The Kids’ Wall

Between the 50th anniversary of the town’s purchase of Longshore and the founding of Orphenians; the 175th birthday of Westport, and the 375th celebration of Connecticut, the 10th anniversary of anything might seem like nothing to write home blog about.

But the Westport Historical Society is taking note of the decade-long Kids’ Wall at the Longshore pool.  If something that’s only as old as the millennium can be honored by historians, it’s good enough for “06880.”

Today (May 28), the WHS unveils an exhibit paying tribute to the “dedication, tenacity and spirit of a passionate group who fought Town Hall to bring the project to fruition.”

Okay, so it wasn’t the Minutemen trying (unsuccessfully) to beat back the British at Compo Beach.  It’s still a good story.

The 6-foot high, 44-foot long Kids’ Arts Wall, decorated with 32,000 hand-placed tiles, was first proposed in 1998 by Westport artist/teacher Katherine Ross.

“There were very few activities for middle schoolers at the time,” she recalls.  “There were no arcades, no bowling alley, no movie theaters.”  (Not like today!)

“They were being kicked out of downtown stores for loitering.  We wanted to show these kids they had a creative voice.”

She and fellow artist Miggs Burroughs envisioned a spot near the library.  But the P and Z, other politicians and some Westporters feared — well, everything:  Visual clutter.  Skateboarders atop the wall.  Amplification of sound from the Levitt Pavilion.  Headlights reflecting against the wall, causing accidents.  The list was more dire than the plagues at a Passover seder.

Finally, Steve and Toni Rubin suggested the Longshore pool.  Bingo!

Middle school students submitted 1400 drawings.  Using a variety of media — and little treasures like quarters, beads, even notes about water safety — the wall was built and decorated in 3 months.

What Burroughs believes to be “the largest piece of children’s art in Connecticut” was unveiled on May 28, 2000.

Ten years later, the WHS exhibit will include an actual-size photo replica of the wall, newspaper clippings and interactive mosaic art opportunities.  The event is a focus of the WHS Time Travelers Camp sessions, which take place during the summer.  It will serve as a springboard for a study of the sea.

Middle schoolers who participated in the project are especially invited to today’s exhibit.  Of course, they may recall it as ancient history.

After all, they’re now in their early 20s.

(The Westport Historical Society exhibit begins with a reception today [May 28], from 5-7 p.m.  It also honors the 50th anniversary of the town’s purchase of Longshore.  Earlier today — 3 p.m. at Saugatuck Congregational Church — town officials and noted citizens celebrate the 175th anniversary of Westport’s charter, with a unique ceremony [and a birthday cake].  For more information, click here or call 203-222-1424.)

3 responses to “The Kids’ Wall

  1. That is really something special. Wow, very impressive. Middle school kids. Remarkable.

  2. Linda Gramatky Smith

    This wall is terrific, and you won’t believe how Miggs Burroughs photographed it in just the right bright sunlight to show shadows, so you stand near it and are SURE if you reach out to touch the photograph you are going to feel concrete and tiles.

    And do you want a real laugh (if we don’t laugh we’ll cry)? There is a time line in the exhibit of the TWO YEARS it took to get approval to make and install the wall! Some dept. (I won’t tell which) invited an “expert” art teacher from Milford to come down to declare that “children are not able to create art”! And it was a hot potato that bounced back and forth for these two years. I’m so glad that just like deciding to buy a country club 50 years ago (Longshore) some wise citizens prevailed.

  3. Stephen Rubin

    This wall was with the effort of so many. It was a labor of love and a pleasure to be part of it. Thanks to each child’s contribution of art it becomes a symbol of the future for all of us. Toni and Stephen Rubin