Category Archives: Library

Virtually Oculus

Two months ago, the Westport Library bought an Oculus Rift. They lacked a computer with a graphics card big enough for the virtual reality headset that generates a crazy, immersive virtual world — but that’s the way the library rolls.

The Rift was about to hit the general consumer market. Library staffers knew it would be big. They snagged one of the last 2nd-generation developers’ kits. Then they went to work, figuring out what to do with it.

Nate Allen — a Maker Space volunteer who’s home-schooled in Fairfield — put the appropriate computer pieces together. (I asked him if it took all summer. Nope: 2 hours.)

Alex Giannini (left), Nate Allen, the Oculus Rift headset and computer.

Alex Giannini (left), Nate Allen, the Oculus Rift headset and computer.

The other day, I took it for a test drive. I’d never donned a virtual reality headset before — I’m not exactly a hardcore gamer — but despite a warning from Alex Giannini, the library’s manager of digital experience, that I might get nauseous, I opted for the Rift’s rollercoaster ride.

I have to say: It’s pretty freakin’ cool. I zoomed up, down and through some crazy Alice in Wonderland-type scenes. But with the Rift, I also looked all around — even over my shoulder — and became immersed in some great virtual reality scenes.

The Rift will be available for everyone 13 and up. But, Alex knows, the core demographic is teenagers.

“That’s great,” he says. “This will get them to the library. They’ll play video games, but they’ll stay to help out. Maybe it will inspire some of them to get into developing games too.”

The Oculus Rift headset.

The Oculus Rift headset.

The Rift will be unveiled Labor Day weekend, at the library’s Blues, Views & BBQ booth. Later this fall it will be used as part of the library’s Teen Gaming Night.

Alex loves the Rift. “It’s so far beyond previous generations of virtual reality, I can’t even describe it,” he says. “We’re on the verge of something huge.”

As usual, the Westport Library leads the way.

Bill Harmer: New Librarian For A New Era

Libraries, says Bill Harmer, are “places of connections.”

In one of his first library jobs, he met a mother and daughter. The younger woman had just been diagnosed with a very serious cancer. Day after day, Harmer helped them research the disease and treatment options.

One day, they brought flowers. “You’ve done more for us than our doctors have,” they said.

“Those are the moments that happen in this profession,” Harmer says. “It’s almost like a calling.”

The librarian has been “called” to a new position. Last month, he became executive director of the Westport Library.

Bill Harmer, in his new digs.

Bill Harmer, in his new digs.

Maxine Bleiweis is a very tough act to follow. But with passion, energy, creativity and a community-minded sense of purpose, Harmer seems poised to pick up exactly where she left off.

His path to Westport was “meandering,” he says. “I wandered in the forest of journalism and publishing.” His experience with libraries had been limited to “checking out books.” But the publishing job introduced him to reference sections, and the company paid for his graduate degree in library and information science.

He spent the past 9 years at the Chelsea District Library in Michigan, near Ann Arbor. His achievements included moving a rural library into a 30,000-square foot, state-of-the-art downtown building. He quadrupled his budget and staff, and turned the library into a beloved community asset.

He put the library on sound financial footing, during tough times. A millage increase passed by a landslide — just a few years after the bond issue to build the new library had squeaked by.

Harmer loved Chelsea, and his very innovative library. And Chelsea loved him.

Bill Harmer's old digs.

Bill Harmer’s old digs.

But when he saw a posting for the Westport job, he was intrigued. Harmer felt a “kinship” with this library’s vision and philosophy. He already knew about the Maker Space.

As he researched Westport’s broad and diverse programming, and saw the “talent, expertise and resources” of the community, he recognized a great opportunity. “People here have their hands in the arts, business, you name it. There’s the Maker creativity. And the library engages everyone, of all ages. It really is a community resource, from birth to death.”

The proposed transformation of the library for the 21st century was truly exciting.

“Ten or 15 years ago, no one could have predicted where libraries would be today,” Harmer says. “Chelsea’s building is beautiful, but we’ve found physical limitations. I love the flexibility in Westport’s plans. The potential to engage people, do exciting things and have an impact on the community are enormous.”

