the scars and pain will last a long time.
About a year ago, we reported on The Floating Piers, Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s participatory installation in northern Italy. As with their other public projects, The Floating Piers was temporary, removed last July. If you want to keep up with the artists or purchase some of their work, check out Artsy.net.