Category Archives: Arts

Remembering Ann Brannigan

Terry Brannigan’s mother Ann died peacefully this week, surrounded by loved ones. She lived in Westport with her husband Robert for nearly 60 years. Terry writes:

Many people kn0w Ann as a mother of 3 and grandmother to 9 Westporters, or for her selfless contributions to the town.

Few know the story of Ann’s wonderful career in dance, musical theater and television.  In an era of reality TV fame and extreme divas, her modesty is rare.

Act 1:

She was born in Pittsburgh during the Depression. It was devastating to everyone and every city, but none suffered more than a single mother in a steel town. Times were hard, but Ann was gifted. At 15 she graduated from high school and moved to New York City, along with her mother and grandmother, to pursue an extraordinary career in dance, theater and the newly emerging media called television.

Ann Brannigan

Ann Brannigan

Act 2:

For more than 15 years Ann did not miss a day of work on Broadway. Her credits include Annie Get Your Gun, Brigadoon, High Button Shoes and countless others — including an early stint as a Rockette.

Along the way she fell in love with a handsome stagehand named Bobby Brannigan, while working together on the Broadway production of Two on the Aisle. He was a World War II submariner who left Pittsburgh at 17, and came from a long line of stagehands. Ann and Bob were married at Mahachy’s Actor’s Chapel, between the matinee and evening performances of the shows they were working on.

Robert and Ann Brannigan.

Robert and Ann Brannigan.

Act 3:

In the 1950s, Westport was famous for its arts community, culture and proximity to New York. Eager to start a family but not ready to slow down, the time was right for the young couple to move here.

Another connection to the theatre led Ann to her beloved Old Mill cottage.  Working together on a show, Ann, Robert, Darren McGavin and another cast  member all discovered the peaceful cove, and bought their houses at the same time. Ann described Westport — and Old Mill Cove in particular — as “heaven.”

Ann Brannigan from Roth Magazine, in 1952.

Ann Brannigan from Roth Magazine, in 1952.

Bob commuted to New York to work backstage, and Ann performed for years. Bob’s career included senior roles at Lincoln Center and City Center. Ann transitioned to television, and for many years was part of the regular casts of pioneering shows like “Your Show of Shows,” “Jimmy Durante” and “Danny Thomas.” She finally retired from the stage to raise her 3 children, then cherished her role as grandmother.

Act 4:

Ann turned her focus to her husband, children, grandchildren and community. She never missed a game, performance or chance to be part of her family’s activities. Ann took great pleasure in helping choreograph school performances from Hillspoint Elementary through Staples. But in her unassuming fashion she shunned any reference to her contribution.

What was most striking about Ann’s accomplishments is that she never spoke of them — even when asked. For example, one day she was appalled by the poor health of Kenny Montgomery, owner of the Old Mill Market (now Elvira’s). The former ballerina tended to his medical needs, and volunteered behind the counter until he died.

The performing arts did not pay what it does today. To help put her children through school, Ann worked for years in administrative roles. She served others who had absolutely no idea of the stages she had danced on, or the talent she collaborated with. She was never one to brag.

A recent photo of Ann Brannigan.

A recent photo of Ann Brannigan.

Westport is full of treasures, some more conspicuous than others. In a town rightfully proud of the famous people who live here or pass through, I am sure many will read this post and say, “Ann Brannigan, from Loretta Court? Ann, who always talked about her grandkids? Wow! Who knew?”

Maybe that says it all.

A memorial service for Ann Brannigan will be held this Saturday (October 4, 10 a.m.) at Assumption Church on Riverside Avenue. A reception will follow.

Lia’s “Ices”

Lia Ices just got a nice shout-out from Entertainment Weekly.

On her 3rd album — called “Ices” — the singer-songwriter “still sounds like that art-school girl you had a crush on,” EW wrote.

“But her songs have gotten fuller and lusher. [The album's] warm wash of ethereal vocals and electronics belies its chilly title.”

Lia Ices

Lia Ices

Lia Ices is the stage name of Leah Kessel. She’s a former Staples Player who acted in “Runaways” and “Heidi Chronicles,” before leaving for private school and NYU (where she earned a degree in experimental theater in 2007).

