Miggs Burroughs’ Signs Of Compassion

You have to hand it to Miggs Burroughs.

The Westport artist — whose long career includes Time magazine covers, a US postage stamp, and pro bono work for every local organization that ever existed — has just completed a compelling new project.

Like many of us, Miggs is fascinated by signers — the men and women who use American Sign Language to interpret speeches for hearing-impaired people. He’s amazed by their speed, as well as the variety and movements they make with their hands.

Three years ago, he created the “Tunnel Vision” exhibit that enlivens the pedestrian walkway  between  Main Street and Parker Harding Plaza. With his specialty — lenticular photography — Miggs used Westporters’ hands to show a variety of Westporters’ experiences. The photos change dramatically, depending on where you stand.

Miggs Burroughs, in his “Tunnel Vision” creation.

As he thought about the ASL signers, he realized that by slowing down their movements, he could use lenticular photos to portray their grace and beauty.

Online, he found an ASL dictionary. Users type in a word; up pops a video of its sign. As Miggs watched in slow motion, his idea took shape.

Meanwhile, America’s political climate was heating up. Miggs wondered how local artists would react. He’s always believed creative folks do what they can — however they can — to make the world a better place.

Miggs turned the focus of his new project toward finding a poem of manageable length.

Emily Dickinson

He doesn’t read a lot of poetry. But when his son attended Hampshire College, he lived across from Emily Dickinson’s house.

Miggs found a poem of hers, called “Signs of Compassion. The title is perfect.

Miggs planned to photograph a teenage girl — fellow artist Nina Bentley’s granddaughter — signing the entire poem. But Chris Timmons of the Westport Library — where Miggs serves as artist-in-residence — suggested using a variety of people in town.

“That was the key,” Miggs notes. “Now we have representatives of the entire community talking about compassion.”

Miggs mined his many contacts to find models. Nearly everyone he asked said yes. The 30 photos he used include whites, blacks and Asians. There are young Westporters, and old. First Selectman Jim Marpe is one model. I’m another.

I signed the word “I.”

How did we know what to do? Noah Steinman — then a WAC staffer, now at the Aldrich — knows ASL.

Miggs used his iPhone to film Noah signing the poem, while explaining each motion. Miggs then broke every one into 2 distinct gestures.

He photographed each model doing both gestures. Under every photo is Dickinson’s poem, with that particular word or phrase highlighted.

Dereje Tarrant signed “without.”

The result, Miggs says, is “not an exhibit of 30 different photos. It’s a visual chorus of our community expressing the need for compassion in the world.”

This will be the last Great Hall exhibit before the library transformation project begins. (The library itself will not close.)

In its silence, it speaks volumes.

(The opening reception is Friday, May 26 from 6 to 7:30 p.m. The exhibit is on display through July 27. For more information, click here.)

Jeanine Esposito signed “not.” (Photos/Miggs Burroughs)

22 responses to “Miggs Burroughs’ Signs Of Compassion

  1. Miggs is beyond amazing.

  2. Karl Taylor

    Miggs/Woog; they’re amazing!

  3. John Hartwell

    Brilliant, as always. Thanks Miggs!

  4. Laura Maged

    This is amazing!

  5. Rose Jordan

    There is only one “Miggs “Burroughs” and he lives in Westport. This unique original project will become famous! Thank you, Miggs, for your talent and creativity for all of us to appreciate.

  6. Wonderful use of people, photography, phrases, and poetry. Thank you, Miggs! But are Dereje and Jeanine signing “without?” Or is she saying something else?

  7. Fred Cantor

    This is indeed a brilliant concept and wonderfully executed. I don’t know what creative and/or humanitarian awards categories it would qualify for, but it seems like an award-winning project to me that deserves widespread exposure.

  8. Betsy Phillips Kahn

    Now we have a Tunnel of LOVE ❤️ Wow– and thank you, Miggs!!!
    I’m going TODAY!!

  9. Miggs never ceases to amaze me………beautiful

  10. Laurence S. Untermeyer

    The subjects of these wonderful and unique photographs each in their own way tell a personal story. The constant creativity of Miggs knows no bounds, like the poet his mind and eyes are always searching for ways to express the world around him.

  11. Miggs – you’re friggin amazing….and wonderful. How you’ve blessed our lives. Thank you for that.

  12. This is awesome.

  13. Bill Boyd (Staples 1966)

    Another great art work by Miggs!

  14. Wilhelmina de Haas

    Very beautiful, Miggs. This is just absolutely amazing. Thank you!

  15. George and Kathe Damman

    Love it! See what we miss when we text or email! >

  16. This is beautiful – and an amazing concept – thanks for lightening my day.

  17. Jean Whitehead

    Just adding to the praise above. Beautiful, touching, amazing! Thank you to everyone who participated. Westport is so fortunate to have the creativity, compassion and vision of Miggs Burroughs. I plan to visit with my granddaughter!

  18. Miggs Burroughs

    Thank you all! Your heartfelt response to this concept is truly amazing and gratifying. I hope you find it as effective in person as it has been in print. May 26 from 6 to 7:30 is the day of reckoning.

  19. Miggs congratulations and thank you for all you add to our community.
    You are a sign of compassion personified

  20. Fascinating article! Congratulations, Miggs!

  21. That is really powerful!