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.
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.
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.
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.