Erasing History?

I did not think I’d be posting another story on the Westport Museum for History & Culture’s decision to replace the name of the Sheffer Gallery (honoring a family with a long history of philanthropy and volunteerism) with that of Daniel Offutt (whose trust recently gave a large gift).

However, a number of “06880” readers remarked on the irony of a “historical society” turning its back on history.

Now, it appears the exhibition space is not the only place they’re doing that.

For years, the website (interestingly, it’s www.westporthistory.org) included information about many previous exhibits. One reader — who recalls that it went back to 2000 or so — found the descriptions and photos very useful when he was pitching his own exhibit idea, and again in the planning stages once it was accepted.

Now, the “Exhibits” page shows only 3. All were mounted under the current executive director and her staff.

In addition, the “Media” tab shows articles only since December 27, 2017. That one — the oldest — is headlined “Historical Society Names New Executive Director.”

The Westport Historical Society received excellent press coverage over many years. You wouldn’t know it, though, by looking at the website. That history is gone.

Also gone: a list of advisory council members. It was there Tuesday.

In addition, the list of board members on the same page was substantially shorter than the day before.

Yesterday, what appeared to be a link to the advisory council was no longer working. Like the organization’s history prior to 2018, the advisory council too is now invisible.

NOTE: Some readers have wondered why they have not heard the Westport Museum’s side of the story. No one has responded to the Comments section in an official — or even unofficial — capacity. And not a single staff member has contacted me, on or off the record.

69 responses to “Erasing History?

  1. Shades of “1984!”

  2. Tom Feeley Sr

    Stay on it Dan😎🇺🇸

  3. Do some due diligence and you will understand why there is no response from the individual running the show

  4. I gave the Westport Historical Society my aunt’s 1936 Bedford Junior High diploma. I drove up to Connecticut last year to deliver it personally. You can take this as an “official request” that I want it back! It was in pristine condition and framed using archival glass to keep it from fading. I’d like to come up in February to get it!

    • Mary Cookman Schmerker

      Thankfully I did not donate my mother’s Bedford Jr. High diploma from 1934.
      It is more impressive than mine from college. Thankfully I still have the invitation to my mother’s graduation from Staples. Thankfully the Historical refused my donation of The Connecticut Cookbook, published in 1943 by The Westport Woman’s Club as a war time effort. ( It has an impressive list of artists who donated illustrations. ) I was told: “It is not Westport…”
      Keep on this one Dan.

  5. Here is the data from archive.org: https://web.archive.org/web/20190702042506/https://westporthistory.org/officers/

    2019 Board of Directors and Advisory Council

    Board Chair
    Sara Krasne

    Treasurer
    Danny Lyne

    Secretary
    Maggie Parkhurst

    Nominating/Governance
    Teri Walsh

    Directors:
    Nancy Axthelm
    Ken Bernhard
    Frederick Bitsky
    Cheryl Bliss
    Bob Mitchell
    Richard “Deej” Webb

    Executive Director
    Ramin Ganeshram

    Advisory Council
    Joni Andrews, Andrew Bentley, Jay Dirnberger, Eileen Lavigne Flug, Lauren Francese, Robin Jaffe Frank, Leigh Gage, Edward F. Gerber, Bill Harmer (Honorary), Kristin Hantler, Ed Hynes, Amanda Innes, Gordon Joseloff (Honorary), Jennifer Keller, Woody Klein (Honorary), Margaret LeBedis, Jo Fuchs Luscombe, Jim Marpe (Honorary), Michaela MacColl, Dave Matlow, Shirley Mellor (Honorary), Michael Mombello, Betsy Pollak, Eve Potts, Kelle Ruden, Jo Shields, Dave Soriano, Larry Untermeyer, Pete Wolgast, Denise & Wally Woods, Dan Woog (Honorary).

  6. Jean Whitehead

    Destructive, childish, self centered, disrespectful.
    The erasing of history by the history museum may fit in well with the current “1984” era….but it’s hard to imagine that this group won’t have to answer for all this, at some point.
    It’s gratifying to see so much support for the original Westport Historical Society, and for the Sheffer family.
    The “renaming” was done so indecently, one hopes it won’t stand….it sets such a low standard…..

