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The Art a GoGo Interview
Tom Golden: Memories of Christo and Jeanne-Claude

In this previously unpublished interview from April 2000, Art a GoGo had the pleasure of spending an afternoon talking with Tom Golden at his home in Freestone, CA. At the time of the interview, Mr. Golden's health was failing, but the sparkle in his eye, his smile and the excitement expressed as he reminisced about his association with Christo and Jeanne-Claude shined brightly that spring day.

Tom Golden's association with Christo and Jeanne-Claude spanned over 20 years, beginning with the Running Fence in Sonoma/Marin Counties through the proposed Over The River Project. Trying to put a label or title on the exact role that Tom had during his relationship with Christo and Jeanne-Claude would be impossible: project director, facilitator, friend, confidante, or family member. Art a GoGo would like to add that Tom was a gentle man and a gracious host.

Thomas M. Royal Golden passed away at his home in Freestone, CA in late 2002.

Art a GoGo will be traveling to New York City in February 2005 to see The Gates in Central Park. Tom, we'll be thinking of you!


Tom Golden, April 2000
Photo: Doug Lang


Art a GoGo(AGG): Thanks for joining us today. Before your association with Christo and Jeanne-Claude, were you involved in art?
Tom Golden (TG): I always have been, more or less. I've always been a collector of pictures-as you can look around and see.

AGG: So you met Christo and Jeanne-Claude during the Running Fence project meetings?
TG: It was about two years before they came to Sonoma County in 1974. I was at the first public hearing…not that I was planning to be at the public hearing. I was over at the county building in the planning department when I saw a lot of people with cameras. I was told that it had to do with the next scheduled hearing for the artist Christo.

AGG: Was there a lot of opposition to the project?
TG: Oh yes. [laughs] There were a lot of people that were upset at the hearing. I had read about Christo in the paper but I didn't plan on being at the meeting. I had always known about Christo's projects from reading newspapers, books and magazines…the Australian project in '69 (Wrapped Coast) and Rifle, Colorado in '72 (Valley Curtain).

All these people that had causes got up to speak out against the project. You wouldn't believe the objections: 'You're going to destroy the sex life of tree frogs, we should build a school or hospital.'

Finally I got up and said, "I resent this meeting today wasting the taxpayers money. Here's a man who wants to come to Sonoma county, on private property, and put up a fence. If I read the ordinance right, no permit is required on private property if it's 'cross fencing.' I'd just like to remind this commission that a fence is a fence, it doesn't make any difference if it's wood, barbed wire, wire, or nylon 18 foot tall." And I sat down.

Right after that, Christo and Jeanne-Claude came over to me and said, "Thank you very much for your testimony." And I replied, "Oh, I think you'll get your fence. It will be tough but I'll help you in any way I can."

Christo and Jeanne-Claude invited me to dinner along with 30 other people and we all went to Lyon's. That was the beginning of a beautiful relationship.

So I would go to all the public hearings and give my 'little spiel.' My house [in Freestone, CA] became the social headquarters for Christo and Jeanne-Claude.

AGG: After Running Fence, did you work on all subsequent projects, whether international or in the United States?
TG: Yes. I would also install the exhibits that accompany each project. I would travel all over: Cleveland, Cincinnati, or Indianapolis. In 1978, there was the project, Wrapped Walk Ways in Kansas City. In 1983, there was the Surrounded Islands [in Key Biscayne, FL]. In 1985, there was Paris, Pont Neuf Wrapped.

AGG: And after Running Fence, did you know you were going to work on the next project?
TG: Yes.

AGG: Would you describe your role as the on site project manager?
TG: No, I don't know what you'd call it. You're just there; you're available-to do anything.

In 1989, they asked me to be project director of The Umbrellas that took place in 1991. I had all the permits for The Umbrellas in 1990-I'm very proud of this-I got all of the federal, state, counties, and individual's permissions without the use of one attorney.

AGG: Is that one of your favorite projects?
TG: There are a lot of wonderful memories of The Umbrellas.

AGG: We were amazed at how much The Umbrellas cost…
TG: $26 million dollars.

