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unpublished interview from April 2000, Art a GoGo had the pleasure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!
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
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
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,
AGG: And after
Running Fence, did you know you were going to work on the
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
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
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
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
Tom Golden holding his 'wrapped' stapler
AGG: I understand
that you have one of the largest collections of Christo and Jeanne-Claude's
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
[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
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
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
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
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.
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
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"
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
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
12 - March 27, 2005 Christo
& Jeanne-Claude: The Tom Golden Collection