The Westport Library provides a warm home for all.

The Westport Library provides a warm home for all.

One of those “exciting things” occurred on his very first day of work. Salman Rushdie agreed to give the Malloy Lecture in the Arts in October. Harmer takes no credit for that coup — it was in the works before he arrived — but it was a vivid reminder that in this town, and with this library’s staff, “people make things happen.”

He’s spending his first weeks getting the lay of the land: talking personally with employees and patrons, learning the budget, figuring next steps for the Maker Space.

He’s also immersing himself in Westport. He’s meeting with Rotary clubs. Miggs Burroughs gave him a “Tunnel Vision” tour.

Jeff Wieser showed off the Gillespie Center. “I love what it does, and that it’s right across the street from us,” Harmer says. He’s made plans for his staff to prepare and serve a meal there.

Harmer is learning about the Y, Senior Center, Chamber of Commerce, Downtown Merchants Association and Arts Center. He hopes to collaborate with town organizations as much as possible.

He’s grateful for the “well-oiled machine” that Bleiweis left, and her “incredible legacy.”

He knows he’s filling big shoes. He knows too that expectations are high. Fortunately, Harmer says, “there are plenty of outstanding people, in the library and the community, to make sure we keep innovating and making a difference.”

Bill Harmer arrived in Westport in time for the summer Book Sale.

Bill Harmer arrived in Westport in time for the summer Book Sale.

Every move — career and personal — is filled with challenges. Was there one moment when Harmer realized that — despite those challenges — he’d made a good decision to come here?

It came quickly, he says. He decided to come a week before his official start date, to see what the huge Summer Book Sale was all about. An easy 2-day, 2-car drive east with his wife and 3 children ended with a horrendous, Friday traffic jam on I-95.

That evening coincided with the library staff’s annual Compo cookout. After 2 hours of gridlock, the family’s nerves were frayed. Just to be social, they headed to the beach.

“Before we set foot on the sand, a dozen staff members swept in,” Harmer says with awe. “They fed us, gave us a warm welcome, and made us feel part of their family.

“We saw the entire staff. There was a breeze, and a beautiful sunset. As we drove away, my wife and I knew we’d made the right move.”

 

 

Smokin’ The Westport Blues

As a new member of the Westport Downtown Merchants Association 8 years ago, Bob LeRose wanted to make an impact on the area.

LeRose — the “Bobby” of Bobby Q’s restaurant — zeroed in on his 2 passions: barbecue and music.

The result — organized in conjunction with the DMA, 2nd selectman Shelly Kassen, the Westport Library and Levitt Pavilion — was the 1st-ever Blues, Views & BBQ Festival.

The name might be a bit clunky — what’s up with “views”? — but it quickly became a fixture of the downtown late-summer scene. Its attraction spread far beyond Westport — kind of like Festival Italiano — but like that Saugatuck celebration of yore, it’s still ours.

Westport's Emergency Medical Services staff participated in last yeear's hotly contested barbecue competition.

Westport’s Emergency Medical Services staff participated in last year’s hotly contested barbecue competition.

The 8th annual Blues, Views & BBQ Festival is set for Labor Day weekend (September 5 and 6) at the Levitt Pavilion and library and Imperial Avenue parking lots.

Once again, there’s kick-ass music (including Westport’s own Rock & Roll Hall of Famer Mark Naftalin); cooking demonstrations by top local chefs (including Da Pietro’s, Vespa and of course Bobby Q’s); rib- and pie-eating contests; bull riding; a drum circle; kids’ activities (from bounce houses to face painting), and the very popular Kansas City Barbeque Society competition.

The Levitt Pavilion is the perfect spot to hear great, get-up-and-move blues. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

The Levitt Pavilion is the perfect spot to hear great, get-up-and-move blues. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

A specialty food court is filled with wood-fired, grilled and roasted meats, and handcrafted beer.

New this year: a “People’s Choice Wing Contest.” Whole Foods is donating the goods.