  7. William Strittmatter

    Yes, Josh, thanks to the Wayback Machine, nothing from the Internet really disappears. Thanks for pulling it up.

    Interesting question is what happened overnight. A few possibilities: everyone resigned in disgust – which is too bad because what they should have done was exercise their oversight authority and done a bit of housecleaning; everyone wants to hide due to the backlash – which is a bit cowardly; management has taken it into their own hands to hide them – in which case they still can step up and exercise their oversight authority; or management purged the board of troublemakers – in which case membership probably has to petition for a special meeting to vote out the usurpers.

    On the latter point, anyone have a copy of the charter and by-laws to see what it takes to overthrow the current regime?

    It’s revolution time kids.

    • How about the advice and cooperation from a Westport attorney? (I don’t want one from Weston!) I used to know a few in town, but they’re probably retired by now. Don’t let this go, Dan!

  8. Last year, the WHS executive director thought it was a good idea to stand up at the RTM and angrily issue a vague threat if the town didn’t hand over the money it felt it was due. If this troubled organization still wants the benefit of the taxpayer funding it has enjoyed in the past, it’s going to have to come out of the bunker at some point. Budget season is now upon us once again.

    • Arline Gertzoff

      Morley
      Considering the WHS approach I am doubtful RTM will want to provide them much if anything
      The treatment of Sheffer family is appalling name change is just nonsense.My view of course.Do you have news on cleanup as it was to be done /plan by Jan15

    • John F. Suggs

      The WHS executive director later expanded on her threat to the RTM in the press.

      “What will happen is since they (The town) have said that they will not pay for record storage, those documents would become private next year,” she said. “That means if anyone comes to use them they will have to pay research fees.” (At $40 an hour.). She never even offered to return the town’s records to the town. No, she simply announced that she would make the town residents pay. Anyone who has ever donated family documents to the WHS should ask if their donation is also behind their new $40 an hour paywall.

      Read what she said here. https://www.westport-news.com/news/article/Public-records-to-be-made-private-after-funds-14186131.php

    • Morley, John – THAT “we will now charge Westport residents $40/hr for access to the Town’s own historical records” debacle is where they finally lost me as a supporter.

      There is something rotten in Denmark . . .

  9. Dan, does this mean you are no longer an Honorary Member of the Advisory Council, as you had been previously listed? Did you receive any notice of your delisting?

    It is curious how this whole WHS devolution mirrors almost exactly the same demise of the Westport Arts Center (now “Westport Museum of Contemporary Art”). It’s almost as though the executive directors watched the same webinar series: “How Best to Destroy Local Cultural Gems, Alienate The Community, and Achieve Museum Status in Under a Year!”

  10. William Strittmatter

    Dan – Have you tried contacting any of the now-missing directors directly to find out what’s going on? At least a couple of names I recognized seemed to be level-headed folks. Even if they are still board members and don’t want to discuss the internal deliberations of the board, they might be able to shed light whether they were aware of the scrubbing of the website.

    • One former director has contacted me, off the record, after the first story ran. That’s it.

      • William Strittmatter

        A “pre-name change” former director or one of the newly disappeared directors? Have you reached out to any of them but they’ve gone all bunker mentality and are not responding? Not that you don’t have better things to do but the nature of their lack of comment would be telling.

        • I’d rather not say which. Right now I’m out of town for a few days, with limited time or access to contact people. I’ll follow up as best I can.

  11. This new information underlines a sad state of affairs. One of the elements that make Westport unique is its sense of both its history and its place in history. I think many of us Westport alumni — whether far-flung or in neighboring Fairfield, like myself — take pride in owning a small sense of that history. My Staples diploma sits proudly next to my university degree. This history of Westport is the connective tissue between many of us, and while my experiences with Westport may not be “museum-worthy,” I still feel what’s happening here as a personal affront.

  12. William Strittmatter

    As a complete non-sequitur, just saw the breaking news that the Russian government “resigned” so Putin could carry out his proposed constitutional changes to further entrench himself. Eerie similarity or happy coincidence.

