Friday Flashback #138

One of my earliest childhood memories — I  was just 3 or 4 — is from a grocery store on Main Street.

My mother leaned down, pointed to a woman standing nearby and said, “Danny, remember this. That’s Helen Keller.”

Helen Keller

It’s an urban (suburban) myth that Helen Keller lived in Westport. Her house — “Arcan Ridge” — was actually on Redding Road in Easton, near the corner of Route 136.

But 136 is called also called Westport Road in Easton. And when the remarkable deaf-blind author, political activist and lecturer died in 1968, at 87, the New York Times datelined the story “Westport, Conn.” — and said she died “in her home here.” (Click here to see.)

That error was picked up by publications around the world. It persists today.

Helen Keller moved to Easton in 1936. But she had a Westport post office box. And — as my long-ago memory attests, and those of other longtime residents affirm — she and her companions did much of their shopping here.

Staples High School Class of 1965 member Jack Backiel has a special connection. His aunt Agnes Pazdan took care of Helen Keller.

And in 1944, she signed her autobiography The World I Live In to her this way:

(Do you have a Helen Keller memory? Click “Comments” below.)

The Only Time, Ever, You Will See This View

Old Mill parking lot project is finished. But cars have not yet returned. (Photo/Matt Murray)

“Spirit Animal” Art At Powell Place

Art lifts. Art energizes. Art inspires.

So does the Drew Friedman Community Arts Center. The non-profit — funded by a $500,000 bequest from the late downtown landlord and Cobb’s Mill Inn owner — has quietly but strongly impacted the lives of young Westporters. Led by passionate volunteer artists, these boys and girls create their own art — right where they live.

Homes with Hope runs an after-school program for children and teenagers living in the organization’s Powell Place housing, and the surrounding neighborhood Saugatuck Avenue neighborhood.  It provides positive role models, academic support and enrichment, 4 days a week.

First, with the guidance of Miggs Burroughs, the Drew Friedman Center helped kids in the program create a mural of their self-portraits.

Recently, they embarked on their 2nd project. Each student chose a “spirit animal,” then created their own interpretation of that animal and its environment.

Hard at work on the mural.

Artist Katherine Ross and her daughter Rebecca worked with them to devise a layout and composition for the mural, then helped them realize their visions.

Art is a collaborative process.

The mural now hangs proudly in the Powell Place community room.

Artists young and old, and their mural. (Photo releases were not obtained for all young artists.)

This project — run by Lynn Abramson — is just the latest for the Drew Friedman Community Arts Center. They’ve already sponsored art classes at Project Return, in Randy Herbertson’s studio, and for developmentally disabled youngsters at CLASP Homes.

Art lifts, energizes and inspires. Thanks to Drew Friedman’s generosity, it’s also accessible now to every child, no matter where in Westport they live.

This young artist’s work began as a sketch.

Pics Of The Day #731

Willowbrook Cemetery’s Daffodil Mile in full bloom.

A Sad Osprey Update

Earlier today, alert — and disheartened — “06880” reader James McDonald posted a comment about our ospreys. I drove by the Post Road East site this afternoon, and saw the same thing.

The ospreys have abandoned the nest that was rebuilt by the inconsiderate and ignorant people who took it down.

Sparrows were in it today. I have not seen the ospreys in a week or so.

This incident should never be forgotten. The company that did it has effectively murdered a family of beautiful ospreys.

Two weeks ago, the ospreys were back in their nest. Property owner Regency replaced the platform they removed two days earlier. (Photo/Carolyn McPhee)

Stop & Shop Strike: Collateral Damage

A week into the Stop & Shop strike, both sides are settling in.

Employees of the Westport store are among 31,000 employees picketing the supermarket chain in Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island. The issues include healthcare, wages and pensions.

Many Westporters seem to be honoring the strike. Passing drivers honk and flash thumb’s-up signs. The Post Road East parking lot is almost empty.

But that’s had a ripple effect on businesses that share the shopping center plaza with Stop & Shop.

Lori Brower — general manager of Kindred Spirits & Wine — says that while she supports the striking employees, her business has been impacted greatly as shoppers avoid the plaza altogether.

“We are a small family owned-business,” she notes. “Our tight-knit staff also needs to provide for their families.”

General manager Lori Brower, flanked by (from left) wine manager Dan Weaver and assistant manager Andrew Werner.

She hopes people realize that her company has nothing to do with Stop & Shop.

And that folks who park in the shopping center lot are not necessarily crossing a picket line.

They may just be her customers, looking for a nice wine for Passover or Easter.

Jane Green: “A Home Should Always Have Books”

The world knows Jane Green as a wonderful author. Her books have sold over 10 million copies, and been translated into more than 30 languages.

Westporters know Jane Green as our neighbor.

It’s in that role that we love a story from last week’s Washington Post Magazine. In a series of interviews, writers talked about what books meant to them — and to their homes.

Jane described her life with her husband Ian Warburg on Owenoke — and gave a great shout-out to her fantastic mobile library project, modeled on the Remarkable Book Shop.

She says: 

I’ve run out of space. Books are starting to get stacked up on the floor, underneath tables, underneath chairs, on top of tables. They’re everywhere. With no more room on the bookshelves, I’ve been eyeing this gorgeous French armoire that takes up an entire wall. That wall is just perfect for shelves and would make the room warmer. I know, however, that my husband really likes the armoire. He sees: storage, storage, storage. I see: books, books, books. We’ll see who wins.

