Category Archives: Arts

Here She Is: The Dragon Lady!

This morning’s post about the new exhibits at the Westport Historical Society included a passing reference to The Dragon Lady.

Several readers commented — quickly and excitedly. They saw her often at Compo Beach, and remembered her floppy hat, black bouffant do, animal print outfits and high heels.

Of course, they wanted to see the photo I mentioned.

It’s hanging on the WHS wall, as part of the Larry Silver exhibit. (The official name is “Woman With Straw Hat, Compo Beach 1985.”)

And now here it is too, on “06880″:

(Copyright Larry Silver, courtesy of Bruce Silverstein Gallery, New York)

Here are 2 more of my favorites. “Boy Standing on Swing” evokes the original Compo playground …

Larry Silver - Boy Standing on Swing

… while “Dancing on the Jetties” shows that while fashions have changed since 1979, kids at the beach have not.

(All copyright Larry Silver photos courtesy of Bruce Silverstein Gallery, New York)

Larry Silver’s Westport Historical Society exhibit includes much more than just Compo Beach. It’s open Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday from 12 to 6 p.m.

Hey! I Know You!

Last night, the Westport Historical Society celebrated 2 new exhibits.

“Larry Silver/Westport Visions” is a fascinating look at our town, through 40 years of remarkable photos. Larry has focused a keen eye on Longshore, downtown, the railroad station — you name it, he’s captured it in a special way.

"Compo Beach Showers" (Photo/Larry Silver, courtesy of Bruce Silverstein Gallery)

“Compo Beach Showers” (Photo/Larry Silver, courtesy of Bruce Silverstein Gallery)

His most remarked-on shot last night may have been the “Dragon Lady”: the striking woman who for years strode up and down Compo in heels. If you didn’t know her, don’t call yourself a Westporter.

Equally intriguing is the 2nd exhibit, in the smaller Mollie Donovan Gallery. “Faces in the Crowd” consists of a few dozen group shots from long (and longer) ago. Class shots, Little League teams, parties — if there was a gathering in Westport, it might be on the wall.

Here’s one, of teenage Hi-Y Club members at the YMCA:

WHS - Hi-Y

And another of a crazy party in the barn at 57 Kings Highway North, owned by Ann Sheffer’s grandparents:

WHS - barn party

But what’s really fun is the interactivity. Each photo has a number; each number has a small notebook. If you recognize someone in any of the photos — Ed Hall, say, or Harold von Schmidt or Dan Woog — you can write where that person is in the photo, and add something about the scene.

Yeah, me. I’m in the WHS exhibit, in the photo below. Go, Apaches!

DW - Little League

(The Westport Historical Society is open Monday through Friday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m., and Saturday 12-4 p.m.)

Mill Pond Magic

Betsy Phillips Kahn captured this magnificent view of the Sherwood Mill Pond just an hour ago.

One more reason why summer in Westport is special indeed.

(Photo/Betsy Phillips Kahn)

(Photo/Betsy Phillips Kahn)

 

Jose Feliciano, Mimi Levitt Launch New Pavilion

Saying “I look forward to returning for years to come,” 93-year-old Mimi Levitt shined with excitement as she welcomed Westport’s newest jewel: the refurbished Levitt pavilion.

The $9 million public/private project — propelled by a $4.5 million grant from the Levitt Foundation — represents a complete overhaul of an already intriguing downtown attraction.

With a soaring, sail-inspired, state-of-the-art stage; a killer sound system; amenities like dressing rooms, food concessions, ramps and restrooms — plus a completely renovated riverwalk that now extends all the way to the point behind the pavilion — this Levitt marks the 2nd transformation of a former landfill.

Parks and Rec, politicians, architects and construction folks all took their bows.

Then Jose Feliciano took over. His kick-butt show is just the start of a summer filled with entertainment.

And there was not a mosquito in sight.

A small portion of the large crowd, and the new Levitt stage.

A small portion of the large crowd, and the new Levitt stage.

The one and only Jose Feliciano. The Weston resident donated his fee to the Levitt building fund.

The one and only Jose Feliciano. The Weston resident donated his fee to the Levitt building fund.

The lawn was full -- but there was plenty of room to relax.

The lawn is full — but there’s still plenty of room to relax.

Mimi Levitt -- 93 years young -- and her daughter Liz Levitt Hirsch.