AGG: When we heard Christo and Jeanne-Claude speak, we were impressed by their integrity and sense of humor; you could listen to their stories all day.
TG: They are extremely generous people.

AGG: Have Christo and Jeanne-Claude ever abandoned a project?
TG: One of their planned projects was the wrapping of the statue of Christopher Columbus in Barcelona. Christo had several refusals but finally, the mayor of Barcelona cabled Christo and Jeanne-Claude and said he would like to come and 'wrap' Christopher Columbus.

They were excited. I was sent to Barcelona to meet them and Jeanne-Claude called and said Christo's in Denmark and we'll have a conference call. Christo came on the line and said, 'Tom, you're going to have to take a wire to the mayor to say: 'Dear Mayor, the Christo that was when he proposed this is no longer the Christo-in other words, this is just wrapping another statue. I wrap many statues and this is just another statue; and Barcelona deserves more than this.'

AGG: Can you describe how Christo and Jeanne-Claude collaborate on their projects?
TG: You should see the films. Outside physically being with them, or personally being with them, the next best thing are the films because it shows…what a tremendous part she plays in it.


Tom Golden holding his 'wrapped' stapler

Photo: Doug Lang


AGG: I understand that you have one of the largest collections of Christo and Jeanne-Claude's work.
TG: I have the largest private collection in the United States. [picks up a 'wrapped' stapler] This stapler has a wonderful story that I like telling.

In 1985, Christo, Jeanne-Claude, and I were in the Netherlands and just finished doing a display of the Surrounded Islands and we were to go to Paris. We were instructed to go to a downtown mini storage company where Christo and Jeanne-Claude had two large containers of early works and private things that they put in storage when they left Paris to move to New York. They had not seen these things in 25 years. And the reason why they wanted to get all this stuff out of France is because her father had passed away…everything in the estate was frozen. Jeanne-Claude realized that if something ever happened to Christo she could never get these things out.

So we went there [mini storage facility] and began unloading things. It was just like Christmas…you see all these incredible things… So one of these things was this stapler and Christo picked it up, looked at it, and threw it in the wastebasket. I picked it up and said, "Christo, you shouldn't throw this away. This is your stapler that you used in your first collages." And he said, "Well, I don't want it." I turned to Jeanne-Claude and she said, "Well Tom, if he doesn't want it, he doesn't want it." So I asked, "Well, can I have it?" And Christo said, "Yes."

I used to pack it with me wherever I went with Christo and Jeanne-Claude. And I felt that someday …an opportunity would come up that they might want this back.

[Years later] we were in Santa Fe, staying at a carpenter's guesthouse-it was cold as hell! Christo and Jeanne-Claude asked me to come into their bedroom because they had a big fireplace and we were sitting there reminiscing about things…oh, they had sold one of the sculptures that was in this storage thing and that's how it came up.

Tom recalls his converstaion with Christo:
TG: Do you remember the stapler?
Christo: No, what stapler? What do you mean stapler?
TG: The stapler that you used to use on your original collages and wrappings?
Christo: Oh, Yes I remember that.
TG: Well, I said, I still have it. I've always wanted to ask you if you would wrap it for me. Jeanne-Claude: Well, that's a lovely idea. You should send it to us.
TG: [[laughs]] I said, "I don't have to because I have it with me!"

They laughed. And I told them I'd been carrying this with me for years. So, when I was in NY, they presented it [wrapped] to me.

AGG: When you were working on these projects you decided that instead of being paid a salary you would receive credit in Christo's art studio.
TG: Yes. In fact, during the Running Fence project-at this table-during dinner, I received my first paycheck. And I said, "I don't want this." And they said, "No, no-you have to be paid…no volunteers"…the big spiel. And I said, "You didn't let me finish. I would rather have credit in your studio." They looked at each other and said, "That's fine, that's good." Jeanne-Claude and Christo hadn't thought of that. I've got an original of every project that I've worked on. It's wonderful.

