Category Archives: People

Remember “Kunepiam”?

A couple of weeks ago, I posted a story about a strange engraving, on an equally strange door, set in the brick wall that separates the train station parking lot from the lovely Stony Point homes just beyond it.

The engraving said “Kunepiam.” It was surrounded by what look like Native American pictograms, and perhaps settlers.

Kunepiam

No one was quite sure where it came from, or what it meant. “06880” readers thought it might have been part of witchcraft; perhaps a Christian symbol; maybe even more modern than anyone imagined. Mary Palmieri Gai wondered if it came from the Native American word meaning “long water land,” which Quinnipiac College was named after.

Yesterday, the Westport Library research department posted the definitive answer. Most readers may have missed it — they were busy mourning the impending end of Mario’s, just across the tracks — so here is the complete result of what the researchers found.

But first, cue the applause for our library!

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We started working on this question a few weeks ago when we saw this post. We are happy to report that “kunepiam” is derived from the Algonquin word “koonepeam,” meaning “thou art welcome.”

Our success in finding this answer was due to the extra effort made by Lucianne Lavin, director of research and collections at the Institute for American Indian Studies in Washington, Connecticut. She reached out to Carl Masthay, retired medical editor, linguist, and Algonquianist, who in turn reached out to Dr. Ives Goddard, a nationally known professional, senior linguist and curator in the anthropology department at the Smithsonian Institution. He was the linguistic and technical editor for the Handbook of North American Indians, and is a specialist in Algonquian languages.

Here is Dr. Goddard’s answer:

Westport Library logo“If (considering the picture at 06880, Westport, Conn.) you look up “welcome” in Trumbull’s Natick Dictionary [page 343], you find koonepeam ‘(thou art) welcome’ (cited from Josiah Cotton, with no page [1830]). I type “oo” for Eliot’s digraph (rendered “8” in Goddard & Bragdon: Native Writings in Massachusett, 1988). Some knowledgeable person has slightly re-spelled this, perhaps someone at the Bureau of American Ethnology that a letter was referred to. The word is a calque* on the English (“you come well”) but perhaps in use in Cotton’s day. “

[Ives Goddard, pers. com., 25 March 2015. Carl Masthay’s note: “Natick” is now referred to as “Massachusett.” Morphemes**: k-ooni-pia-m ‘you-well-come-animate.final’.]

Mr. Masthay suggested that a small plate be installed next to the stone to help “clear up this issue for eternity.”

Please reach out to us for any follow-up questions or reference questions in general!

– Susan Luchars, Margie Frelich-Den, and Dennis Barrow, Reference Department, Westport Public Library 203 291 4840, ref@westportlibrary.org

*The meaning of “calque”: a loan translation, especially one resulting from bilingual interference in which the internal structure of a borrowed word or phrase is maintained but its morphemes are replaced by those of the native language, as German halbinsel for peninsula. (Dictionary.com)

**The meaning of “morpheme”: any of the minimal grammatical units of a language, each constituting a word or meaningful part of a word, that cannot be divided into smaller independent grammatical parts, as the, write, or the -ed of waited (Dictionary.com)

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Amazing. Now all we need to know is:

  • How do you pronounce it?
  • And how did it get there?

Mario’s: One More Time

Mario’s owner Lori Kosut confirmed this afternoon that the sale of the beloved restaurant will be finalized in “a couple of weeks.”

As reported yesterday, the 48-year-old Saugatuck landmark will eventually have a new look, menu and name: Harvest.

It won’t happen for a while. In the meantime — thanks to Westport native/superb photographer Lynn U. Miller — here’s one more look at the spot that long ago assumed a mythical place in Westport lore.

Mario's front - Lynn U Miller

The menu, in the front window.

The menu, in the front window.

Dinner was packed, earlier this week.

Dinner was packed, earlier this week.

Smiling host Paul Tolentino graduated from Staples in 1971.

Smiling host Paul Tolentino graduated from Staples in 1971.