Her influences include Iggy Azalea, the Cocteau Twins and — this will resonate with older “06880” readers — Steely Dan.

According to Elle magazine, she splits time between the Hudson Valley (where she records) and Sonoma, California (where she lives with her winemaker boyfriend).

“I can be super reclusive and hermetic, and then I can be in California and host dinner parties and drink wine,” she says.

The track below — “Higher” — is “a chirpy schoolyard melody spliced with a killer guitar riff,” Elle says. It’s her 1st radio single.

Let’s hope “Ices” turns hot as hell.

 

About That Winslow Park Painting…

On many weekends over the past few years — probably while stuck at the Post Road/Compo Road traffic light — drivers have noticed a man and an easel in Winslow Park.

He’s set up on the grass. Facing banks on the other 3 corners, he’s been hard at work, painting.

Youngsters crowd around the unfinished painting.

Youngsters crowd around the unfinished painting.

Who is he?

Alert “06880” reader Russell Sherman reports that his name is Stanley Lewis. An accomplished artist, he’s finally finished his work.

It’s on display at the Betty Cunningham Gallery in New York, through October 25.

Stan Lewis Winslow Park painting

Lewis and his wife Karen live in Northampton, Massachusetts. But they spend a lot of time in Westport. Two of their 3 children — daughter Catherine and son Tim — have moved here.

Lewis loves Westport — and not just because he’s got 4 grandchildren in town, and the scenery is beautiful.

There are little things, like this: A year or so after he began painting, the town put up a new Winslow Park sign. It was right in the line of sight he was working on.

When Parks & Recreation director Stuart McCarthy heard of the problem, his crew moved the the sign.

Who says Westport is no longer an arts community?

Hark! Shakespeare Didst Nearly Come To Stony Point

In many communities, no one wants to live next to the railroad station.

Westport is not “many communities.” Here, Stony Point is one of the most desirable spots in town.

Ann Sheffer — a longtime resident of that winding, riverfront peninsula whose entrance is directly off the train station parking lot — sent along a Westport News clipping that tells the fascinating back story of Stony Point.

Stony Point today (left of the river). The train station and tracks are at top.

Stony Point today (left of the river). The train station and tracks are at top.

Written in 1977 by Shirley Land — who knew everything about everything — it describes a New York banker, his wife and 2 daughters. They lived in a handsome Victorian mansion with “turrets and filigree curlicues.” The grounds included an enormous carriage house, gardener’s cottage, barn and hothouse.

It was the Cockeroft family’s country home, built around 1890. They traveled there by steam launch from New York City, tying up at a Stony Point boathouse.

The Cockerofts’ was one of “the 3 great showplaces” in Westport. The other 2 were the Hockanum mansion on Cross Highway, and the Meads’ estate on Hillspoint.

After the daughters inherited the home, the New York, New Haven & Hartford railroad inquired about purchasing some of the land for a new train station. (The original one was on the other side of the river.)

The sisters agreed, but only if the railroad built a solid brick wall, 1675 feet long, to provide privacy and quiet.

The Stony Point wall today. It separates the peninsula from the train station.

The Stony Point wall today. It separates the peninsula from the train station.

When the 2nd daughter died, she bequeathed the estate to the Hospital for the  Crippled and Ruptured (whose name was later changed, mercifully, to the New York Hospital for Special Surgery).

But the property fell into disuse. Eventually the hospital sold Stony Point to Birmingham and Asti, real estate developers.

Around 1950, Lawrence Langner of the Theatre Guild, Lincoln Kirstein of Lincoln Center and arts patron Joseph Verner Reed tried to build an American Shakespeare Theatre and Academy there. Proximity to the train station was a major piece of the plan.

The price for all 21 acres: $200,000.

But, Land wrote, “the hand of fate and the town fathers combined to defeat the efforts of the theatre people.” Many residents objected. There were also concerns that it would draw audiences away from the Westport Country Playhouse. (Others argued that a Shakespeare Theatre would enhance the town’s reputation as an arts community.)

The theater was never built in Westport. It opened in the aptly named town of Stratford, Connecticut in 1955, and was moderately successful until ceasing operations 30 years later.

