Advocates for cows, dogs, students, artists and the homeless are trying--so far in vain--to get their hands on some of the 1,760 umbrellas along Interstate 5 in the Tejon Pass.
All say that the 20-foot-tall umbrellas erected as part of an international art project by environmental artist Christo are just what they need as protection from the sun or rain. But Christo decided years ago to destroy the umbrellas and recycle the material for artistic reasons--and if he changes his mind, he would be liable for $350,000 in U.S. customs duties.
That hasn't stopped the many applicants who think their causes are worth an exception.
"We have a dog park in Berkeley that these would be perfect for," said Steve Sweifel, 32, a Berkeley artist, as he admired several umbrellas near Lebec. "Christo is very socially conscious. Do you think he would donate a couple?"
More than a year before the 1,760 umbrellas were unfurled in the Tejon Pass last week, Christo's employees already had been inundated with queries from people and groups who wanted umbrellas after the exhibition, they said.
"I have yet to talk to a person who has not wanted an umbrella afterward," said Tom Golden, project director for the U.S. segment of the project. Some 1,340 umbrellas were also erected in Japan.
Requests have come from farmers, ranchers, schools, museums, collectors, artists and nonprofit groups, Christo employees say. Schools from around the country would like them.
"We thought they could be used for outdoor lunch shelters . . . in lieu of destroying them," said Pat Spencer, a spokesman for the Los Angeles Unified School District.
"We had a rancher who wanted to use them to provide shade for his livestock," said Jane Gregorius, a project employee. "He told me, 'They're just the perfect size to keep cows cool.' "
Saskia Bory, another project employee, said a man walked into her office last week offering to distribute the umbrellas to homeless shelters. "He said it was the least we could do for the homeless."
A park district in the San Diego area offered to buy several hundred. Shasta High School in Redding wants several dozen for a student lunch area.
"Christo decided long ago that he wanted to recycle the umbrellas from both the United States and Japan," Golden said.
"It's an aesthetic decision. . . . The art is only temporary. The only thing that will be left is the landscape and the beauty in your mind," he said.
Christo wants the umbrellas' nylon fabric to be recycled into bags to hold soil to prevent erosion--but that would have to be done outside the country because the Customs Service won't let him re-use the fabric here, Golden said.
Customs insisted that he pay $350,000 in import duty if he wanted to keep the German-made umbrella fabric in the country permanently, Golden said. The artist instead posted a $2,400 bond as a guarantee that he would destroy the fabric or take it out of the country when the exhibition is over, Golden said.
Although the fate of the umbrellas was decided long ago, that hasn't prevented rampant speculation among people who live and work in the Tejon Pass area, where the umbrellas are the dominant topic of conversation.
"We've heard that a millionaire in Texas is offering $1 million to anyone who could swipe one for him," Gregorius said. "It's probably not true--but who knows?"
Artist Christo's latest temporary outdoor art project, "The Umbrellas," is on display through Oct. 30. Here is some help in viewing:
Where: Along Interstate 5 for 18 miles north from intersection of California 138 to the bottom of the Grapevine in the San Joaquin Valley.
Directions: Take I-5 north from Los Angeles, about 60 miles from downtown.
Turnarounds: At Quail Lake Road, Gorman, Frazier Park, Lebec and Ft. Tejon exits.
Viewing areas: Designated along the freeway and on Gorman Post, Lebec, Digier and Grapevine roads.
Traffic report: Traffic volume was moderate along Interstate 5 through the Grapevine and along county roads on Monday, a little higher than normal because of the Columbus Day holiday, according to California Highway Patrol officials. There was no slowing due to congestion, although traffic on the Gorman off-ramp backed up briefly. Traffic is expected to be lighter today.
Additional details: Available at an information center in Gorman.