(Photos/Lynn U. Miller)

(Photos/Lynn U. Miller)

 

Pedro Da Silva’s Legacy

Two years ago — as a Central High School sophomore — Pedro Da Silva heard an announcement about Open Choice.

“I think I was the only one who listened,” he says, referring to the lottery that brings Bridgeport students to Westport.

Though he was in Central’s magnet school program, Pedro wanted more. “It was a tough environment to learn in,” he explains.

He was accepted. Even before his 1st day as a Staples High School junior, he noticed a difference.

Staples sealWhile registering for classes, guidance counselor Deb Slocum  “ran over the entire building, looking for an AP US History textbook for me,” Pedro says. “She went to such a huge extent to help.”

When school began, he noticed a great academic difference. He had to drop a couple of AP and Honors classes. Even so, he struggled to keep up.

“In Contemporary World Issues they were talking about the Ottoman Empire,” Pedro recalls. “I had no idea what that was.”

He wrote down everything that was unfamiliar. At home each night, he researched what he did not know.

The first month was tough. Fortunately, Pedro found his new classmates very friendly. “I thought they might be snobby,” he says. “But everyone was so nice. I noticed the atmosphere immediately. It’s so warm and inviting. Mr. Dodig (the principal) has built such an accepting school.”

Joining Staples Players and Choir helped too. “At Staples you’re not judged for liking the arts,” he says with relief.

Pedro Da Silva, standing proudly at Staples.

Pedro Da Silva, standing proudly at Staples.

Pedro acted in “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” and last year’s One-Act Festival. Next month, he’s directing a One-Act. In the winter he’s on the swim team. He’s vice president of the St. Jude’s Charity Club.

Now — as he prepares to graduate in June — Pedro wants to do one more thing.

He wants to leave a legacy.

Through a college application Facebook group, he met a boy in Kansas. “He lives in an area like Fairfield County, where some communities are much more affluent than others,” Pedro says. His friend created an inter-district student government. Each school sends 2 representatives. They meet monthly, sharing ideas about connecting their schools while breaking down barriers and social stereotypes.

Pedro would love to do the same thing with Westport, Fairfield and Bridgeport.

“Stereotypes are not real,” he notes. “There are really nice people everywhere.”

Central HSWhen Pedro announced he was leaving Central, his Bridgeport friends warned him that Westport kids could be snobs. Staples students have their own ideas about Bridgeport students.

“We’re all just teenagers going through the same issues,” Pedro says. “We should be able to advocate together, and learn from each other.”

Pedro has already made a start. He’s brought Central friends here, to see Players shows. Now, he’s talking to Dodig and the Student Assembly to move his idea forward.

Meanwhile, he’s waiting to hear back from colleges. And he’s gearing up for his senior internship, at the Southwest Regional Mental Health Board in Norwalk.

Pedro will leave Staples with many good friends, wonderful memories, and an important lesson.

“No matter who you are, or what your background is, you can excel,” he says. “At Staples, I’ve been able to set my sights high, and learn how to accomplish as much as I can.”

Goodbye, Mario’s. Hello, Harvest

The rumors careening around town are true: Mario’s is being sold.

The legendary restaurant/bar — a Saugatuck mainstay since 1967 — will change hands soon. A new name, cuisine and interior will follow. The deal could be finalized tomorrow morning.

New owners Kleber, Nube and Vicente Siguenza own 5 restaurants in Fairfield and New Haven Counties (including 55 Degrees in Fairfield).

Mario's: A Westport legend.

Mario’s: A Westport legend.

Mario’s will remain as it is for the next year. It will then transform into Harvest Wine Bar — similar to the Siguenzas’ restaurant of the same name in Greenwich. Harvest offers modern American custom cuisine with Asian, Latin and Mediterranean influences, plus an extensive wine list. Harvest supports local, organic farms.

Mario’s — the official name was Mario’s Place, but no one called it that — was opened by Frank “Tiger” DeMace and Mario Sacco. Its across-from-the-train-station location was perfect for commuters looking for a drink and dinner. Wives picking up their husbands stopped in too.

