In the summer of 1976, I was acting in stock in the Napa Valley while the artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude were draping the neighboring hills of Sonoma and Marin with their Running Fence. It was twenty four and a half miles long, eighteen feet high, and crossed fifty nine ranches. It remains in my memory as one of the most stunning sights I have ever seen.
For those who have never driven through the hills of Northern California, they are truly gentle and rolling. Martin Luther King, in his "I Have a Dream" speech, called them "curvaceous"--a Playboy neologism, but so what? Running Fence drew a luminous white line along the slopes and rises. The fabric shimmered in the sunlight and glowed in the dusk. In short, the fence derived all its beauty from its surroundings, and thereby showed how truly selfless art can be.
1976 was America's Bicentennial Year and it was also the year of my father's final illness. When Jeanne-Claude died this week, I was newly in mourning for my mother. For me, the artist's passing reprises her fence, and reminds me that the beauty of my parents' lives was derived by the humble way with which they graced their surroundings.