I’ve heard a few snarky comments about the price (tickets range from $30 for Sunday bought in advance, to $85 for a two-day pass bought onsite). Children under 12 are free with a paying adult.

But the event sells out. And plenty of out-of-towners seem thrilled to be there.

This couple was VERY happy to be at the Blues, Views & BBQ Festival. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

This couple was VERY happy to be at the Blues, Views & BBQ Festival. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

More importantly, it’s a way for the DMA to continue their great job of keeping downtown attractive and lively; promoting commerce, culture and community, and bringing something unique and fun to the area.

The DMA uses its funds to improve downtown. They also support other organizations like the Westport Woman’s Club, Rotary, Levitt, Library and First Night.

The Blues, Views & BBQ Festival does not fall out of the sky. It costs money to produce. There are bands and police to hire, port-a-potties and fencing to pay for, signs and programs to produce, tents to erect, and clean-up to be done.

Oh, yeah: rental for the Levitt too. (Plus sound guys, lighting guys, and ribs for the bands.)

Vegans are welcome at the Blues, Views & BBQ Festival. But meat-lovers will have an especially great time.

Vegans are welcome at the Blues, Views & BBQ Festival. But meat-lovers will have an especially great time.

It’s all worth it. As Bobby LeRose says, “Thousands of people support this event each year. We get support from everyone. We see smiles all around. People are so happy with the music, food, activities and sense of community.

“You just don’t see this caliber of talent on one stage for the price we charge this close to home, in our beautiful and intimate Levitt Pavilion.”

Westport was recently named one of Connecticut’s 10 Most Boring Towns. Any of the thousands of happy folks who ever heard 2 days of fantastic music, scarfed down ribs, ridden a bull or done anything else fun at the Blues, Views & BBQ Festival would beg to differ.

(The 8th annual Blues, Views & BBQ Festival is set for Saturday, September 5 [11 a.m.-10 p.m.] and Sunday, September 6 [11 a.m.-9 p.m.] For ticket options, daily schedule, and entry forms for the eating and BBQ competitions, click on www.bluesviewsbbq.com.) 

BBQ_FEST_Logo

Westport Welcomes Salman Rushdie

In 1989, Ayatollah Khomeini called for the assassination of Salman Rushdie. Iran’s supreme leader decreed that the British Indian author’s 4th novel — The Satanic Verses — blasphemed and mocked Islam.

Rushdie went into hiding, and received police protection. In 1998, President Mohammad Khatami’s government finally said it no longer supported Rushdie’s death — but the fatwa remains in place.

Things should be calm — but very interesting — on Thursday, October 22. Rushdie will be in the Staples High School auditorium at 7:30 that evening, delivering the Westport Library‘s annual Malloy Lecture in the Arts.

Salman Rushdie/© Beowulf Sheehan www.beowulfsheehan.com

Salman Rushdie/© Beowulf Sheehan http://www.beowulfsheehan.com

Rushdie has a lot to talk about. Known now as much for his human rights advocacy as for his writing, he holds honorary doctorates and fellowships from 12 European and American universities. He’s an honorary professor in the humanities at MIT, and distinguished writer-in-residence at Emory University.

Rushide is president of the PEN World Voices International Literary Festival, which he helped create, and was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II. His books have been translated into over 40 languages.

The annual Malloy Lecture is made possible by a generous contribution from Westport artist Susan Malloy. This will be the library’s first since her death in April.

Admission is free. However, tickets are required. (Click here to register.) Copies of Rushdie’s latest novel — Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights, set for publication next month — are available for pre-purchase at a special price with registration. Books may be autographed after the lecture. 

 

Down By The River

It’s a beloved tradition: In mid-July, the Westport Downtown Merchants Association  hosts a Fine Arts Festival on Parker Harding Plaza and Gorham Island.

Across the Post Road, the Westport Library fills a jinormous tent with over 80,000 items, for its annual books (and much more) sale.

Part of the tradition: It’s always held on the hottest day of the year.

Today marks a nice break from that tradition. Rain did not keep 300 folks from lining up before the book sale opened. Every artist, sculptor and photographer was good to go too.