Marios logoMario’s quickly became a beloved family restaurant. Its menu — featuring enormous steaks, popular Italian dishes and large salads — seldom changed. Neither did the comfortable, homey decor. That was part of its charm.

For nearly 50 years Mario’s has been Westport’s go-to place to celebrate birthdays, anniversaries and promotions — or commiserate over job losses and divorces.

Mario died in 2009.

Tiger died in 2012. His daughter Lori now co-owns Mario’s, with her brother Dominic DeMace.

“My father told us to keep it for a year, but not worry about having to sell it,” Lori said this afternoon. “The restaurant was his journey, not ours.”

Frank "Tiger" DeMace

Frank “Tiger” DeMace

It’s been 3 years since Tiger’s death. Lori and her husband Fletcher have a 6-year-old daughter.

“It’s time,” Lori said. “I love Mario’s — the customers, the staff — but times have changed. It was a long, hard decision. But my father didn’t make us feel we had to keep it.”

Rumors have swirled for years that all of Railroad Place — with Mario’s smack in the middle — will be torn down, as part of Saugatuck’s Phase III renewal.

Lori and Dominic own the Mario’s building. The Siguenzas will operate Harvest on a long-term lease.

The rest of Railroad Place is owned by a different landlord. What will actually happen across from the station is pure speculation.

Meanwhile — 3.5 miles north — other rumors have the Red Barn being sold to the Westport Family Y.

The Y did not comment.

Marios placemat

40 Years, 40 Photos Of Sherwood Island

Larry Silver is well known for his iconic Longshore shots.

But the very talented Westport photographer has spent countless hours a couple of miles away at Sherwood Island too. That’s Westport’s out-of-sight, out-of-mind beach.

Tomorrow (Friday, March 27), the Westport Library introduces “Sherwood Island, 1975-2015″: more than 40 of Silver’s images, from the past 40 years.

"Woman With Boombox" -- Larry Silver, 1980.

“Woman With Boombox” — Larry Silver, 1980.

The photos show the changing styles of visitors to Connecticut’s 1st state park — and its timelessness. The shots — in black and white, and digital color; in every season, all over the park — are classics.

One of the library photos — “Sunset at Sherwood Island State Park” — is included in the Smithsonian Museum of American Art’s permanent collection.

"Man Barbecuing Next to Black and White Umbrella" -- Larry Silver, 2014.

“Man Barbecuing Next to Black and White Umbrella” — Larry Silver, 2014.

Every Westporter knows where the library is. Not everyone knows Sherwood Island — the overlooked gem right on our coast.

After Larry Silver’s exhibit, no one can forget it.

"Couple Photographing Children in Water" -- Larry Silver, 2014.

“Couple Photographing Children in Water” — Larry Silver, 2014.

New Taxes On Tap Via “County Government”?

Fairfield is a county in name only. Since 1960 — when the General Assembly abolished county governments — Connecticut’s 8 counties are about as useful as your appendix. The only reason they still exist, really, is to organize our judicial system.

Fairfield County is not the same as a proposed regional "Council of Government." But it would add another administrative layer to the state.

Fairfield County is not the same as a proposed regional “Council of Government.” But it would add another administrative layer to the state.

Except — according to State Representative Gail Lavielle — state legislators may introduce a new layer of taxing authority in the state. It may not officially be based on county governments (“regional Council of Governments” is the term) — but the effect would be the same.

Lavielle — who represents Westport, Wilton and Norwalk — says that if passed, SB 1 (“An Act Concerning Tax Fairness and Economic Development”) would establish a “regional property tax base revenue sharing system.”

She writes:

Each municipality would remit part of its local property taxes to its regional Council of Governments, which would in turn redistribute those funds among all of its member towns and cities, according to a formula that takes into account factors including each municipality’s population and property value.

Some towns would gain revenues; others would lose.

Lavielle says that in 2013 — when the General Assembly imposed the COG structure on all regional planning organizations — there was much discussion about its implications. The bill’s proponents assured Lavielle and others that COGs would not be responsible for property taxation issues on a regional basis, or any other level, she says.