  13. Karl S` Taylor

    Looks like this has replaced the long-running favorite, “Parking doosies of the Day”.

  14. Cristina Negrin

    This whole thing stinks! The saying “follow the money” comes to mind. Give the new director the boot and restore the Historical Society (and it’s name) back to Westport. As far as the dedication goes who ever heard of un dedicating a dedication? “Follow the money”. I’m furious for everyone who has been touched directly by this (Ann and Bill) and all of us who have loved the Westport Historical Society until the recent changes.

  15. Eric William Buchroeder SHS ‘70

    What is the legal classification of this entity? Who owns its assets? Who hired the executive director? If you read her CV and compare it to the ”museum’s” stated “strategic plan” on the website, it is clear that the new leadership has chosen to place the former WHS on a trajectory divergent from its former raison d’etre. They aspire to size and scale above all. They state openly that in order to achieve this they must reclassify/rebrand/resize the WHS as a museum as opposed to a civic organization. They are setting goals that require funding that leaves little choice but to solicit external benefactors with little Westport history to share such as the Offutts who are only the first of many. Its obvious the new executive leadership is looking to transform the entity from a source of community pride and shared history to an “attraction” seeking a rank and following placing it among large museums as opposed to a civic organization missioned and sized appropriately for a small community. Did the former entity have a charter? Rules of Incorporation? Tax Exempt Certificate? In what/whose name? Bottom line: From what transaction did the current leadership derive its power and who were the parties in that transaction? There is no way that the town and/or its citizens should allow this hometown jewel in the center of the community to be turned into a gross monstrosity just to enhance the resume of an executive team that obviously intends to use the WHS as a platform/way station on its career path.

  16. Maggie Parkhurst

    I resigned from the board last January. The new secretary is Michaela MacColl.

  17. Time to fire the Directors and return the original name and Mission. I’ve made many small donations in the past, certainly never give a dime as long as this farce goes on. I would encourage everyone to withhold any support.

  18. Does the First Selectman know about this travesty? If Westport funds even a penny towards the Historical Society, they should immediately stop. How does this new Director get away with all of this? Dan, since you are exposing this story, could you speak to their Board and find out why they are supporting this Director? Or ask Bob Mitchell who is on the Board if you know him, I think he’s the person who brought her here after Sue Gold left.

  19. The former WHS received a lot of favorable coverage over the years, including various articles in The NY Times, e.g, the story on the wonderful exhibit about New Yorker Magazine covers done by Westport area artists:

    Why wouldn’t the current administration want to include such wonderful press coverage in that Media link? Actually, is it possible there was a prior Media link of some kind and this New Yorker article was part of that and then taken down as well?

    The “Erasing History?” issue you raise in the subject heading of today’s “06880” is seemingly also reflected in the website’s current statement regarding why the WHS name change took place:

    https://westporthistory.org/blog-post/whats-in-a-name/

    Here is one specific portion of that statement I find especially disconcerting: “ There are practical business reasons for the name change as well. The quality of work that WHS has done in the last two years with respect to exhibits, programming, research and collaboration has put it in the category of respected museums. Formally, pursuing museum status allows WHS to apply for better funding opportunities in terms of grants and sponsorship’s.”

    First, of all, just as an aside—and I say this as a word and spelling geek—their statement should say “sponsorships” and not “sponsorship’s.” If you want respect as a museum, I think you need to have proper spelling…just kidding.

    But, on a serious note, the implication from the specific segment of the Westport Museum’s statement above is that its work over the past two years has been far superior to that which transpired prior to the new administration—and that the exhibits, research, etc of the WHS in prior years would not be deemed in the category of “respected museum” work.

    I am astonished by that statement. Obviously some of the exhibits over the years at the WHS were done on lower budgets—but, from my perspective, that did not diminish the local historical significance of those exhibits. And some from a professional production standpoint, such as the 2016 exhibit on the British Invasion, were the equivalent of anything I have seen in prestigious NYC museums.

    I fully understand when a new administration takes over at any organization and wants to take a new approach. But, especially in a local historical society, there are appropriate ways of doing that; why look to burn so many bridges?

