Remembering Marion Grebow

Marion Grebow — the artist whose ceramic “River of Names” mural delighted Westport Library visitors for 2 decades — died on Thursday. She was 66 years old.

The “River of Names” was a special fundraising project. Co-chairs Betty Lou Cummings and Dorothy Curran invited Grebow — a Stamford native who worked in sculpture, drawing, calligraphy, porcelain and, ultimately, ceramic tiles, and who was related to the Nevas family, longtime Westport philanthropists — to propose a design.

Marion Grebow (center), flanked by Betty Lou Cummings and Dorothy Curran.

Her plan grew to include 1,162 bas-relief tiles, tracing 350 years of town history. Residents present and past, non-profit organizations and local businesses contributed funds. Grebow then crafted individual tiles for each.

Some portrayed events like the founding of Westport and onion farming; others showed scenes like National Hall and Compo Beach, or noted the dates and names of families living in town.

Grebow envisioned the mural as a true “river” — not just of history, but as a metaphor. “If one stood at the far end of the mural and looked back across the surface pattern of the tiles, the dancing light looked like moonlight on flowing water,” Curran says.

The River of Names was hung in the lower level of the Westport Library.

After the River of Names was hung in the library’s lower level, Curran published a book about the mural. It included information about each tile, and serves as an additional resource for Grebow’s remarkable work.

When the library undertook its transformation project, no room could be found for the mural. It is now in storage, and lives on in digital form.

Grebow also produced works for New York’s 92nd Street Y and Temple Emanu-El, the Connecticut Audubon Society in Fairfield, and many others.

She is survived by her husband Gustav Olsen, and their sons Sam and Harald.

A graveside memorial service will be held tomorrow (Sunday, February 23, 11;30 a.m., Umpawaug Cemetery, 149 Umpawaug Road, Redding). A memorial service follows at her West Redding studio.

A few of the 1,162 River of Names tiles.

40 Years Of Great Stuff

Forty years ago, Lori and Joseph Friedman were casting around for a business to start.

He worked with Caldor. She was a wholesaler in children’s wear, and the mother of 6-year-old twins.

Lori Friedman outside Great Stuff, in the early years.

They decided on a women’s specialty boutique. They wanted a mix of contemporary fashion to accommodates different generations — the latest looks and trends in clothing and accessories, from well-known designers to cutting-edge.

They’d call it Great Stuff — because “great stuff comes in many forms, and can be purchased at different price points.”

The Friedmans found space on Post Road West, behind what was then John’s Best Pizza. (It’s now The Naan, an Indian restaurant.)

“I had no credit. We did cash and carry with jobbers, not wholesalers,” Lori recalls.

In 1980, the hot items were Gloria Vanderbilt jeans and Jack Mulqueen blouses. Lori put tickets on them at home, then brought them to the store.

“It was a work in progress,” says Lori. “I’d shop for things that were interesting, but not over-exposed. I knew who my customers were, and could picture each garment on them.”

Lori Friedman today.

These days, Lori makes 2 or 3 shopping trips a year to Paris. Her husband handles the financial side. The twins — now in their 40s — are in the business too. Dina takes care of buying and merchandising; Adam handles operations.

There are now 5 Great Stuffs (the others are in Greenwich, Rye, Scarsdale and Chappaqua). The Westport location has moved 3 times — to Sconset Square, Main Street, and its current location on the same street, #68 (next to Blue Mercury).

The customer base has evolved. Longtime residents move; new families arrive. Lori and her staff watch them grow up.

For 4 decades, the Great Stuff formula has worked. Congratulations — and on to 2060!

Pic Of The Day #1040

Haskins Preserve, this morning (Photo/Tracy Porosoff)

Friday Flashback #181

Alert “06880” John Kelley found this map of the New York & New Haven railroad.

It’s even older than it sounds. The date was 1845.

The railroad was not completed until 1848. This was a projected route.

It was originally single tracked. A 2nd track was added soon.

The Westport station was on the east side of the Saugatuck River. The rail line merged with the New Haven & Hartford RR in 1874.

In the 1890s a major construction project created a 4-track grade separated railroad, with no rail crossings. At that point the Westport station — located on the east side of the Saugatuck River — was moved to its present location.

Starting in 1913, the rail line was electrified.

Those are all interesting facts. If you are reading them on a train — moving s-l-o-w-l-y between New York and Westport — we hope you arrive safely, and soon.