Mimi Levitt — 93 years young — and her daughter Liz Levitt Hirsch.

Dancing in the aisle, to Jose Feliciano.

Dancing on the grass, to Jose Feliciano.

Freda and Carleigh Welsh: 2 of the driving forces behind the Levitt Pavilion's success.

Freda and Carleigh Welsh: 2 of the driving forces behind the Levitt Pavilion’s success.

The new Levitt has real restrooms. And they are already in use.

The new Levitt has real restrooms. And they are already in use.

The landscaping extends beyond the stage, out to the point where the Levitt juts into the Saugatuck River. A newly enhanced riverwalk adds to the beauty.

The landscaping extends beyond the stage, out to the point where the Levitt juts into the Saugatuck River. A newly enhanced riverwalk adds to the beauty.

Cool Weather For Very Hot Art Show And Book Sale

It’s a Westport rite of summer: Artists and art patrons bake on the blacktop at the annual Fine Arts Festival. Book lovers swelter in the Jesup Green tent, at the library book sale.

It’s a satisfying — if sweaty — search for gems.

This year is different. The temperature is in the mid-70s. There is no humidity. Clouds are keeping crowds away from the beach.

Compo’s loss is downtown’s gain.

Art show culptures frame the Saugatuck River.

Art show sculptures frame the Saugatuck River.

One of 130 artists shows off his work.

One of 130 artists shows off his work.

There is more artwork -- plus food and kids' activities -- on Gorham Island, adjacent to the Parker Harding lot.

There’s more art — plus food and kids’ activities — on Gorham Island, adjacent to the Parker Harding lot.

What's an arts festival without music. Bands play under a tent, next to the Saugatuck River.

What’s an arts festival without music? Bands play under a tent, next to the Saugatuck River.

Some book sale patrons can't wait to start reading what they've bought. Or maybe they're deciding whether  to buy.

Book sale patrons read up before deciding whether to buy.

The Westport Library book sale depends on the services of hundreds of volunteers.

The Westport Library book sale depends on the services of hundreds of volunteers.

Lots of people no longer needed their copies of this book. Lots of others were ready to buy them.

Lots of people no longer needed their copies of this book. Lots of others were ready to buy them.

The Downtown Merchants Association’s 41st annual Fine Arts Festival runs today – Saturday, July 19 — until 6 p.m., and tomorrow (Sunday, July 20) from 10 a.m.-5 p.m., at Parker Harding Plaza and Gorham Island. Across the Post Road, the Westport Library book sale is on today until 6 p.m. It continues tomorrow from 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Everything is half-price on Monday. On Tuesday, July 22 (9 a.m.-1 p.m.) it’s all free (donations are accepted).

 

 

Come To The Cabaret — Again!

Life is a cabaret, old chum.

And every decade or so, “Cabaret” comes to Westport.

Staples Players — the legendary high school acting troupe — first performed the darkly decadent show in 1984. Directed by Al Pia, it starred David Roth as the MC. It’s a difficult role for anyone, but the senior nailed it.

Pia reprised the show in 1992.

In 2004, Players produced “Cabaret” again. David Roth was once again involved — this time as director.

He’s still at the Staples helm, and once again he’s staging the show. “Cabaret” runs next weekend — July 24 through 26 — as Players’ Summer Theatre Production.

Jack Bowman (emcee) and the Kit Kat Girls. (Photo/Kerry Long)

Jack Bowman as the emcee, and the Kit Kat Girls. (Photo/Kerry Long)

Just as every Broadway and London production and revival has been different, so too have the Staples versions.

But, Roth says, while previous Players incarnations have stuck closely to the original Joel Grey interpretation, the current production combines that version with the one now in its 2nd revival in New York. This one is “much more theatrical,” Roth says. Everything seems to take place inside the Kit Kat Club — even the scenes in Cliff’s rooming house.

And, the director adds, “the master of ceremonies is very much present throughout every scene of the play. In the other versions, the 2 worlds are very separate.” Jack Bowman plays Roth’s old role.

Still, next weekend’s “Cabaret” retains ties to the past. Besides Roth, choreographers Kat and Jess Eggart both danced in Pia’s 1992 production.

Sally Bowles (Claire Smith) and Cliff (Jack Baylis) share a moment in "Cabaret." (Photo/Kerry Long)

Sally Bowles (Claire Smith) and Cliff (Jack Baylis) share a moment in “Cabaret.” (Photo/Kerry Long)

“The show has always meant a lot to me, and I’m excited to share that with the kids,” Roth says.

