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Kathie Bennewitz: Westport’s First “Town Curator”

You never know where life will take you.

Who knew, for example, that swimming and lifeguarding would help propel Kathie Bennewitz — 35 years later — to her new position as Westport’s 1st-ever town curator?

Yet that’s what happened, after Kathie Motes moved to Westport in the summer of 1978 — just before her senior year at a new school, Staples High.

Kathie Bennewitz

Kathie joined the swim team, took art classes, and befriended Ellise Fuchs, whose father Bernie was a world-famous illustrator. Kathie posed for him, pretending to receive a medal for an Olympic scene.

At Princeton, she majored in art history. “I’m not a fine artist,” she claims. “But I love the process, and the way art reflects who we are.”

One summer, lifeguarding at Compo, she met Scott Bennewitz. He was a beach security guard — and a fellow Princetonian.

They married, and lived in Dallas, Minneapolis and Holland. She’d earned a masters in art history. Everywhere they moved, she worked in museums.

Eight years ago, they came to Westport. Kathie volunteered with the Westport Schools Permanent Art Collection. She says that meeting co-founder Mollie Donovan “changed my life.”

Kathie learned how deep and broad Westport’s arts history is. And she realized the impact of men like John Steuart Curry, and institutions like the Westport Country Playhouse, on this town.

“Blues Piano Players” — one of the 7 wonderful works by Eric von Schmidt that make up “Birth of the Blues.” They hang in the Staples auditorium.

She also met volunteers like Eve Potts — Mollie’s sister. “Their commitment, passion and enthusiasm for this town, and its arts community, is infectious,” Kathie says.

She worked professionally at Greenwich’s Bush-Holley House and the Fairfield Museum. A year ago, she became an independent curator.

She also was appointed tri-chair of the Permanent Art Collection, and served on the Westport Arts Advisory Committee. The 2 organizations gave her a broad perspective on the arts here.

So, when a group of people — including Ann Sheffer, David Rubinstein, Leslie Greene, Carole Erger-Fass and Joan Miller — floated the idea of a town curator, she was intrigued.

So was First Selectman Gordon Joseloff. “We already have a town historian, Allen Raymond,” Kathie notes. “This is a natural counterpoint.”

The doughboy statue on Veteran’s Green is part of Westport’s art and sculpture collection.

In her new post, she’s responsible for advising the town on the care of its art and sculpture collection. Westport owns several hundred works of art, displayed in Town Hall, the Senior Center, Parks & Rec headquarters — even the Fire Department. Statues include the Minuteman and Doughboy on Veterans Green.

Kathie will also serve as liaison to the 1,100-piece Permanent Art Collection, and the Westport Library, with its own murals, paintings and illustrations.

“So many other communities lose their treasures,” she says. “But thanks to Burt and Ann Chernow, and so many others, we have ours. They’ve created a platform we can spring off of, and do even more.”

That “more” includes plenty. Kathie envisions self-guided tours of the schools’ collections. A “museum on the street,” with Howard Munce’s Remarkable Book Shop work displayed outside that old store (most recently Talbots). Robert Lambdin’s “Battle of Compo” mounted near the cannons.

She’ll be involved in the rehanging of art at Town Hall — something last done in 1976.

Kathie would also like to open up hard-to-see parts of the town’s art collection — like the amazing fire station mural — to the public.

“Pageant of Juvenile Literature” — a 1934 work by Robert Lambdin — hangs in the Westport Library’s Great Hall. This is part of that mural.

She is eager to get started. But she won’t be alone.

“I’m a team player. I enjoy working with people in groups. We need everyone’s help.”

Among those helping: Marie-Neloise Egipto, a Staples senior who will do her spring internship with the Permanent Art Collection.

“I’m honored to serve the town,” Kathie says. “This is different from the other positions I’ve held. It really validates all the decades of work done by the Mollies, the Eves and the Anns who have advocated for, and celebrated, our arts community and legacy.

“Very few communities have the public, school and library collections that we do. Westport should be very, very proud.”

Just as we all should be proud that Kathie Bennewitz is our 1st-ever “town curator.”

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