Final Indulgence By Mersene

Alert “06880” readers know that Mersene* is one of my favorite people in the world.

And her store —Indulge by Mersene — is one of the best on the planet.

It’s fun. It’s funky. It’s totally Mersene.

Yet all good things must end. Today, the popular, vivacious, beloved unofficial mayor of Railroad Place announces she’s closing. She writes:

In a few weeks, the corner by the train station will be a little less lively.

There will be one less place to buy pillows, ceramics, plants, chocolates, pasta, copperware, cutting boards, hand towels and anything else you could want — all stashed in a reusable willow basket or hatbox, then tied together with ribbons, bows and twine that looks so lovely you hate to unwrap it.

Mersene has been unfailingly generous and supportive — to “06880” (the blog) and 06880 (the community).

Her closing leaves a hole in our community, and our hearts. Happily, she’ll still be here — online, and in pop-up shops.

So we’ll keep indulging, the unique Mersene way.

*Like Cher, Madonna and Divine, she needs only one name.

Mersene, with a small sampling of her many great items.

MoCA’s New Executive Director Pledges Outreach To Westport

Over the last few years, the Westport Arts Center lost its focus on supporting and promoting local artists.

Last year — with a name change to MoCA Westport (it stands for Museum of Contemporary Art), and a move from Riverside Avenue to the former Martha Stewart TV studio on Newtown Turnpike — the organization seemed to become even less connected to Westport.

MoCA, at 19 Newtown Turnpike.

The Artists’ Collective of Westport — developed as part of the WAC, by prominent artists like Miggs Burroughs and Nina Bentley — became the pre-eminent group in town. MoCA’s outreach to local educators and civic groups ground to a halt.

Recently, the handsome gallery space on the Norwalk border — and the educational, music and other programs MoCA sponsored — risked losing its Westport identity altogether.

All that may now change. Westport artists, educators and organizations will hear soon from Ruth Mannes.

Ruth Mannes (Photo/Kerry Long)

She’s MoCA’s new executive director. And one of her first priorities is outreach to the town where the Westport Arts Center began, 50 years ago.

Mannes took over Monday from Amanda Innes. She brings a 20-year career in publishing (including executive managing editor of HarperCollins) and 12 years of involvement with Westport schools (townwide PTA executive board, fundraising for Staples Players), along with a passion for art (ARTnews named her one of the top 30 young contemporary collectors in the country.)

She and her husband began collecting in their West Village apartment, before their children were born. They met artists, gallery owners and dealers. “Art made our lives,” Mannes says.

They knew Derek Goodman through the art world. Soon after moving to Westport, Mannes saw him selling lemonade with his kids. They were neighbors.

Now Goodman has helped bring Mannes to MoCA. The board understood the need for greater engagement with Westporters.

Ruth Mannes, by the MoCA gift shop.

“We’re bringing excellent shows. We have wonderful music programs.” Mannes says.

“We can be a beacon of art and film. But we really need to connect with Westport: the library, PTAs, Westport Public Art Collections — everyone. We want their thoughts on dynamic programming.

“Our art should be accessible. Westport is a community with really curious people. If we bring in great shows, they’ll be engaged.”

As a first step, she’ll reach out to teachers, senior citizens, organizations — and artists. She’ll also look at changes in areas like admission structure and member benefits.

She’s spent this week getting up to speed on all things MoCA: shows, concerts, even a children’s art class that runs during the current school vacation.

She knows that when WAC/MoCA moved from near downtown to the midst of a residential neighborhood, it risked a loss of visibility.

But Mannes points to Beacon, New York as an example. An old train building was converted into a center for minimalist art. It now attracts art lovers from far away. “People sit, have coffee, see art and educational programs,” she says. “Community thrives there.”

Can that happen at out-of-the-way Newtown Turnpike?

“The other day, 3 French people knocked on our door,” Mannes says. “They were in Westport for a business meeting, but wanted to see what we have. They were disappointed we were closed between shows.” (A Helmut Lang exhibition opens March 15.)

Getting ready to hang the Helmut Lang show.

“We have benches outside. We’ll make our cafe area more attractive. If this place is dynamic, people will come. We don’t want it to be an ivory tower.”

Mannes says that MoCA’s educational programs are ready to “explode.” She’s eager to bring back adult programming that was dropped or weeded out.