But, she adds: “That assurance is not upheld in SB 1.”

(Hat tip: Bart Shuldman)

Chabad Grows Into Its New Home

Three years ago, Chabad Lubavitch of Westport bought the old, abandoned Three Bears Restaurant. An “06880” story — including neighbors’ complaints of renovation work done prior to the permitting process — drew a record 217 comments.

Three years later, Chabad is preparing a moderate expansion plan. All is going smoothly — so well, in fact, that neighbors are ready to toast “L’chaim!”

Chabad Lubavitch's home -- formerly the Three Bears, as seen from Newtown Turnpike.

Chabad Lubavitch’s home — the old Three Bears, as seen from Newtown Turnpike.

Though it’s called “Chabad of Westport,” the local branch of the international group serves Weston, Wilton and Norwalk too. The old Three Bears property — at the intersection of Wilton Road and Newtown Turnpike — is centrally located for all 4 towns.

It was Chabad’s 1st true local home. The organization — whose aim is to enhance Jewish life through programs, social services and worship — had rented a variety of sites for 18 years, including Ketchum Street, the Westport Woman’s Club and Camp Mahackeno.

Chabad has flourished. It runs a religious school, teen and adult programs, and a summer camp (at Coleytown Elementary School). Recently, they hosted a festive Purim party.

Another view of Chabad, looking toward Wilton Road.

Another view of Chabad, looking toward Wilton Road.

The new addition will enhance Chabad’s services — and the neighborhood — say Rabbi Yehudah Leib Kantor and Peter Greenberg (a Chabad member and partner in Able Construction, who is doing the project at cost). The architect is Robert Storm.

The historic nature of the building — including, importantly, its street-facing facade — will be protected. New construction will be in “the New England vernacular” — fieldstone and shingles — blending in with what’s already there.

The additions and renovations — enlarging the current 9,000 square feet by 4,000 more — will take place in the back. A new 300-person sanctuary will double as a function hall for holiday events, and bar and bat mitzvahs (right now, Chabad rents the Westport Woman’s Club.) The religious school will be housed in the lower level.

A rendering of the addition.

A rendering of the addition, as seen from Newtown Turnpike.

Also planned: a new lobby, kitchen and elevator. The interior of the existing building will be “freshened up,” Greenberg says.

The 100-car parking lot entrance closest to Wilton Road has been closed. That should ease traffic by the light.

The back of the parking lot, meanwhile, will be raised slightly, to protect nearby wetlands.

Another rendering -- parking lot view.

Another rendering — parking lot view.

Chabad has already presented plans to Westport’s Flood and Erosion Control Board. Ahead are more panels, including Conservation, and Planning & Zoning.

A variance for coverage will be needed from the Zoning Board of Appeals. This is routine, Greenberg says, for nearly every church, synagogue, school and commercial property.

“This is a community project,” the rabbi notes. Funding comes entirely from area residents. Feedback from neighbors has been very positive, he and Greenberg say.

Chabad hopes for approvals within 3 to 4 months, with construction completed by next spring.

From their lips to you-know-who’s ears.

Real Pugsley Pumps Up Coleytown’s “Addams Family”

What do you do after you’ve acted in 2 huge New York musicals: “The Addams Family” and “Shrek”?

You help middle school kids put on those same shows.

And — if you’re Adam Riegler, in Westport — that’s hardly a comedown.

Adam Riegler (right) in "The Addams Family." (Photo/Joan Marcus for Broadway.com)

Adam Riegler (right) in “The Addams Family.” (Photo/Joan Marcus for Broadway.com)

Riegler’s the Staples High School junior who — while still at Saugatuck El — played young Shrek, then followed up as Pugsley (he did online schooling and tutoring in lieu of Bedford Middle).

It was a fantastic experience. But Broadway roles for teenagers are rare, so Riegler is now a normal 11th grader.

He’s known Ben Frimmer — the director of Coleytown Company — for years. Last year, when “Shrek: The Musical” became available for schools, Frimmer asked Adam to help.