By mid-afternoon the clouds lifted. Over 3,000 books-and-more lovers hauled boxes and bags to their cars. A similar number strolled along the river, admiring (and buying) artwork.

The 42nd annual Fine Arts Festival continues tomorrow (Sunday, July 19) 10 a.m.-5 p.m..

The “Bookstravaganza” continues tomorrow and Monday (July 19-20), 9 a.m.-6 p.m. It ends Tuesday (July 21), 9 a.m.-1 p.m.

Scores of artists invited art-lovers to admire their works.

Scores of artists invited art-lovers to admire their works…

...like this painting...

…like this painting…

...and this piece of glass.

…and this piece of glass.

Parker Harding Plaza is a great location for the art show. The river provides a welcoming backdrop -- and permanent art lines the walkway.

Parker Harding Plaza is a great location for the art show. The river provides a welcoming backdrop — and permanent art lines the walkway.

Living art was on display too this afternoon.

Living art was on display too this afternoon.

Noted art patrons Bill Scheffler and Ann Sheffer enjoyed the show today, with Ann's daughter Betty Stolpen (she works at the Whitney Museum) and her friend Matt Glick.

Noted art patrons Bill Scheffler and Ann Sheffer enjoyed the show today, with Ann’s daughter Betty Stolpen (she works at the Whitney Museum) and her friend Matt Glick.

Meanwhile, at the Westport Library book sale, there was something for everyone...

Meanwhile, at the Westport Library book sale, there was something for everyone…

...no matter what your taste in books ... (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

…no matter what your taste in books … (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

... or magazines. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

… or magazines. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

New library director Bill Harmer does not officially begin until July 27. But he was at the book sale today, checking out the legendary event.

New library director Bill Harmer does not officially begin until July 27. But he was at the book sale today, checking out the legendary event.

One satisfied customer, among thousands.

One satisfied customer, among thousands.

 

 

Christy Colasurdo Celebrates Connecticut’s Farm Tables

Christy Colasurdo  says her son Charlie was “somehow born to be a farmer and environmentalist.” To ensure that other kids would have a place to learn where their food comes from, how to care for animals, what it means to recycle and compost, and just spend time in nature — Christy got involved with Wakeman Town Farm.

While Charlie apprenticed at local farms, Christy — a former New York magazine editor — began writing about the farm-to-table movement. That led to her launch of Graze (now called The Simple Scallion), a service that delivers milk, eggs and the like from small farms to people’s front doors.

Christy Colasurdo

Christy Colasurdo

Christy admires and respects the endless hours of hard work farmers put in: working the land; handling weather, pests and disease; marketing their products; packing and unpacking wares at farmers’ markets, and (these are not farmers of yore) navigating social media to educate people about good seasonal food.

While getting Graze off the ground, Christy met Tracey Medeiros. She’d just published a book about Vermont’s farm-to-table scene.

Christy described Fairfield County, where fantastic chefs are partnering with local farmers, fishermen, oystermen and honey connoisseurs.

A new book was born. Christy identified restaurants, chefs and farmers, then wrote the profiles. Tracey and a tester tried hundreds of the chefs’ best recipes.

A year and a half later, The Connecticut Farm Table Cookbook is a beautiful homage/culinary travelogue. From Greenwich to Groton, Norwalk to Litchfield, Christy and Tracey tell great stories, using intriguing stories and stunning photos.

And, of course, mouth-watering recipes.

Preparing a recipe at the Westport Farmers' Market. (Photo/Oliver Parini)

Preparing a recipe at the Westport Farmers’ Market. (Photo/Oliver Parini)

Among the local places and recipes:

  • The Whelk and Le Farm (deviled eggs with cornmeal, fried oysters and pickled red onion)
  • Blue Lemon (fresh peach tart)
  • Gilbertie’s Herb Gardens (Brussels sprouts and petite edibles)
  • Saugatuck Craft Butchery (slow-roasted porchetta with cilantro and smoked paprika; dry-aged steak tartare crostini with pickled garden turnips)
  • SoNo Baking Company and Cafe (strawberry frangipane tartlets; caramel-apple tart)
  • Tarry Lodge (rosa bianca eggplant caponata)
  • Terrain (salt-roasted beets with blood oranges, pistachios and goat cheese salad)
  • Westport Farmers’ Market (various vendors)
  • Wakeman Town Farm (chipotle veggie chili)

Christy Colasurdo book“The chef/farmer relationship often goes unheralded,” Christy says. “Yet it’s exponentially more difficult for a chef to source from small local and organic farms and fishermen than from a large commercial supplier.