In Westport, the Cockeroft estate remained empty.

The entrance to Stony Point.

The entrance to Stony Point.

In 1956 Westporters Leo Nevas and Nat Greenberg, along with Hartford’s Louis Fox, bought the property for residential development. Before they could start, however, vandals attacked the main house. They ripped out bathtubs, hacked up fireplaces, and smashed mirrors and statues. The developers asked the fire department to burn what remained to the ground.

All that remains of the original estate, Land wrote, is “the charming gate house, an immaculate gray and white Victorian structure just inside the gate; a pair of antique marble urns on the site of the old mansion where a newer home now stands; and the fine carriage house-garage, remodeled to be sure, but bearing the visible imprint of bygone grandeur.”

Oh, and a few small doors set into the long brick wall. Once upon a time, they must have provided an amazing view.

Claudine Brantley: A Filmmaker To Watch

In the wake of Westport’s selection as Connecticut’s “Fan Favorite Town of the Year,” plenty of praise was heaped on 3 elementary school girls. They conceived the idea for a promotional video touting the contest, then starred in what ultimately pushed our town to the top.

No one’s talking about Claudine Brantley, who filmed and edited the video.

That’s fine with her. Claudine, who graduated from Staples last June, calls her young colleagues “enthusiastic, adorable and very easy to work with.” They came up with the locations highlighted in the video, and “starred” in it.

But Claudine’s very professional work should not go unnoticed. And her back story deserves to be told.

Born in Georgia and raised in New London, Connecticut, Claudine came to Westport in the middle of sophomore year. Her mother wanted to provide better opportunities for Claudine and her brother Malik, and made considerable sacrifices to get here.

Claudine Brantly

Claudine Brantley

Claudine quickly got involved in the school. She joined the literary magazine Soundings, and the Gay-Straight Alliance. She found a job shelving books at the Westport Library.

And — through a Staples course called Narrative Film — she discovered a passion for video.

“I really like being able to tell stories visually,” Claudine says. “You have so many interactions, and ways to create a vision of something.”

Instructor Jim Honeycutt ranks Claudine with “Staples Hall of Fame filmmakers” like Adam Marcus, Luke Greenfield and Daryl Wein. “The only difference is that she is not in Hollywood — yet,” he says.

He calls her work “unlike most student films. They are intensely personal and profound.”

Claudine cajoles Staples Players into acting in her films. She scours the internet to find people to do voiceovers. Her sound tracks are “ethereal and haunting,” Honeycutt says.

She finds extraordinary royalty-free music to use legally. It sounds like it was written just for her, Honeycutt adds.

Her films “An Interloping Dream” and “Abraham” have been selected for the 2014 All American High School Film Festival.

“Claudine works incredibly hard at developing her craft,” Honeycutt says. “She is very devoted and serious. She has a wonderful heart, and a willingness to fight.”

That heart was on display when she agreed to help 3 Westport girls fulfill their “fan favorite” dream.

“I’m impressed with how involved those kids were, and how at a young age they had such love for their town,” Claudine says.

She credits them with helping her learn more about Westport.

Clearly, Claudine has learned plenty on her own. Now a freshman film and photography major at Parsons The New School for Design, she hopes to focus on documentaries.

In the years to come, she’ll no doubt make films far more important than the one that earned Westport its “fan favorite” honor.

And, no doubt, they’ll make Claudine Brantley a “fan favorite” in the video world.

(A collection of films by Claudine Brantley is available on YouTube.)

 

 

Staples Players Earn Broadway.Com Buzz

With school back in session, Broadway.com has scoured YouTube for its Top 5 high school musical performances.

Among the “A+” shows is Staples Players’ 2011 production of “West Side Story.”

The website says:

In a high school musical, finding a bunch of guys willing to even try on a pair of jazz shoes is a rarity. But bafflingly, Staples High School in Westport, CT has assembled a whole team of hoofing high school dudes who pirouette and leap around the stage with ease. Wow, check out those Shark high-kicks!

Very cool — except for the “bafflingly” part.

At Staples, “hoofing high school dudes” are everywhere.