  20. Elise Plate Russi

    WHS tax returns (Form 990) are available for free on ProPublica and include FY 2013-17. Robert Mitchell was listed as the President of the Board and signed the return. Presumably he was involved in the selection of the current Executive Director and more recent Board members.

    These tax returns include negative net income for the years reported. WHS was then, and is presumably now, drawing down limited financial assets to meet operating expenses. And now there are more paid staff compared to prior years. No wonder the need for new, substantial outside funding sources given the higher run rate.

    • Eric William Buchroeder SHS ‘70

      This is good info. When did the WHS change from being a volunteer civic activity “labor of love” as it were, to a complex enterprise necessitating a professional staff, with salaries to match? I think that somewhere along the line its success went to its heads. The community is either going to support this new soulless regime or it isn’t but it’s not going to be easy putting the genie back in the bottle.
      I’ve been away from Westport for years however have tried to stay close to the WHS as I could. It made me proud to be a native and to me the charm and quality of its “value proposition” was the fact that no one was in it for the money they were doing it out of love, respect, pride and not the least, FUN. The current manifestation, at least to me, has NONE of that. The fact that good neighbors and “founding fathers” like the Sheffers have become “collateral damage” just makes the situation more bizarre adding insult to injury.

  21. First off, I am totally in agreement with the many expressions of outrage at what has transpired beginning with the crass decision to remove the Sheffer name from the gallery and to do so without respectfully engaging the Sheffer family. It was unprofessional and, frankly, dumb.

    I admit being a modest supporter of the WHS and that my family’s involvement has been somewhat limited. We have, however, gone to several exhibits, though, and seldom miss a house or garden tour. Plus, our grandsons have taken part in educational offerings administered by a very capable and engaging staff who now, unfortunately, are no longer there.

    On the Saturday before this past Christmas, I stopped by for the first time in about a year or so to take advantage of a holiday gift wrapping service that was being offered for “Free, but donations are encouraged”. A very pleasant young woman handled the wrapping and I gladly left a donation figuring it was a win-win….presents would look much better than what I could have mustered and my donation more than covered the cost.

    While killing time as the presents were wrapped, I could not help but notice how dead it was compared to times past. Someone, a staff or volunteer, was futzing around in one of the rooms, but that was it. I wandered briefly into the Sheffer Gallery which was darkened but it being a sunny afternoon, you could still see the exhibits and read the narratives. Within a minute, the alluded-to futzer popped in to advise me: “The gallery is closed and besides it requires an admission fee when open”. I did not dwell on this as I always recalled a donation box in past visits, but it was a bit of a buzzkill to the whole experience. But, mostly, I was left with the feeling that this place has changed and not for the better.

    I have had some experience both working for and being on the board of non-profits and can only imagine the response that would result if a public blunder of this magnitude were to ever happen. Yet, over 72 hours later, the only response seems to have been to scrub the website of the list of various board members. Further evidence of a leadership void.

  22. I also received that remarkably tone-deaf emailed press release. It’s as if this institution subscribes to the growing notion that the solution to any PR crisis is to double down on the misstep – and ignore all naysayers. Hard to believe someone – anyone – would not come forward from this organization and make at least an attempt to address the furor. I suppose they’ll learn when they see local contributing donors evaporating in the coming year…

  23. Kate Mozier-Tichy

    Ok, whoa whoa whoa, I worked there last year from January up through July, and I just want to say that all the people’s names who were removed were so dedicated! Its really a shame. Except for Cheryl and Sara, all of those name are new since I started working there. Its really a shame, Deej, Bob, and Nancy, among others, were amazing!

  24. Westport Museum for History & Culture? Why exactly did the Westport Historical Society require rebranding? It would be unfortunate if these actions reflect that all-to-often and ill-advised tendency of new management to move all of the pieces on the board merely to make its mark. In any case, here’s hoping that Lucy Ricardo’s feared rebrand does not prove the most apt.

