Kathie Bennewitz: Westport’s First “Town Curator”

You never know where life will take you.

Who knew, for example, that swimming and lifeguarding would help propel Kathie Bennewitz — 35 years later — to her new position as Westport’s 1st-ever town curator?

Yet that’s what happened, after Kathie Motes moved to Westport in the summer of 1978 — just before her senior year at a new school, Staples High.

Kathie Bennewitz

Kathie Bennewitz

Kathie joined the swim team, took art classes, and befriended Ellise Fuchs, whose father Bernie was a world-famous illustrator. Kathie posed for him, pretending to receive a medal for an Olympic scene.

At Princeton, she majored in art history. “I’m not a fine artist,” she claims. “But I love the process, and the way art reflects who we are.”

One summer, lifeguarding at Compo, she met Scott Bennewitz. He was a beach security guard — and a fellow Princetonian.

They married, and lived in Dallas, Minneapolis and Holland. She’d earned a masters in art history. Everywhere they moved, she worked in museums.

Eight years ago, they came to Westport. Kathie volunteered with the Westport Schools Permanent Art Collection. She says that meeting co-founder Mollie Donovan “changed my life.”

Kathie learned how deep and broad Westport’s arts history is. And she realized the impact of men like John Steuart Curry, and institutions like the Westport Country Playhouse, on this town.

"Blues Piano Players" -- one of the 7 wonderful works by Eric von Schmidt that make up "Birth of the Blues." They hang in the Staples auditorium.

“Blues Piano Players” — one of the 7 wonderful works by Eric von Schmidt that make up “Birth of the Blues.” They hang in the Staples auditorium.

She also met volunteers like Eve Potts — Mollie’s sister. “Their commitment, passion and enthusiasm for this town, and its arts community, is infectious,” Kathie says.

She worked professionally at Greenwich’s Bush-Holley House and the Fairfield Museum. A year ago, she became an independent curator.

She also was appointed tri-chair of the Permanent Art Collection, and served on the Westport Arts Advisory Committee. The 2 organizations gave her a broad perspective on the arts here.

So, when a group of people — including Ann Sheffer, David Rubinstein, Leslie Greene, Carole Erger-Fass and Joan Miller — floated the idea of a town curator, she was intrigued.

So was First Selectman Gordon Joseloff. “We already have a town historian, Allen Raymond,” Kathie notes. “This is a natural counterpoint.”

The doughboy statue on Veteran's Green is part of Westport's art and sculpture collection.

The doughboy statue on Veteran’s Green is part of Westport’s art and sculpture collection.

In her new post, she’s responsible for advising the town on the care of its art and sculpture collection. Westport owns several hundred works of art, displayed in Town Hall, the Senior Center, Parks & Rec headquarters — even the Fire Department. Statues include the Minuteman and Doughboy on Veterans Green.

Kathie will also serve as liaison to the 1,100-piece Permanent Art Collection, and the Westport Library, with its own murals, paintings and illustrations.

“So many other communities lose their treasures,” she says. “But thanks to Burt and Ann Chernow, and so many others, we have ours. They’ve created a platform we can spring off of, and do even more.”

That “more” includes plenty. Kathie envisions self-guided tours of the schools’ collections. A “museum on the street,” with Howard Munce’s Remarkable Book Shop work displayed outside that old store (most recently Talbots). Robert Lambdin’s “Battle of Compo” mounted near the cannons.

She’ll be involved in the rehanging of art at Town Hall — something last done in 1976.

Kathie would also like to open up hard-to-see parts of the town’s art collection — like the amazing fire station mural — to the public.

“Pageant of Juvenile Literature” — a 1934 work by Robert Lambdin — hangs in the Westport Library’s Great Hall. This is part of that mural.

“Pageant of Juvenile Literature” — a 1934 work by Robert Lambdin — hangs in the Westport Library’s Great Hall. This is part of that mural.

She is eager to get started. But she won’t be alone.

“I’m a team player. I enjoy working with people in groups. We need everyone’s help.”

Among those helping: Marie-Neloise Egipto, a Staples senior who will do her spring internship with the Permanent Art Collection.

“I’m honored to serve the town,” Kathie says. “This is different from the other positions I’ve held. It really validates all the decades of work done by the Mollies, the Eves and the Anns who have advocated for, and celebrated, our arts community and legacy.

“Very few communities have the public, school and library collections that we do. Westport should be very, very proud.”

Just as we all should be proud that Kathie Bennewitz is our 1st-ever “town curator.”

31 responses to “Kathie Bennewitz: Westport’s First “Town Curator”

  1. I consider my Dad one of the great Westport illustrators. He always said that he had two favorites he considered the true great talents, one was Mr. Dohanos and his most favored was Mr. Fuchs…

    • Linda Gramatky Smith

      Bruce, your father (John Fernie) was a such wonderful illustrator! Does the Westport Schools Permanent Art Collection have one of his paintings? The students in the schools would be so inspired by seeing his work. My dad was friends with Steve Dohanos and Bernie Fuchs too.

