Robert Lambdin’s Old Mural Gains New Life

Westport has a poor batting average for saving old homes.

But when it comes to preserving murals, it’s all grand slams.

Restored murals by John Steuart Curry and other noted artists hang in our public schools, fire station and Town Hall.

The Westport Art Rescue Committee — led by the late Mollie Donovan, her sister Eve Potts, Judy Gault Sterling and Ann Sheffer, among others — saved Robert Lambdin’s WPA-era “Pageant of Juvenile Literature” when Saugatuck Elementary School was converted to senior housing. It’s now on display at the Westport Library, admired by hundreds of people every day.

Lambdin also painted the grand “Saugatuck in the 19th Century” — actually 3 works. Two — dating to 1964-65 — were installed in the handsome main lobby of Westport Bank & Trust Company, which commissioned the work.

They remained there as the local bank was swallowed up in a series of takeovers by now-forgotten, bigger ones. The building — in the heart of downtown — is now Patagonia. The cool, functional clothing store has lovingly preserved Lambdin’s murals.

Robert Lambdin's old-time murals lend a touch of Westport history to modern-day Patagonia.

Robert Lambdin’s old-time murals lend a touch of Westport history to modern-day Patagonia.

The other “Saugatuck in the 19th Century” painting was hung at Westport Bank & Trust’s Charles Street branch — in the heart of Saugatuck. It was painted around 1969, when the branch opened.

That large mural depicts a lively Saugatuck. It shows agriculture, stables, the railroad and river trade; businesses like Elonzo Wheeler’s button factory; the Bridge Street bridge, and the Saugatuck Bank (Westport Bank & Trust’s forerunner), whose founding partners included Horace Staples.

Though the view was composed with artistic license, Lambdin conducted painstaking research. Town residents modeled for him, including (at the center) Captain Serano Allen.

Robert Lambdin's Saugatuck mural.

Robert Lambdin’s Saugatuck mural. Hover over or click to enlarge.

The Saugatuck mural was a point of pride in the neighborhood, even as the branch lost its local roots. Eventually it became a TD Bank.

When TD (whatever those initials stand for) closed the branch last November, the mural’s future was unknown.

The building is being sold. The mural is headed for storage.

But — thanks to town art curator Kathie Motes Bennewitz, and the Westport Arts Advisory Committee — “Saugatuck in the 19th Century” has a new life.

After touch-up work, it will hang in Town Hall. An exhibit is planned too.

The gift from TD Bank is valued at $25,000.

But you can’t put a price on preserving history.

Last Thursday, the mural was removed from the old bank building.

Last Thursday, the large mural was removed from the old bank building.

11 responses to “Robert Lambdin’s Old Mural Gains New Life

  1. Thank you Kathie Motes Bennewitz and all involved. What a great mural and an important and telling piece depicting Westport’s history.

  2. Mari Isaacson

    The TD in TDBank stands for the merging of Toronto Bank and Dominion Bank which took place 1955.

    • It was the Bank of Toronto, not the “Toronto Bank.” The name Toronto-Dominion Bank was adopted for the merged entity. I believe you have the correct year.

      • Linda Gramatky Smith

        I love trivia like this (and think TD Bank is the best bank anywhere with its customer service and incredibly long hours) so thank you, Mari and Iain, for answering a query I didn’t know!

    • And of course, do not forgot about when TD Banknorth merged with Commerce bank to become TD Bank (2008).

  3. Priceless information on the whereabouts of invaluable art. Thanks, Dan.

  4. Sandy Soennichsen

    The TD in TD Bank stands for Toronto-Dominion.

  5. Kathie Bennewitz

    Thanks Dan!
    If anyone knew Bob Lambin, the artist, and remembers when these murals, both downtown and at the branch, were first installed, please contact me. Love to hear the stories! (and of course, see any photos)

    Also, the WB&T (now Patagonia) murals, which are being beautifully cared for by David Waldman, are titled: Hotel Square (Westport) and Shipping on the Saugatuck

  6. Sally Campbell Palmer

    Are the wonderful murals we saw all the time as kids at Bedford Jr. High (now Kings Highway School) still in the auditorium?

    • Kathie Bennewitz

      Yes, the John Steuart Curry murals, Tragedy and Comedy, are still at KHS. They are frescos and a permanent part of the wall.

  7. Thanks for this Dan! Bob and Lillian Lambdin were great friends of my artist grandfather, Ed Boyd, and grandmother Marguerite Boyd. Mr. Lambdin, as I called him often played cards with my grandparents when I was a kid, and was at all the important family events and holiday gatherings. He outlived the others and was at my wedding in 1974. I’m so glad to hear that the murals will be preserved.