28 hours later, it was curtains for orange, installation artwork
On the morning of Aug. 10, 1972, the air was still cool as the unfurling of “Valley Curtain,” an artwork by then little-known Bulgarian environmental artist Christo, began at Rifle Gap.
Early that morning, cars had started filling both sides of Colorado Highway 325 to watch the event that had been the talk of not only the Western Slope but the entire world since Christo had announced the project in mid-1970.
Behind Christo’s vision of the curtain across Rifle Falls were earlier projects including hangings at Little Bay in Sydney, Australia, and at the Documenta Exhibit in Kassel, Germany. Mary Louise Henderson, the political reporter for The Daily Sentinel at the time, said “these were only names to the skeptical and snickering group of reporters who gathered for the 1970 news conference at the Colorado State Capitol and had never heard of Christo or his projects. Christo, himself, had only limited English at the time, and chose to let his red-headed wife, Jeanne-Claude, preside.”
Although only Christo was then credited with designing the curtain, it was revealed many years later that Jeanne-Claude had played an important part in formulating and designing all of his outdoor projects.
There was a great deal of excitement in the air when the bright-orange parachute-like material started falling from its cocoon toward the ground at 9 a.m. Bets had been placed on how many minutes it would take the 200,000-square-foot curtain to unfurl. Due to a couple of technical difficulties, it was 55 minutes.
The curtain was 180 feet deep and a quarter-mile across Rifle Gap.
The art project, built at a cost of $700,000, was designed to withstand wind pressure of 68 miles per hour and had a tearing strength of 5,000 pounds per square foot.
The curtain was scheduled to hang for about six weeks. There was doubt among those connected to the project that the curtain would stay intact that long because of the strong winds in Rifle Gap.
Friday, Aug. 11, about 3:30 p.m., 28 hours after the curtain was unfurled, it was billowing and waving in the Rifle Gap when winds reached 35 mph, ripping it apart.
The “Valley Curtain” story ended on Aug. 22 when workmen placed a charge of dynamite on the four main support cables, which landed on the highway. In less than 20 minutes they were cleared from the roadway and the curtain was removed.
Christo salvaged some of the fabric with the intent to use it in shows and exhibitions in the United States and Europe.
The artist went on to drape the Marin County, Calif., coastline; the Reichstag in Berlin; the Pont-Neuf, Paris’ oldest bridge; Biscayne Bay in Miami, and Central Park in New York. He also staged “The Umbrellas,” a showing in Baraki, Japan, and Tejon Beach, Calif.
Kathy Jordan is retired from The Daily Sentinel and involved in many preservation efforts, including the railroad depot and the North Seventh Street Historic Residential District.