“Kerry and I also want to share the message with students and audiences about people being sucked into an attractive world that turns out to be far uglier than they ever imagined. That’s very important too.

“The idea of people living in a great, dreamlike world that becomes a nightmare is as valid today as it has ever been. The image of dreaming or sleepwalking runs through the entire play. And it’s very present in our production.”

Emcee (Jack Bowman) and the Kit Kat girls perform "Willkommen." (Photo/Kerry  Long)

Emcee (Jack Bowman) and the Kit Kat girls perform “Willkommen.” (Photo/Kerry Long)

“Cabaret” resonates with Staples principal John Dodig too. As interim principal, he attended the 2004 production. Leaving the auditorium, he recalls thinking, “This can’t possibly be a public high school.”

He was awed by the professionalism of the voices and dancing. And, he says, “I was amazed that a suburban community would support a high school doing a show with such a dark and risqué theme.”

Dodig calls “Cabaret” the moment he first thought of applying for the permanent principal’s position.

Ten years later, Dodig is still principal. Roth still directs Players.

And another fantastic production of “Cabaret” is about to begin.

(“Cabaret” will be performed at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, July 24, 25 and 26, and at 3 p.m. on Saturday, July 26. Tickets are available at www.StaplesPlayers.com

Fine Arts Festival Works Out Just Fine

Up in Vermont, Edward Loedding heard the reputation of the Westport Fine Arts Festival: It was a great show, but if you were stuck on Gorham Island, you were dead. It was hot as hell, and very few people ventured over.

So for several years, Loedding did not apply for a spot. Two years ago, he gave it a try.

He was put on Gorham Island — and had a “wonderful” experience. Last year, on Parker Harding Plaza, was even better.

Westport is now a highly prized spot on Loedding’s calendar. And he’s happy wherever he’s assigned.

 

"Sunset Barn," by Edward Loedding.

“Sunset Barn,” by Edward Loedding.

Loedding — a very talent photographer and digital artist — will be in Westport this weekend, for the 41st annual Art Show. (He’s in booth #64-65, along the river.) He joins over 135 artists — 39 of them new — showing works in drawing, mixed media, painting, photography, printmaking, sculpture, watercolor, glass, fiber, wood, jewelry and ceramics.

Plus music, food, street performers, face painters, a magician, a balloon artist and mime.

"Don't mime me," this guy said last year at the Westport Fine Arts Festival.

“Don’t mime me,” this guy said last year at the Westport Fine Arts Festival.

Loedding loves it all — especially the art-lovers.

“A high percentage know what they’re looking for, and appreciate it,” Loedding says. “I do 20 shows a year up and down the East Coast, and that’s not always the case.”

A photographer -- and potential customer -- takes a shot of some intriguing art along the river, in 2011.

A potential customer takes a shot of some intriguing art along the river, in 2011.

Westport’s Elizabeth Marks Juviler will be there too. She’s involved in many local activities — Girl Scout leader, PAL cheerleading coach, Young Women’s League president, Historical Society board member, Westport Country Playhouse staffer — but she is also a noted artist.

Juviler has participated in the Downtown Merchants Association’s “Art About Town” event, and sells in galleries and design stores, but this is her 1st time at the summer show. “As a Westport artist who has purchased art there, I wanted to be in the Fine Arts Festival,” she says. “It’s a goal I set for myself.”

Westport — its landscapes, nature and beach — inspire Juviler’s work. Three years ago, she began incorporating recycled newspapers and magazines onto her canvases. She combines headlines, words, pictures and layers of paint to create art that is “a moment in time.”

Scores of artists — and hundreds of art lovers — will have their time this weekend. And whether they’re on the river or Gorham Island matters not at all.

(The Westport Downtown Merchants Association’s 41st annual Fine Arts Festival is set for this Saturday, July 19 from 10 a.m.-6 p.m., and Sunday, July 20 from 10 a.m.-5 p.m., at Parker Harding Plaza and Gorham Island. Meanwhile, across the Post Road, the Westport Library hosts its “best ever” book sale, from 9 a.m.-6 p.m. both days.)

Artists relax near the work on Gorham Island, in 2009.

Artists relax near their work on Gorham Island, in 2009.