The duo clicked. So this year, as Frimmer prepared for “Addams Family,” the partnership was a natural.

Riegler’s official title is “associate director.” He helps run rehearsals, and works with individual actors.

A pair of Pugsleys: Adam Riegler (right) works with Coleytown's Oscar Hechter.

A pair of Pugsleys: Adam Riegler (right) works with Coleytown’s Oscar Hechter. (Photo/Kerry Foley)

Oscar Hechter — Coleytown’s Pugsley — is a 6th grader. “That’s young!” marvels 5-years-older Riegler. “I’m helping him bring out his character. Like, his song at the end of Act I — it’s really emotional, but in a comic way. We talk about how to do that.”

“Addams Family” includes several scenes with fathers and daughters. “These kids have no experience with being old,” Riegler notes. “Mr. Frimmer and I are working on making it natural — not ‘acting.'”

The middle schoolers have heard that Riegler was on Broadway, but most of them don’t really understand how impressive that is. One boy did — and said he was glad not to have known that before his audition.

The best educations work both ways. Riegler says he is learning too: how to work with children, with actors in general, and how to be a director.

Riegler is keeping busy in other ways too. He’s going for film and TV auditions, hoping for his next big role.

This weekend though, he’ll be in the Coleytown auditorium, as proud as any parent in the house.

(Two other Staples students are working on the Coleytown show: Johnny Donovan is assistant director, while Jane Schutte is assisting with choreography. “The Addams Family” is performed this Thursday, Friday and Saturday [March 27, 28 and 29, 7 p.m.], at Coleytown Middle School. For tickets and more information, click on http://www.showtix4u.com [search for “Westport”], or call 203-341-1666.)

Coleytown Company's "Addams Family" cast includes (clockwise from left): Anella Lefebvre (Morticia), Georgia Wright (Gomez), Maggie Foley (Wednesday) and Oscar Hechter (Pugsley).

Coleytown Company’s “Addams Family” cast includes (clockwise from left): Anella Lefebvre (Morticia), Georgia Wright (Gomez), Maggie Foley (Wednesday) and Oscar Hechter (Pugsley). (Photo/Kerry Foley)

Remembering Walt Reed

Walt Reed’s death last week, at 97, marks the end of one more link to Westport’s arts colony past.

Reed — a leading illustrator, art historian and author of books on illustration and illustrators, including fellow Westporter Harold von Schmidt — founded the Illustration House gallery here in 1974. One of the 1st of its kind, the company is now headquartered in New York.

Walt Reed, in his Westport studio.

Walt Reed, in his Westport studio.

“Walt was a wonderful, quiet, sweet, mild man who taught us all a lot about the early Westport illustrators,” says Eve Potts, who worked closely with him on a number of projects.

“Walt was always willing to share his knowledge, always helpful no matter how small or large the task you asked him to help with.”

James Gurney says: “Genial, good-natured and enthusiastic, he almost single-handedly pioneered illustration history as a field of research. He legitimized original illustration artwork as a category for collectors.”

One of Walt Reed's books on the history of illustration.

One of Walt Reed’s books on the history of illustration.

Reed was born in Texas. He went to art school at Pratt. During World War II he was a conscientious objector, working instead in the Dakotas for the government. After the war, he aided in European reconstruction efforts.

In the 1950s Reed was an instructor at Westport-based Famous Artists School. In 2012, the Norman Rockwell Museum honored him with its 1st-ever Distinguished Scholar Award.

The last time Potts saw Reed was at the opening of a Westport Historical Society exhibit on stamps produced by Westport artists.

He was part of that group. In 1976, he’d created a series of 50 stamps depicting state flags, to honor the American bicentennial.

(For an in-depth story on Walt Reed’s influence on the art world, click here.)

Finding America’s Best Folk Art, Right Here At Home

You’d expect one of the world’s most extensive collections of American folk art carvings to be housed in a museum — the Wadsworth Atheneum perhaps, or the Smithsonian.

It’s not.