  2. This is just fantastic. Congrats Kathie.

  3. David Rubinstein

    The appointment of Kathie Bennewitz as Town Curator is an important event that will enhance the understanding and preservation of Westport’s rich cultural legacy. Kathie is uniquely qualified for this position. Her experience and dedication will bring energy and focus to the town’s artistic life.As the Westport Arts Advisory Committee celebrates its twentieth anniversary next October,Kathie’s new role will contribute significantly to the visibility of the arts in our community.

  4. Bravo! to Kathie, and also to our forward thinking town officials for recognizing the importance of the visual arts in our children’s education, and the Westport community at large.

  5. Phat Ol Fill

    Is this a paying position?

  6. Congratulations to Kathie. Westport is so fortunate to have her as one of our own. Not only does she love and treasure art, but she also loves Westport and its residents. She will continue to care and nurture both. Best of luck Kathie.

  7. Nathalie Fonteyne

    Congratulations to Kathie. I am sure she will do a fantastic job preserving and sharing Westport rich cultural heritage for all to enjoy.

  8. Kathie is the best !!! We are so lucky to have her as our first Curator. Surf’s up!

  9. Is there a salary for this position? If so, did the town post the position?

  10. This is a Joseloff special. He appointed the curator. Another patronage position in a town filled with patronage positions.

  11. But the question still needs to be answered… Is this is a paid position? If so, how much? And if so, that means she is a town employee. So, who approved and signed off?

    Just more of our hard-earned $$ spent on town bureaucracy. Nothing to see here, folks. Move along. King Gordo wins again.

  12. Claire Hertan

    Thanks to WSPAC’s Founders, Gordon, Dan and Kathie!

  13. Kathie will continue the Arts tradition so unique to Westport, Burt Chernow, who founded the WSPAC and was so instrumental in building the Town’s unusual commitment to the arts, would’ve been ecstatic about this appointment. We all look forward to working with Kathie. Ann Chernow

  14. I think I had read that it is a volunteer position–no salary.

    • If that’s the case, I rescind my criticism and give King Gordo a pat on the back for doing something positive that doesn’t unnecessarily cost the taxpayers. Bravo.

      If that’s not the case, I take back my rescission. So there. Hmph.

  15. Either way. Does Gordon just make this decision with “Ann Sheffer, David Rubinstein, Leslie Greene, Carole Erger-Fass and Joan Miller” and that is that. I’m sure Kathie is wonderful, but so are other people who would love the position and are equally qualified, if not moreso.

    • Either this position has the ability to create significant consequences or it does not. If it does, then the issue of why this person was chosen is very relevant. If the position creates no significant consequences, then, who cares? If you look at the long, long list of commissions attached to the local government, you might ask the question what do they do and what do they cost, both directly and indirectly. They are a convenient parking place for the politically connected, and we do know some of them soak up taxpayer dollars. But what public good is served by all these commissions and committees populated by political appointees?

  16. Absolutely no accountability here for filling an appointee, which by definition is a “political appointee”. I’m sure this lady is a very nice person, etc. etc. and the artsy smartsy crowd is thrilled but what power/ability does the position have to spend taxpayer dollars?????

  17. Oh, we are so lucky to have someone now CARING about the artwork we have in town. The legacy of Westport is that it was an “art colony” for the last century. And Kathie Bennewitz is super-qualified to take on this role. Thanks to all who made this happen.

  18. I am appalled at some of these comments on Kathie’s appointment.Have any of these people ever done any volunteer work for the town–or anywhere else for that matter?

    Westport lives under a very lucky star. What a treasure it has in its new Town Curator. Besides being a wonderful, caring person, she is, without a doubt, the best-qualified candidate possible. Kudos to Gordon Joseloff for his best pick of the century. I know Mollie, Burt and Mrs. CJ are cheering somewhere out there–as am I.

    • Woog's Willy

      I think the comments are simply searching for answers. Don’t you believe in a transparent government, Ms. Potts? Are you against the taxpayers finding out these answers?

      Unfortunately, due to our town’s utter lack of communication, we have to come to Dan Woog’s blog for answers. It seems to be the most effective way, which is terrifying.

    • Downtown 2020 is in a “volunteer” organization that spends taxpayer dollars to further the interests of a few.

    • How utterly nasty. Just because we question this appointment you attack our commitment to volunteerism??? Since when was that the issue here?

      • It’s not. Evey Poots just doesn’t have anything else to offer, so she tries to knock you down a few pegs. It’s so childish and downright hilarious actually.

  19. To Eve Potts,
    How can you possibly say that this woman is “without a doubt, the best-qualified candidate possible” when no other candidates were considered???

  20. It’s an appointed volunteer position according to the First Selectman in the original article on WPN. You whiny Know Nothings can all pipe down now.

    • Woog's Willy

      Personally, I am happy one of the many questions could finally be answered with a definitive source to back it up. But can you provide the criteria on which this appointment was made? How was she chosen? What was the process? Is it typical for one to be appointed without consideration to other worthy candidates?

      • In reply to “Jim” above (who also posts under several other names, on this and many other stories): Eve Potts used her real name. Your unwarranted personal attack has convinced me to close this thread for comments.