“It’s a lot easier to let the Sysco truck pull to the back door,” she adds. “Instead, they get out to the farmers’ market. They take ‘field trips’ to local organic farms. They forge old-fashioned relationships with their suppliers that often include bailing out a farmer with too much zucchini or kale, or asking the farmer to plant special crops like Peruvian purple potatoes or Asian specialty greens, just for their restaurants.”

The Connecticut Farm Table Cookbook is available at Terrain and Barnes & Noble. This Thursday, July 9 (10 a.m.) there’s a talk at the Westport Library. At 10:45, Christy and Tracey will stroll over to the Farmers’ Market. Local farmers and vendors featured in the book will be introduced, and Tracey will give a recipe demo using fresh market produce.

Get set for a delightful, delicious day.

Howard Munce Turns 100!

Westport’s famous artists — and Famous Artists School — have come and gone.

The “Mad Men” era — the real 1950s and ’60s ad agency scene, and the TV show celebrating it — are both just memories.

But Howard Munce endures.

Howard Munce, in his 90s. (Photo/Kristen Rasich Fox)

Howard Munce, in his 90s. (Photo/Kristen Rasich Fox)

In a town long known for its great artists, illustrators and painters, he’s a towering figure. Advertising director, graphic designer, sculptor, cartoonist, book author, teacher — and, above all, longtime and beloved civic volunteer — Munce turns 100 on November 27.

The Westport Historical Society — one of the many organizations he’s served so well for so long — has the perfect gift: his own show.

“Howard Munce at 100: A Centennial Celebration” opened June 29. A gala reception is set for this Sunday (July 12, 4-6 p.m.).

Howard Munce at work.

Howard Munce at work.

It’s hard to capture a century of life — and 8 decades of professional work and life in Westport — in the walls of one building. But the WHS tries.

The exhibit is curated by Leonard Everett Fisher, Munce’s longtime friend. In his 90s himself, he’s the perfect choice to organize the show.

There are 2 parts. The Sheffer Gallery showcases Munce’s paintings, drawings, illustrations and sculptures.

The Mollie Donovan Gallery chronicles his Westport connections as a young artist (he first came here in 1935); his military service, when he sent illustrated letters to his Westport artist friend Stevan Dohanos; Munce’s Pulitzer Prize nomination for his essay on the folly of war; his role in a legendary ad campaign for Rheingold beer, and his community involvement.

The exhibit includes documentary films, interviews, photographs by Laurence Untermeyer, and a lenticular photo of Munce by Miggs Burroughs.

It’s dedicated to Munce’s wife Gerry. She died in November, but her memory is vivid to all who knew and loved her.

Howard Munce has worn many hats. (Photo by Brian Ferry for Harry's)

Howard Munce has worn many hats. (Photo by Brian Ferry for Harry’s)

Munce’s resume is beyond impressive. Trained at Pratt Institute, he was a Young & Rubicam art director beginning in the late 1940s — after World War II, when he saw action as a Marine platoon sergeant at Guadalcanal.

Munce is professor emeritus at Paier College of Art; honorary president of the Society of Illustrators in New York City, and an honorary board member of the Westport Arts Center. For over 25 years, he volunteered as graphics director for the Westport Library, and — with Fisher — co-curated the black-and-white drawings by Westport artists in its McManus Room.

But those are facts. Far more important is Munce’s humanity.

Whenever he is asked to help — donating dozens of paintings and illustrations to the Permanent Art Collection; curating exhibits for the WHS; mentoring young artists — he always says “of course.” With a sparkle in his eye, a smile on his face, and a handshake as firm as a 20-year-old’s.