Bob Levine shows off a wood carving of General Custer.

Bob Levine shows off a wood carving of General Custer.

But you’d never guess that this amazing array of pieces — 800 wood carvings, of everyone from Pocahontas and Knute Rockne to Charles Lindbergh and Hillary Clinton — is right here in Westport.

In a private home. Whose owners have twice converted garage space into warm, artifact-filled rooms, now overflowing with American historical figures, events and icons.

Anne and Bob Levine married in 1987. She’s a 1964 Staples graduate; he’s a Brooklyn native who’s lived here since 1969.

A month after their wedding, they went to a Westport Arts Center exhibit on folk art. They knew  nothing about the subject. But Bob — who in addition to being a neurologist, author, former owner of Anacapri restaurant and marathon runner, was a woodcarver in his youth — and his wife were intrigued.

They bought a couple of inexpensive pieces. Then they added a few more items. Soon they were going to antique shows and auctions, and scouring eBay, building — without even realizing it – a world-class collection.

Today it spills through every room of their unpretentious home. From the outside, you’d never know it’s there. Once you step inside, it’s everywhere.

A visitor to the Levines' home is greeted by an array of Uncle Sams.

A visitor to the Levines’ home is greeted by an array of Uncle Sams.

The first thing you see is a collection of Uncle Sams, in every imaginable pose. A World War I piece shows Kaiser Wilhelm bowing at Sam’s feet.

One room contains perhaps America’s largest collection of whirligigs, along with frontier pieces. But the crown jewel is a fantastically detailed diorama of Franklin Roosevelt’s cabinet, bought at a Christie’s auction. Each member is individually carved. An electric chandelier shines overhead.

President Roosevelt -- and each of his cabinet members -- is carved in exquisite detail.

President Roosevelt — and each of his cabinet members — is carved in exquisite detail.

Most of the folk artists are self-taught. Few are well known. Most are dead. Woodcarving is a dying art, Levine says.

He and Anne show me John and Abigail Adams, Henry Clay, Sitting Bull. There are lots of Lincolns: Abe as a young man, as president, wearing classical garb. Nearby are Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, George Armstrong Custer.

“These are beautiful works of art,” Bob says. “But most of them were done just as a hobby, to give as gifts, or keep as decorations in the home.”

Each has a story. He shows off a carving of a Japanese soldier, surrendering in World War II. It was done by a disabled American soldier, as therapy. The piece rests atop a wooden box — where the soldier kept his medal.

There is great detail too in this carving of Pocahontas and John Smith.

There is great detail too in this carving of Pocahontas and John Smith.

In another room, Levine points to a carving of Ronald Reagan. It was created by a woman — a rarity in a male-dominated field — from Tennessee. In 2008, the Levines called her to commission a carving of President-elect Obama. They learned the artist — a full-time hairdresser — was semi-illiterate. She needed help sending it by mail.

The Levines commissioned another piece: a carving of the flag-raising in New York, after 9/11. That artist was losing his vision to macular degeneration. It was the last work he ever did.

The couple do not know every artist in their collection. Many are anonymous. But they know the story behind each piece — where they found this Thomas Edison, why there are so many carvings of show girls, how come William McKinley was so popular back in the day.

The Levines love their whirligigs -- movable wind toys.

The Levines love their whirligigs — movable wind toys.

There is hardly any room left in the Levines’ home for new works. Which is why Bob (who in retirement runs the neurology clinic at Norwalk Hospital, serves with Americares, and is writing 2 more books) and Anne (who after retiring from her job managing an architectural office volunteers for the Westport Historical Society, Westport Schools Permanent Arts Collection and Norwalk Hospital) are now giving away some of their precious collection.

It will go to the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, for a show next year.

That’s the oldest public art museum in America. However, Bob says, it has almost no folk art.

No wonder. The best collection in the country is 60 miles away, right here in Bob and Anne Levine’s Westport home.

Anne Levine stands with a life-size carving of Uncle Sam.

Anne Levine stands with a life-size carving of Uncle Sam.