Remembering Shirley Land

Shirley Land died last night, surrounded by her family. She was 96.

Shirley’s daughter described her as a “remarkable, kind, upbeat, intelligent, interesting and inquisitive woman. She grabbed life with both hands, and enjoyed it immensely.”  

Shirley was one of the last of a generation of men and women who made a remarkable impact on Westport. In 2008, when she moved to North Carolina to be closer to her family, I wrote a story extolling her virtues. I am honored to reprint it.

As a new generation takes over Westport — altering its physical, political and social landscapes in ways large and small, positive and negative — an older generation fades. Men and women in their 70s, 80s and 90s — the ones who steered our town through the turbulent 1960s; who modernized old cultural icons like the library, and created important new ones like the senior center; who kept the artistic flame burning on stage and in galleries — are moving on.

Some go permanently, through death. Others fade slowly, moving away from Westport into assisted living centers or with their children. That is how things happen in a community, and the world. It is life, and life moves on.

But Westport must remember, and honor, the many folks whose countless hours of service and boundless stores of energy made this place what it was, what it is, and, in many ways, what it will remain for years to come. Which is why the departure of Shirley Land — who leaves Westport next month for North Carolina — cannot go unnoticed.

Shirley Land, loving life.

Shirley Land, loving life.

Land is small in stature — I tower over her, no small feat — but her imprint on our town is huge. Julie Belaga, a former state legislator and candidate for governor, first met her in 1965, when the Belaga family moved to Berndale Drive.

“We were next door neighbors,” Belaga recalled. “From the very start I realized she was a remarkable woman. She was dear, loving, high-energy and every time I turned around she was working on something. The first project I knew about was for underprivileged pre-school children, with Sybil Steinberg, but she went on to work for the bicentennial, the library, the arts — you name it.” Belaga remembered that Land was one of the Westport News’ first EASE columnists.

“Shirley was the best neighbor anyone could have. She was generous and fun. Everyone would be lucky to have Shirley Land as their neighbor.”

Shirley Land and her beloved husband Alex.

Shirley Land and her beloved husband Alex.

Westport got lucky when Land moved here in 1961. Immediately, she volunteered at her 3 children’s schools. “That was natural, because this was such a wonderful small town,” Land said. “I grew up in Chicago, and never lived in a small town. Moving here was a wonderful fluke, but it was the best thing that happened to us and our children.”

Mollie Donovan — no slouch herself in the volunteer department — said, “In 1974 the PTA Council took over the Westport Schools’ Permanent Art Collection. My sister Eve Potts, Dora Stuttman and I worked with Shirley on it. She said it would take a year. Thirty years later, it’s still going strong.

“Shirley is one of the most loyal friends I’ve had,” Donovan praised. “Any committee I ever asked her to serve on, she did, from arts shows on Jesup Green to anything for the historical society. Her energy and creativity are amazing.” Donovan also noted that Land ran “one of the earliest exercise groups in Westport” — at her backyard swimming pool.

In 1974 Land was appointed chairman of Westport’s Bicentennial Committee. Throughout 1976 she helped produce a full and wide-ranging calendar of events, culminating with a Grand Ball at what is now the Levitt Pavilion.

In addition, said former 2nd selectman and dynamo-about-town Betty Lou Cummings, “Shirley really made the Riverwalk come true. She was president of the Friends of the Library. She thought having a brick walkway along the Saugatuck River was a wonderful idea, and she made sure it happened.”

Cummings lauded Land’s “Yes, we can do it!” spirit. “She always had a positive answer. Everyone always turns to her because such a good do-bee. She’s made such a difference in our lives.”

Land’s other accomplishments include leading the United Fund (the precursor to today’s Westport-Weston United Way), and co-founding the Y’s Women organization.

Shirley Land

Shirley Land

More recently, Land turned her attention to the Senior Center. She was an original member of the organization’s Friends group, and served on the center’s policy and planning board. According to director Sue Pfister, “Jack Klinge, the president of the Friends of the Senior Center, says that whenever something absolutely had to get done, he asked Shirley. Then he was sure it would be taken care of.”

Land was active in the center’s home-delivered meals program, organized current events seminars and, with her late husband Alex, participated in aerobic chair activities. “She was so loving, committed and devoted to him, particularly in the final years of his life,” Pfister said.

