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Today I’d like to remember the life of Jeanne Claude, who was a wonderful and inspiring light in the world, by relating a personal story.
She was the life partner of Christo and was truly the wheel on the great clipper ship of creativity in that relationship. I saw them speak at the Corcoran once. I think it was nine or ten years ago. My great friend Matthew Grimes (now a faculty member at the Corcoran College of Art and Design, ironically) grabbed me one day and said, “You wanna go see Christo at the Corcoran?!!” At the time I was in school and had my head deep into my studio work. Matt was my lightening rod for great happenings. I, of course, said yes and he said, “Okay, grab your jacket. We have to leave now.”
So we drove to the Corcoran, almost missed the opening introduction to the presentation, but made it in time to hear both Christo and Jeanne-Claude speak. She was truly a diplomat of the art world. She was eloquent without being too verbose, and was honest and straightforward about their personal connection to each installation and event.
After the presentation, I waited patiently to get a chance to talk to them but was so focused on Christo that I almost didn’t see Jeanne Claude. She was trapped in a crowd of eager autograph seekers and sensationalists who were throwing a barrage of art-speak her way. I could see she was exhausted. I knew they had been doing a sting of presentations and she looked like she was extremely tired of being in the public eye.
So I thought I would help her out. I barged right through the crowd and went up to her and said, “You wanna step outside for a smoke?” She grabbed my arm and said, “Lead the way!” It was like a dream.
We stepped out the back door and chatted for fifteen minutes, about life, about the artwork they were doing, but mostly she wanted to know what I was working on and what I had in mind for the future. I remember showing her my sketchbook (I know I am a total art nerd) and I told her I would send her a collage if she gave me her address, which she obliged. Then we hugged and she went back inside to face the crowd. I was speechless.
Later, for Valentine’s Day, I sent Jeanne-Claude and Christo a card and a collage. A short while later I received a package in the mail from them. It was a copy of their book The Gates and on the inside cover was little note. I have kept that in my studio since then, to remember the authenticity of Jeanne-Claude and the inspiration that I felt from being in her presence. I miss her already.