  25. Does the First Selectman know about this travesty? if town of Westport gives ANY funding got the Historical Society it should be immediately stopped. And yes, WHS did answer ann Sheffer’s post with a press release
    about the change, not answering ann Sheffer directly. That’s exactly what WHS has previously done with artists, agreeing and then summarily dismissing their verbal contracts. Is a suit possible here? Dan, can you write about this in the News? I would hope that new Westporters will understand the situation and not become or renew membership until this is reversed and the Director, Ramen and Board head, Sue are removed,

    It’s interesting that in an above post, Jen Greeley likened this all to the same happenings with the former Westport Art Center. That’s all true.

    Dan, I hope you stay with this.

    • Thanks, Ann. I’ll keep my ears open (particularly for ANY kind of contact from the WHS — they’ve been absolutely, totally silent since my first post).

  26. Dan – Thank you for your thoughtful and illuminating post.

    How ironic it is that an institution dedicated to the preservation and celebration of local history has erased the very history it is mission-driven to preserve, and has done so under the auspices of preserving it.

    On their website, the newly named Westport Museum for History and Culture, f/k/a Westport Historical Society, acknowledges the indigenous people upon whose land this institution exists, yet simultaneously – and surprisingly – not only fails to acknowledge the important contributions of those historically instrumental in helping this community institution to do its work, but erases their names in favor of other souls who have taken the baton of providing some of the significant support necessary for helping to continue this important local tradition.

    Rather than fulfilling its mission to “…inspire the holistic discovery of our town’s history inclusive of our collective heritage…” the current leadership, all seemingly relative newcomers to Westport, have been – in this dimension, at least – ham-handed stewards of their inheritance and the organization’s “ancestral” heroes.

    We all make mistakes, and most are forgivable, provided we are quick to take ownership, sincere in our apology, and work in good faith to resolve the matter to the satisfaction of all concerned. Doing so puts the focus where it belongs: On the good work the current leadership is doing to ensure that the future of this organization is secured, and that many past, present, and future supporters – philanthropists and volunteers alike – are and will be honored for all they have done, do, and have yet to contribute.

    It’s usually the case that a problem well-solved strengthens relationships and loyalty more than if there has never been a problem before. To the contrary, a problem poorly addressed and not resolved is corrosive and, often, can mark the beginning of a terminal spiral in those same relationships. I sincerely hope the current leadership of The Westport Museum for History and Culture pays close attention to the blistering feedback they are receiving from the community and works to heal the wounds that have been caused and regain the trust and high regard the organization has enjoyed since its founding.

    • Tom Feeley Sr

      “blistering feedback”‼️Ta da😂👍🏼🇺🇸

    • Well said. Hopefully the new administration rectify the situation.

      The bottom line is: if Daniel Offutt were alive today I imagine he would be very disturbed at how this has played out. His Trust has made many generous donations to a number of good causes. I doubt he would have insisted on having the Sheffer family name completely removed from the exhibit hall. As some other person posted, recognize both of their contributions in some kind of joint naming of the gallery.

  27. That should read “will rectify the situation.”

  28. This entire imbroglio is so sad at so many levels. Is there not one person out there who can save this institution? Any old Board Members who can come together and meet with the new Board and the Director? Can there be some transparency regarding decisions which are being made?
    Pat Porio

    • John F. Suggs

      Pat, I could’t agree more. Is there no one who can and will intercede with the executive director and this rump board? Help them see how their actions are are so negatively impacting our community? Their silence is becoming oppressive. We need someone to step forward and help lead them out of this mess.

      I keep wondering if the Offutt Fund would still cut their check if they understood just how much turmoil in our community their offer of “the largest donation ever” to the WHS has caused? Are they even aware of what is happening here?

      I feel like these last three days since the WHS press release first hit we all have been living a version of John Steinbeck’s “The Pearl”. A great pearl has been discovered and it is being used to tear all of us apart.

      I don’t feel like the current ED and the remaining board members of the WHS have shown themselves worthy of being the stewards of the Offutt’s generous gift. But who can speak to the leadership of the WHS when they refuse to engage with us?

      Mr. Richard Orenstein of the Offutt Foundation. I want to respectfully ask you to please consider holding off on making any kind of payment to the WHS until they can show themselves capable of managing it. And that starts with them engaging directly with our community and actively addressing the many hurts and pains that their poor management and communication has caused. Until then, your generous gift, like the great pearl, will only cause us all more harm.