“She is energetic, informative, well-versed, enthusiastic, upbeat and determined,” Pfister added. “If there was ever a problem, Shirley solved it immediately and correctly. She is so well-respected and loved. I’ll miss her — and so will everyone here.”

Perhaps no organization is more closely entwined with Land’s life than the Westport Public Library. “She was involved with everything here,” said director Maxine Bleiweis. “She reactivated our Friends of the Library group and was president of it. She was an employee here, doing public relations, for 11 years, and then she volunteered. She was the first recipient of our Special Friends award, and no one was more deserving of that honor.”

“It has been a privilege to have her energy and positiveness put to use for the library — as it has been for so many other groups and organizations in town,” Bleiweis added. “Her personal strength and her willingness to do whatever needed to be done, for whatever cause she was working on, are inspirations and examples to everyone.”

Shirley Land was not a big woman, but she had a broad reach throughout Westport.

Shirley Land was not a big woman, but she had a broad reach throughout Westport.

Five weeks from now, on March 31, Land leaves the town she calls “so comfortable. I feel so privileged not to have sat in a corner, but to have gotten to know such a diversity of people through so many activities.” She will miss all that — including walking along Compo Beach, an activity she continued with her husband even when he was sick. “We met everyone there, she said. “And together we solved all the world’s problems.”

Land looks forward to living near her daughter Carol in Chapel Hill and getting involved in the rich cultural and social life of the area. However, she admitted, “At 90 years old, this is a long jump to take. The thought of leaving Westport is a little scary.”

Not nearly as scary as imagining Westport without Shirley Land.

(There will be a small service in North Carolina for Shirley this month, followed by a memorial in Connecticut at a date to be determined.)

Alan Sterling’s “Gloria” (Updated)

Many Westporters were saddened to learn of the death of Alan Sterling — Westport’s hard-working native oysterman.

Bruce McFadden went to his photography collection.

“I spoke with him several times at the E.R. Strait Marina, where he kept his boat,” McFadden says.

“When Alan learned I was a former Staples chemistry teacher, he said some of the best years of his life were spent there. He spoke in glowing terms of the school.”

Bruce gave Alan a photo of his beloved “Gloria” — one of the last surviving commercial boats in Westport.

Alan built it himself. They sure don’t make ‘em like that — like Alan, or “Gloria” — anymore.

(Photo/Bruce McFadden)

(Photo/Bruce McFadden)

Meanwhile, here’s another photo, sent later today by JP Vellotti. It shows Gloria the day after Hurricane Sandy.

Soon enough, Alan had her shipshape, and back on the water.

(Photo/JP Vellotti)

(Photo/JP Vellotti)

Jose Feliciano Lights Up The Levitt

It’s been a while.

But the Levitt Pavilion — for 40 years a Westport summer treasure — is almost ready to open its new facility. The handsome bandshell (with lush new lawn) will burnish our reputation as a town that loves arts and entertainment, and is always ready to host a good time.

So it’s very appropriate that the grand opening event features a hometown hero: Jose Feliciano.

(I know, he lives in Weston. But he’s real close to the Westport border.)

Jose Feliciano (Photo/David Bravo)

Jose Feliciano (Photo/David Bravo)

The 9-time Grammy winner/Hollywood Walk of Fame star/namesake of New York’s Jose Feliciano Performing Arts School/Billboard Magazine Lifetime Achievement awardee/Baseball Hall of Fame honoree (for his 1968 World Series rendition of the national anthem)/and writer-singer-guitarist of “Feliz Navidad” — perhaps the most popular Christmas song ever recorded — takes the stage on Sunday, July 20 for the 1st-ever performance at the new Levitt.

And — because Jose Feliciano is not just a fantastic artist, but a phenomenal human being — he will donate his fee to the ongoing Campaign for a New Levitt Pavilion.

Doors open — okay, the restraining rope will be lowered — at 5 p.m. A ribbon cutting ceremony takes place at 6. And then, at 7, Jose Feliciano will light our fire.

(The event is free. However, tickets will be issued in advance, beginning Tuesday, July 8, online at http://www.levittpavilion.com and at the Pavilion office, in the Parks and Recreation Department office at Longshore.)

Jose Feliciano and his wife Susan, at home in Weston.  (Photo/Dorothy Hong for Wall Street Journal)

Jose Feliciano and his wife Susan, at home in Weston. (Photo/Dorothy Hong for Wall Street Journal)