Also, I broke the age barrier for Christo and Jeanne-Claude's projects. At the time of the Running Fence I was 54 and they were here for dinner the night before they were going to hire people. And I said, "You should go home early tonight because you've got a big day tomorrow and that's when I should've kept my big mouth shut. I told them that I wanted to get up early to sign to work on the project. They said, "Oh, no." Christo said, "Oh, no. It's much too hard, it's impossible for you. You can be with us in the office." And I said, "I don't want to be with you in the office. I want to physically work on the project." And Jeanne-Claude said, "Well, we'll tell them not to hire you because you're too old." So I said, "Really?" So, I got up very early, I was signed up, and got hired. I got my training before they even showed up!

We trained on the flat ground-at the fairgrounds-and sometimes things didn't work when you got up into the hills. That project had over 2,050 poles and 350,000 hooks that had to be attached to the cables.

After each project was completed, all the workers were invited to a party. Without these workers, a project could never be done.

AGG: How many people worked on Running Fence?
TG: Close to 300 for Running Fence, but it all depends on the project.

AGG: Isn't it true that the Running Fence had to be put up in one day?
TG: Yes. But the coastal part was installed prior to the actual date.

AGG: Weren't there some permit problems with going into the ocean?
TG: Oh, Yeah! The judge said, "What do you mean 'you want me to take it down'? He [Christo] said he was going to take it down in two weeks, what's the big deal?"

AGG: What is the status of the current projects, like Over the River?
TG: It's going along very well. The environmental assessment is being done and a rough draft was sent and we all went to a meeting there in Cañon City [Colorado, near Arkansas River]. We also met with Laurie Matthews in Denver. Laurie Matthews is the director of Colorado State Parks. There were very good meetings. And then we went down to Cañon City and had a big meeting there with various people. The environmental assessment is being done by J.F. Sato and Associates. Loren Hettinger is in charge of it.

AGG: Are you getting the same kind of resistance to this project?
TG: Well, actually you'll always find some people-everyone, in fact…the 'unknown'…

AGG: It seems like it would get easier because Christo and Jeanne-Claude have such a good track record, right? Do you feel like you've heard it all before? Like you know what argument they're going to give you?
TG: Oh, yeah. Something like: "I think it's a great idea, but not in my backyard."

AGG: But you've always been very responsible on these projects…
TG: Christo and Jeanne-Claude always say if there are any problems…even they would want it removed to eliminate any of those situations. A lot of people have the personality that if they agree, then nobody would pay any attention to them. But if they disagree…

But Over the River is progressing very well but they'll need 2 years to do the preparatory work before the actual physical project begins. They've done 4 models so far for Over the River.

AGG: Do they call it 'covering' the river?
TG: No, it's 'over' the river. But it will be tall enough to stand under and for rafting. But you don't wrap a river. People think everything [Christo and Jeanne-Claude do] is wrapping.

AGG: That's why I asked if they were 'covering' the river because they're not wrapping a river, they're not surrounding it.
TG: Yes, that's right. And it's only the water portion of it; the banks are left open.

AGG: Will rafting be allowed during that time?
TG: Oh, yeah. People have already requested space. In fact, the Arkansas River is the most rafted river in the world.

AGG: Has the process of obtaining permission become easier because they are so well known? Or, do they choose their projects based on setting greater challenges for themselves?
TG: No. The idea for what they would like to do comes out of their hearts and minds. They collaborate constantly on these things.

And we did travel forever looking at many rivers-beautiful rivers. The Arkansas River has the criteria of what they were looking for. But also, the Rio Grande, near Taos, did as well.

AGG: Did they start with a vision of what that river would look like?
TG: Yes. Christo began with sketches. In fact, the first sketch he did was not called "Over" the River; it was called "The" River.

So, 2003 is the soonest the project will be done. The environmental assessment will be completed and then we need to get the permits. Also, they have to have the money. These are very big, astronomical projects and Christo can only draw so fast.

AGG: What is the status of The Gates Project?
TG: Personally, I don't think they'll ever get permission for The Gates. That's my own personal opinion.

AGG: They put a lot of effort into that project
TG: Oh, yeah! It's a beautiful project.

AGG: When did it start?
TG: They've been working on it since 1975-over 20 years!

TG: Now I have a question for you: Would you like to go to Occidental for lunch?


Now on exhibit at The University of Arizona Museum of Art
February 12 - March 27, 2005 Christo & Jeanne-Claude: The Tom Golden Collection


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