      Thank you.

      • Mary Schmerker

        These are wise words from a wise man. The sooner the board steps up and addresses the valid concerns the sooner the very deep wounds can begin to heal. Left untouched the wounds will fester and become deeper.

  29. At this point, it would appear that the strategy of The Westport Museum For History, Culture and High Bidding, formerly known as the Westport Historical Society, is to lay low until the squall passes…

    • This squall is not passing anytime soon! If any of the commenters locally and far way (former Westporters) have their way.
      I’m over here on the Norwalk Westport border totally fabergasted by what I have been reading! What is making this worse is the radio silence and flying under the radar of the high ranking officials of the historical society.
      I seriously thought those involved with the Arts Center and Historical Society lost their minds when they renamed (rebranded) themselves.

  30. Dan,

    Thank you for reporting on The Westport Historical Society new director and boards injustice to
    the Sheffer family. It’s a disgrace❗️
    Please continue further diligence and fact finding
    to expose these culprits 👏🏼

  31. As a retired CEO of 501(c) 3 foundation that there is nothing that can be named for the Offutt trust? Keep the Shafer gallery and give the Offutt trust another “naming right” you can do both….everyone wins. Dont make me drive down there!
    SHS 71′

    • Eric William Buchroeder SHS ‘70

      David, the issue is more complex and the fix more comprehensive than just realigning naming rights. For some reason a community jewel was hijacked. No one seems to understand when/why this happened or who is behind it. Situational awareness and accountability are what’s missing here and that must come first.

  32. Thanks for taking the lead Kevin. we’ll be waiting on the results of your comment…

  33. What a mess.

    I happen to like the change from Historical Society to Museum. It will bring more visitors, for one thing. Museums are more familiar, more interesting to a wider range of people than a Historical Society which often conjures up a stuffy, dusty storage facility for archived papers – even though that often isn’t the case. And, in the same vein, I think it will – in time – bring the organization to the forefront of Westport culture and activities. So I think changing the name was a good choice.

    But I’m disturbed by the blog post written by the Executive Director entitled “What’s in a Name?” which attempts to explain that change. Ms. Ganeshram’s emphasis on historical fact seems to express an intention to eliminate any historical narrative and interpretation. So I wonder if my assumption that the concept of historical society would be incorporated into the concept of museum is accurate. Will it still preserve ancestral legacies and nostalgic artifacts?

    And the period rooms are gone?! I’m only just now aware of that. I know that they were only representative and in much need of rejuvenation, but to do away with them completely? If they didn’t meet museum standards, why wouldn’t it be a future project to complete at least ONE authoritative room in the Bradley-Wheeler House? There’s no mention of any plans for something like that on the website.

    Speaking of the website … ok, I can understand the wish to publish only materials that reflect the change from Society to Museum. That makes sense. But why isn’t there a tab for archived information? There absolutely should be!
    In fact, I would hope that in the future — given the fact that they’ve taken an important step by digitizing collections — there would be the ability to do some genealogical and historical research directly on the website.

    $40 fee to research materials in person? Well, they have to raise money somehow, and that’s not out of line with other societies.
    But Westporters should be exempt.

    Changing the name of the exhibit hall without notice or discussion? Appalling. That it didn’t occur to the Board to meet with Ms. Sheffer, explain the situation, and discuss mutually satisfactory options before cavalierly making the change shows an alarming indifference both to the history of our town and to its people.

    People’s names disappearing from the rolls without notice or explanation?
    It feels … dictatorial.

    Bottom line: some good and valuable ideas to make the Historical Society viable and a continuing presence into the future — poorly executed.
    They might try community outreach.

    • A $40 an hour archive paywall is in line with other historical societies? Perhaps. But not in my experience. Just to use a peer town as an example, walk into Fairfield’s historical society and, for a flat $5.00 fee, you get entry to both its exhibits and its archives. I feel $40 and hour (plus a whole schedule of other fees) likely has the practical effect of discouraging some who many wish to discover more about our community’s past.