 

Max’s Art Supplies Lives On — For One Day

When Max’s Art Supplies announced it was closing, Amy Kaplan shared the sadness of many. The Westport artist mourned not only the end of a special place, but the loss of a community.

Though Max’s is closing August 30, it will reopen on Friday, September 5 — for one night only.

Amy is organizing a special pop-up art show in the Post Road venue. Owner Shirley Mellor and longtime associate Nina Royce have given their blessings. Supporters include the Westport Downtown Merchants Association, John Hartwell and the Westport Democratic Town Committee, Rockwell Art and Framing, and Parkway Liquor.

From 6-9 p.m. that evening, a juried exhibit will feature some of the area’s most talented artists. The event is free, and open to the public.

Max's Art Supplies will open soon after it closes -- for a special, one-night only event.

Max’s Art Supplies will open soon after it closes — for a special, one-night only event.

“Max’s has been a pillar of the local art community,” Amy says. “I can’t think of a more fitting sendoff for Max’s than this show. It gives artists a chance to show and sell their work, and also reminisce about the role Max’s has played in their lives and development as artists.”

10% of the commission of any sales at the show will go to Max’s.

To help organize the show, submit works, or donate food and beverages, email amykaplanartwork@gmail.com, or call 203-247-3910.

See Ya, Summer

It’s been a fantastic summer: No heat wave. No oppressive humidity. No power-outaging thunderstorms (knock wood).

It was, in other words, a great reward for a very tough winter.

But — like every summer — it raced by. School starts Monday.

Stacy Waldman Bass took this photo today, at Compo Beach. Already, it seems, we’ve said goodbye to Summer 2014.

Compo Beach by Stacy Waldman Bass

Max’s Time To Go

After reading yesterday’s “06880” post about the final days of Max’s Art Supplies, local artist Miggs Burroughs hustled down to the store he’s loved for so many years.

He wanted the iconic Karron’s Jewelry clock, rescued once from another Westport store and long a symbol of the famed art store.

He was just a minute late. Sherri Wolfgang — a close friend — had already bought it. She told Miggs she’d wanted it since she was 8 years old, and bought her first sketch pad at Max’s.

“At least I got to take this historic photo with Shirley Mellor, Rita Ross Englebardt, Jay Cimbak, Nina Royce and Sherri, who was in tears the whole time,” Miggs says. “It was very emotional moment for everyone.”

The clock and (from left) Nina Royce, Rita Ross Englebardt, Sherri Wolfgang, Shirley Mellor, Jay Cimbak.

The clock and (from left) Nina Royce, Rita Ross Englebardt, Sherri Wolfgang, Shirley Mellor, Jay Cimbak. (Photo/MIggs Burroughs)

 

Counting Down The Minutes At Max’s

The countdown has begun for Max’s Art Supplies. The legendary 59-year-old downtown store’s last day of business is Saturday, August 30.

Much of the stock has already been sold. But intriguing items remain. They include:

  • a vintage Karron’s Jewelry clock
  • a set of 32 oak flat shelves that holds 30″ x 40″ paper
  • an oak drawer 95 1/2″ long by 25″ deep
  • a paper cutter
  • an artograph
  • a never-opened “winner waxer
  • Letrasets
Some of the special items still available at Max's.

Some of the special items still available at Max’s.

  • Paper of all kinds
  • Sign cloth
  • Picture frames and mats
  • Pens
  • Fabric paint
  • Dyes
  • Markers
  • Back-to-school stuff galore
  • Plenty of fixtures
A few of the fixtures being sold at Max's.

A few of the fixtures being sold at Max’s.

The day after closing — Sunday, August 31 (2 p.m.). — owner Shirley Mellor and her staff will hold a “festive celebration” to say goodbye to the community. A special invitation goes to “the artists who have long been with us, and will always be a part of our extended family.”

One more bit of Max’s news: Jay Cimbak, the master picture framer there for the past 25 years, will be the new manager at Rockwell Art and Framing in Westport. It’s just a few doors east of Max’s, on the Post Road.

For nearly 6 decades, Shirley and the rest of the Max’s crew have served Westport with distinction. They’re going out with plenty of class.

More at Max's Art Supplies.

More at Max’s Art Supplies.