Mannes says the board — including Westporters like Tom Hofstetter and Michael Kalman — is committed to addressing the alienation that some local artists, and other Westporters, have felt.

“It’s a fresh start,” she says.

(MoCA’s annual gala has a new date: April 25. For details, click here. For more information about MoCA, including exhibitions, programs and other events, click here.)

Larry Perlstein: What Caregiving Means To Me — And You

Today is National Caregivers Day.

A caregiver is an unpaid individual — usually a spouse, partner, family member, friend or neighbor — who assists others with daily living and/or medical tasks.

Westporter Larry Perlstein’s life changed dramatically 3 years ago, when his wife Jacquie had a major stroke. She was 49 years old.

Remarkably, she survived. But she remains significantly disabled. The stroke affected speech and motor control centers. In today’s guest post, Larry raises awareness of the extent of informal caregiving here, and how to acknowledge and support these individuals.

February 21 is National Caregivers Day. I’m not sure how to feel about it since this is a group I never intended to be part of, at least not for the long term.

Sure, I helped take care of my parents in the decade before they passed, as many of us have or will. But now I’m caring for my wife of 13 years, who (hopefully) has decades of life ahead of her.

Larry Perlstein and his wife Jacquie.

In talking about caregivers, most people think of the elderly. There were 40.4 million such caregivers in 2018, and most support and advocacy organizations such as AARP focus on this group.

Importantly, a growing category of caregivers cares for a chronically ill or disabled non-elderly spouse or child. These scenarios are different, because that care can persist for the entirety of the “patient’s” life.

The National Alliance for Caregiving estimates this group could be as large as 25 million people.

Overall, 1 in 5 American adults act as family caregivers.

When a disability is caused by an accident or act of god, the situation often receives news coverage, followed by an outpouring of community support. After the notoriety dies down the situation continues, forgotten.

Over the past 3 years I’ve found many instances of caregiving that go unnoticed from the onset (aside from family and close friends). The family feels uncomfortable about being too public, or lacks the energy or knowledge to reach out for help.

These situations may be all around you. I encourage you to recognize the extended nature of these cases. It’s never too late to offer help or support. When in doubt about what to do, just ask.

Jacquie spends a great deal of time doing physical therapy. This is at Norwalk Hospital Outpatient Rehabilitation.

For example, a local couple in their 40s with 3 school-aged children found themselves in a situation where the main income earner was unable to work. Two years ago he suddenly developed an extremely rare condition, New Daily Persistent Headache.

His spouse now maintains the household, searches for management and resolution of her husband’s condition, cares for the children, and supplements his lost income. Barring a diagnostic breakthrough, this reality is their new normal.

Another family with 3 teens is dealing with the sudden paralysis of their 16-year-old son, from surgery to correct a chronic neurological problem. The father — a truck driver — risks losing his job because of family demands. He is focused on finding a stable, better paying position.

The mother must deal with the needs of her 3 sons, navigating the healthcare system while staving off potential bankruptcy.

Thirteen years ago, at age 66, a husband started developing symptoms of dementia. For that long his spouse, now married 54 years, has cared for him. His decline from an avid tennis player to someone who must be showered, fed, and requires constant care exacts a toll on his spouse and supportive family that few can relate to.

As she deals with her own increasing age she continues to find the energy to battle the healthcare system, manage the family finances, help other caregivers in the community, and find support wherever she can.

In my own case, my family is making the transition from hoping for a complete recovery to recognizing that my wife will require assistance throughout her life.

Jacquie with her daughter Avery, father and 100-year-old grandmother.

Finding supplemental help is difficult and prohibitively expensive. With the assistance of family and friends, I act as her primary caregiver while raising our 12-year-old daughter.

This is important work, and I will do it for as long as I can. But as I age — I’m now 62 — I can only hope that more affordable long-term care support options become available beyond traditional nursing homes.

Ultimately, our long-term care issues will fall to our children if we don’t have a better plan.

The moral of this story is that there are informal caregivers all around us. They need hugs, education, financial support, and medical and insurance systems that acknowledge and support their role. They need to become “formal” caregivers.

We all must be sensitive to the continuing nature of these situations, and recognize that the toughest times are not necessarily right after the event but 1, 2 or more years later when all the attention is gone.

For more information about caregiving in Connecticut, visit the Family Caregiver Alliance website.

