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D.C. at 50- The talk of the town

TRINIDAD — In spite of the fact that “Drop City represent[ed] the point at which a new type of commune building had definitely arrived,” Timothy Miller wrote, “it was defiantly outrageous, proclaiming itself a whole new civilization, its members rejecting paid employment and creating wildly original funky architecture. It pioneered what soon became a widespread hippie love of integrating arts, creating multimedia extravaganzas, using color profusely, employing trash as source material, blending art with everything else in life.” Few people in the area, however, noticed or cared. The original three, Gene and Jo Ann Bernofsky and Clark Richert simply busied themselves building a few places to live. They nurtured a few contacts with their neighbors, gathering used lumber and scraps of other materials, and making acquaintances with local farmers and businesses in Trinidad and Raton. Mostly, they scrounged around, finding what they could and accepting for recycling (or consuming, if it were food) what they were offered. Neither they, nor probably anyone else, imagined they would soon be considered ‘vanguards of a cultural revolution.’ They had been influenced by a lecture by Buckminster Fuller they had heard in Boulder, and by ‘a small structure out in a farmer’s field that was built out of one-by-two slats’. Trusting as much in cosmic forces as their own skills, they assembled their first building, which wasn’t really a dome, just a hemisphere. But, after they built it, other buildings and people began to appear almost miraculously. All spring and summer they refined their craftsmanship and played with their art, which was as playfully unique as their attitude toward living. Their art was ‘Dropping,’ living with the consequences of what

happened by chance, a philosophy they had pioneered at the University of Kansas. That same summer, San Francisco was attracting more attention by being a hip place to be, but that was of little interest to the Droppers. They were more interested in living their own art, tending a scrappy little garden, getting an occasional temporary job, and trying to create a sustainable lifestyle. They weren’t much interested in tripping on drugs, flashy clothing, or listening to music like many of their contemporaries were. They were, as one described the group, more like “mythical hobbits.” By winter, there were six living in the community and they were beginning to attract attention by transforming their land with “tensegrity — the unseen structure of the universe that underlies everything.” They were also visited, occasionally, by the few locals who were brave enough to visit with them, and also by the FBI who, in one of their later almost incoherent reports, considered them a “continuing beatnik-type Special Committee on Un-American Activities hippie-type community… who were not known to be engaging in any subversive type activity or in any violations of general criminal law.” Few realized that Bernofsky, a filmmaker, was shooting thousands of feet of film chronicling the growth of Drop City and the people watching them. As the Droppers became more involved in the community, driving their gaily painted van in the Labor Day roundup parade, they filmed the spectators, indifferent to how they were perceived by the community. For them, the art of living was the most interesting part of life, until, unfortunately, as the new year approached, they were visited by the media and quickly became the ‘talk of the town’ in Denver, Washington, and New York, even more than in Trinidad. Next week: ‘Community Gossip’