For years, I couldn’t get rid of anything. I have had to learn to manage the flow. Paperbacks I tend not to keep unless I love them and know I’m going to reread them. Hardcovers are really hard for me to get rid of. They all signify a time in my life. They all have stories around the stories. I will sometimes just stand there and look at my books and remember.

Jane Green, at home in Westport. (Photo/Chris Sorensen for Washington Post)

The first place I go in someone’s house is their bookshelves. You can tell exactly who they are.

I used to do something that I now realize was a bit creepy. After my first book was published and very successful, I was looking for a flat in London. Almost every flat I went into had my book on the shelf. I’d take it down and sign it! Sometimes, I even personalized it: “To Julia, with love, Jane Green.” I’ve never heard from anyone, but if they ever come across that, they’ll likely freak out.

They all signify a time in my life. They all have stories around the stories. I will sometimes just stand there and look at my books and remember.
Last summer, I started a little mobile library called the Remarkable Bookcycle. For 35 years, there was a bright pink bookstore in my town called Remarkable Book Shop. We had this cargo tricycle just sitting in our garage. I paid a high school student to turn it into a mobile free library. We cycle it around the beach in summer. I lurk around the bookcycle; I love to watch what happens. What’s extraordinary is that everyone gathers around the bookcycle and has conversations. I’m now able to get rid of books much more easily knowing they’re going to a good home.

I think I like to be surrounded by books when I’m writing, but the truth is I don’t. I’m easily distracted. I’ve done my best writing at my local public library in one of those little cubbies with noise-canceling headphones. If I need to do some research, I just make a note for later. If I go to a book or online, the whole day could be gone. Writing takes focus, and books pull mine in a million directions.

I subscribe to Nancy Lancaster’s rule of decorating; she’s an American decorator who moved to England in the ’20s. She brought the English country-house style into the mainstream. Her rules were that a home should always have books, candles and flowers. I walk into so many houses today that have been decorated. They’re exquisite. I find them beautiful: two artfully placed objets, stunning coffee table books. For a minute, I think, “I wish my house looked like this.” But then I remember I don’t feel like taking off my shoes and curling up on the sofa in these homes. In fact, I sit there terrified I’m going to spill red wine. A home needs a bit of curated clutter, and that curated clutter has to include things that tell the story of your life, of what you love. For me, that’s books.

(To read the full Washington Post Magazine story, click here. Hat tip: Elisabeth K. Boas)

Pop-Up Gallery “Uncovers” Women Artists

Darcy Hicks, Amy Kaplan, Liz Leggett and Tammy Winser are talented Westport artists. Many of their works address their experiences as women in today’s world.

As they talked last fall, they realized they were creating pieces in response to the Kavanaugh hearings, to stories of abuse, and to the joys, challenges and humor of motherhood.

“F— You, Hormones,” by Tammy Winser.

They also realized that they were keeping some of their work hidden.

“Westport has a long, rich history of art and writing,” Darcy notes. “But it’s small. Unlike New York, there is no security of anonymity.”

The women also realized that even if they took that big step into the open, there was no place to show their work.

Now there is.

On Saturday, April 27, a pop-up show — “Uncovered: What She Hides” — opens at 1 Main Street (the corner of Post Road East, where Calypso once was). It runs through June 1.

“Despite progress, women adhere to an ingrained societal protocol of accommodation and editing,” saysLeggett.

“The art and accompanying events in this exhibit will embolden viewers to converse and connect around shared stories.”

“Untitled,” by Barbara Ringer.

The pop-up show — which also features Westporters Chloe Blythe, Julie Gannon, Sarah Koskoff, Melissa Newman and Barbara Ringer — includes several inter-generational events.

Students from the Women’s Studies class at Staples High School will run an artists’ panel discussion on May 5. There are also coffees, interpretive dance, and an adult drawing and writing class (novices welcome).

“Art generates conversations and compassion,” Hicks says. “While allowing for varying perspectives, it can be the glue that holds a community together.”

(The grand opening celebration is Thursday, May 2, 6 to 8 p.m. A portion of sales throughout the show will be donated to Project Return — Westport’s residence for homeless young women — and the Westport Domestic Violence Task Force. For more information on “Uncovered: What She Hides,” including the schedule of events, click here.)

Pic Of The Day #730

Compo Beach basketball court (Photo/Mark Jacobs)

Unsung Heroes #94

Earlier this month, the Learning Community celebrated the national Week of the Young Child.

On “Friendship Friday,” children at the Hillspoint Road preschool and kindergarten participated in activities with buddy classes. They also helped youngsters at Cesar Batalla School in Bridgeport.

Many children there depend on the school as their primary source of food. School breaks — like this one — mark a week of food insecurity.

So throughout the Week of the Young Child, Learning Community families donated healthy snacks and drinks. The children made signs, and helped organize the food into categories.

At the end, every boy and girl helped fill 131 huge bags with granola bars, applesauce, pretzels, crackers, milk and juice.

The bags were delivered to Cesar Batalla before the end of the school day. It was a true group activity.

Thanks to the Learning Community kids, for helping their less fortunate peers.

Congratulations too to the Learning Community staff and parents — led by kindergarten teacher Valerie Greenberg — for instilling the values of care and compassion, and emphasizing the importance of volunteerism, in Westport’s youngest citizens.

(To nominate an Unsung Hero, email dwoog@optonline.net)