Until a couple of years ago, he clambered up ladders to make sure every exhibit he oversaw was properly hung.

At 99, Howard Munce no longer climbs ladders. Then again, he doesn’t have to.

He long ago reached the top.

BONUS FACT: In 2008, Howard Munce was grand marshal of the Memorial Day parade. Here’s his speech: 

 

Goodbye And Hello

As sad as Westport is to see Maxine Bleiweis go — and we are very sad — we’re not the only town sorry to lose its library director.

The Chelsea District Library bids farewell to Bill Harmer. And throughout Michigan, the tributes are pouring in.

Board president Elizabeth Sensoli calls him “brilliant … his talent and spirit have made our library a very special place … I will miss his unquenchable enthusiasm and ‘out of the box’ thinking.”

Trustee Robin Wagner adds, “Bill is a remarkable leader, driven by a contagious passion for continuously improving the library experience for guests, staff and community. Bill’s constant focus is understanding what is this library today, envisioning how can it be better tomorrow, and wondering how to get there sooner than tomorrow.”

Well, Chelsea’s loss is Westport’s gain. All those plaudits are for the Westport Library’s new director.

Harmer takes over from Bleiweis on July 27. Sounds like we’ve got ourselves another world-class winner.

Bill Harmer

Bill Harmer

“Maxine, We Already Miss You!”

More than 400 of Maxine Bleiweis’s closest friends packed the Westport Library tonight, to bid a fond farewell to their favorite library director.

From the Maker Space (“people thought I’d lost my mind when I brought that in,” Maxine joked) to the tables where puzzles and chess sets often entice users, boldface names and “regular” patrons sat together — as they always do there. All were united in their love of the library, and the leader who is leaving after 17 years.

Like Beyoncé or Pele, Maxine needs only one name. And like those superstars, she is one of a kind.

Maxine does it all.

Maxine does it all.

Diane Wildman expressed the sentiments of many in the crowd.

Dianne Wildman expressed the sentiments of many in the crowd.

Tech guru David Pogue -- who joked that Maxine got him involved in the Westport Library before he even moved from Stamford -- performed an original (and never-to-be-heard again) number:

Tech guru David Pogue — who joked that Maxine got him involved in the Westport Library even before he moved from Stamford — performed an original (and never-to-be-heard again) number: “The Bleiweis Zone.”

A small part of the large crowd tonight. Some stood on the balcony above.

A small part of the large crowd tonight. Some stood on the balcony above.

New York Times crossword puzzle editor Will Shortz presented Maxine with a special gift (see below).

New York Times crossword puzzle editor Will Shortz presented Maxine with a special gift (see below).

Shortz's gift was a word game, in which every 2-word answer starts with the letters

Shortz’s gift was a word game, in which every 2-word answer starts with the letters “MB.” Each includes a circled letter. When read in order, you’ll never guess what they spell!

Westport's state legislators Jonathan Steinberg, Tony Hwang and Gail Lavielle were in the house (Toni Boucher was also there, meeting a constituent). Steinberg presented Maxine with a  proclamation signed by

Westport’s state legislators Jonathan Steinberg, Tony Hwang and Gail Lavielle were in the house (Toni Boucher was also there, meeting a constituent). Steinberg presented Maxine with a proclamation signed by “a governor who tried to cut library funding.” Hwang praised her for educating him on the vital importance of public libraries.

Maxine said that she was almost speechless -- in English. So instead she pronounced herself

Maxine said that she was almost speechless — in English. So instead she pronounced herself “verklempt.”

Down By the Riverside

Today’s weather is not exactly the get-outside-and-enjoy type.

But a couple of days ago, it was. Westporters did.

And alert “06880” reader/photographer Fred Cantor was there — at the Riverwalk — to capture them.

Rodin's "The Thinker"? No, Cantor's "The Reader."

Rodin’s “The Thinker”? No, Cantor’s “The Reader.”

A late lunch, and great light.

A late lunch, and a great view.

Fred Cantor - 3

Not an abandoned bicycle. The rider walked down the nearby steps, to the water’s edge.