      • @Morley Boyd
        Not to mention it is cost-prohibitive for students, people on fixed incomes and many others. I’m not sure why anyone would want an “elitist” historical society. It seems kind of contrary to the larger mission.

      • Thanks for that clarification, Morley. I thought it was a flat fee of $40 and didn’t realize it was per hour. That’s outrageous for research in person!! (Although it’s a normal price to have a researcher do it for you.)

        There is one silver lining: Online research questions that take less than 15 minutes work are free. As a long-time amateur genealogist and as someone who worked several years in a historical society / genealogy library, I can tell you that most questions can be researched and answered in under 15 minutes. So that’s good.

        Another appropriate policy is that students can research for free.

        While I’m on it … I have another correction to my original post:
        I see that the Museum IS archiving letters, documents, clothing, books, etc.
        That’s a relief, at least.

      • William Strittmatter

        As an added note, admission to Fairfield is free if you are a member with individual membership only $30.

  34. Elise Plate Russi

    FYI, the other area historical society’s have been successful (Greenwich, Wilton, Weston, Fairfield), and they did NOT change their name to remain successful. In fact, the Greenwich Historical Society just completed a huge multimillion dollar expansion and renovation (over $10 mm?) using money raised locally. They did not alienate their long term, historical supporters. They kept all the period rooms in the Bush Holley House decorated as they were to reflect the Cos Cob Art Colony (start of American Impressionism) and the running of the house by the Holley and artist Elmer MacRae and family.

    I rest my case.

    Most period rooms in the WHS gone. The upstairs rooms were turned into offices last year. One period downstairs room became an expanded gift shop to try to raise more money. Another disappeared to create space for talks and small exhibits. Only the dining room remains. Barbara (and Paul) Van Orden gave most of the money to renovate and decorate these rooms, but she died a year ago. This is my attempt to speak from the grave. She would be appalled.

    • Dick Lowenstein

      In the interest of being accurate, the Fairfield organization is the ” Fairfield Museum and History Center”

  35. Kate Mozier-Tichy

    Ok, well the period rooms is a whole other issue. It is actually very difficult for museums to get away with having them up these days. Mostly because when it was they style to have museums life that, they simply do not hold up to modern research. The only place I know of that actually does it well is the Denison Homestead in Mystic. They have each room set up as a different period with ORIGINAL furniture to the home and times. It has also been continually owned by the same family since the original land gift in the 17th century. Most other museums are not able to have this luxury. And honestly, period rooms only tell so much, while a rotating exhibit hall can do a lot more. I may be hated for saying this, but they really needed to go. I know Van Orden is much loved, but it was time for those rooms to be updated.

  36. David "Jonesy" Jones

    Woog-bone, Jonesy here. This is all you need to know. Since your article first appeared I have tired to communicate with the ” Museum” (email and voice mail) and anybody want to take a guess how many responses i got back……zero! Don’t make me drive down there. PS…..Jon Sheffer was a classmate of mine SHS 71′.

  37. Hi Dan,

    Thanks for your reporting on this matter!

    Seems the (re)naming of the Museum’s Great Hall is available to the highest bidder at any given time. A rumor around town is that for the price of $10 million a donor may have the institution itself renamed the “ Museum of Westport CT”. Only a rumor of course… (Maybe.)

    P.S. How ironic, I noticed that the newly designated Westport Museum’s press release (of the same date as the 06880 report) on 01/15/2020 announcing the name change to the current highest bidder did not include any button for COMMENTS, but did include extremely prominent buttons for DONATIONS. Hmmmm…

    • CORRECTION: First paragraph quotation marks should read: A rumor around town is that for the price of $10 million a donor may have the institution itself renamed “ The (your name here) Museum of Westport CT” .

  38. John F. Suggsr

    Well TWJ…since the ED and remaining board at the WHS have made it abundantly clear that everything at the WHS, including its own integrity, is now open for sale to the highest bidder, it makes sense that they would even rename the organization itself (for a price). Let us see…Maybe China would like to buy our history? Walmart? Amazon? “WHS, yes we can be bought.”

  39. And they corrected their disgraceful prior actions. Unfortunately, I would not hold my breath for the same outcome here in Westport.