Larry writes a blog, Caring for a Spouse, that examines caregiving from a male perspective. The family is assisted by friends and family donations to a GoFundMe campaign that assists with continuing rehabilitation therapy expenses.

Pic Of The Day #1039

The first political sign of the season. This one is at Greens Farms railroad station. Another “Mike” sign is at Cross Highway and North Avenue. No other candidates have planted yard signs yet.

Kristan Hamlin: DOJ Alumni Statement Is “A Love Letter To My Colleagues”

They live all over the country. They’ve served under Republican and Democratic presidents. They’ve been United States attorneys, federal prosecutors and other high-ranking officials.

There are nearly 2,600 of them, and they’re unanimous in their belief: President Trump is abusing the power of his office. He and Attorney General William P. Barr are threatening the Department of Justice’s long tradition of impartiality. They want Barr to resign.

Among the signees: Westporter Kristan Peters-Hamlin.

The RTM member — now an attorney in private practice — spent many years in the Washington, DC US Attorney’s office.

She was appointed by Richard Thornburgh, attorney general for President George H.W. Bush.

President Clinton with Kristan Peters-Hamlin.

Hamlin continued serving under Barr — during his first stint as AG — and Janet Reno, President Clinton’s first pick for that post.

Eric Holder — President Obama’s attorney general — was a boss of Hamlin’s in the DC office. Robert Mueller was a colleague.

She prosecuted drug and economic crimes, along with many others.

In the Bush administration, Hamlin says, Barr “seemed like a normal attorney general. There was zero political interference.”

These days, she says, former colleagues “don’t recognize him. It’s like he’s been transmogrified.”

The letter Hamlin signed circulated among a network of former DOJ employees. The signatories share Hamlin’s outrage and sadness at what has happened to the department they love.

“The idea of the federal judiciary being able to check the executive branch goes back to John Marshall,” she notes.

When she read the letter (click here for the full text), she agreed wholeheartedly.

Still, she hesitated momentarily before signing.

“This is a president who retaliates,” she says. “And an attorney general who enables retaliation.”

She wondered about potential consequences for her. Ultimately, she realized, “This was a love letter to my colleagues. We revere the Department of Justice. We’re not willing to see it polluted and corrupted. And there are plenty of people who have sacrificed a lot more than I have to keep it impartial.”

So far, there have been no adverse reactions.

However, the Connecticut Law Journal asked for comment.

And Congressman Jim Himes thanked Hamlin — and the 3 other signees from his district — for “standing up for the rule of law.”

As They Say In Bengali: ধন্যবাদ

Richard Wiese has spent his career bridging cultural gaps.

Traveling to all 7 continents, he’s tagged jaguars in the Yucatan jungles, led expeditions to the Northern Territory of Australia, joined the largest medical expedition ever conducted on Mt. Everest, discovered 29 new life forms on Mt. Kilimanjaro, and cross-country skied to the North Pole.

The Weston resident is host and executive producer of “Born to Explore,” the award-winning PBS television series produced on Main Street. He’s also in his 3rd term as president of the Explorers Club, a 116-year-old international organization dedicated to the 4 corners of the earth — plus oceans and outer space.

Richard Wiese in Borneo, with a wild orangutan.

Yet on Tuesday, Wiese created an important cross-cultural connection with just one person: the woman sitting next to him on a plane, stuck on the tarmac in Oslo.

Via Bangladesh.

The woman was brought on the Norwegian Air flight in a wheelchair. When she was seated, a flight attendant spoke to her in English. It was clear to Wiese that no matter how slowly she talked, his seatmate did not understand a word.

The woman fumbled with her phone. Wiese was able to figure out she was from Bangladesh.

He typed, “Can I help you?” — and then used Google Translate to ask the question in Bengali.

Flying the friendly skies: Richard Wiese and his seatmate.

The woman wanted her son to know she was on the flight, as they waited out a delay.

Wiese contacted her son — in Bangladesh.

Weise then learned she was lactose-intolerant. “That was an unusual translation,” he says. He told a flight attendant, who found a special meal for her.

Wiese texted the woman’s son when they landed, and made sure she got off the plane okay.

A screenshot of Richard’s texts.

“JFK is not the friendliest place in the world,” he notes. It was nice she had someone who cared — even if he “spoke” Bengali only with a smartphone.

“It felt good to help someone,” Wiese adds. “It was as easy for me to do that as it was to answer emails. And it’s nice to know you can use your phone for something other than that, and games.”