Library Trustees Issue “River Of Names” Statement

The Westport Library board of trustees has issued a statement regarding the River of Names mural. They say:

In recent days, we have listened to, heard, and read the comments from some members of the community regarding the decision of The Westport Library Board of Trustees to not reinstall the River of Names tile wall at The Westport Library.

To address the concerns raised and to avoid any misunderstandings, below is a timeline of the River of Names project:

  • The River of Names was a fundraising effort for a Library Capital Renovation project in the late 1990s (1997-98). Contributions ranging from $100 to $1,500 were sought. Former Second Selectwoman Betty Lou Cummings and Dorothy Curran, a trustee of the Library Board at that time, co-chaired and graciously led the effort.
  • Marion Grebow of Grebow Tile Fundraising Murals was contracted to create the tiles, which were installed onto a reinforced, interior wall on the Library’s Riverwalk Level. Thus, due to how they were adhered, tiles cannot be separated without causing damage. The entire wall is approximately 26 feet long and 6 feet tall and weighs nearly 6,000 pounds.

The River of Names was hung in the lower level of the Westport Library.

  • Plans for the Library’s 2017-19 Transformation Project called for the removal of the interior wall that held the River of Names and other walls on the Riverwalk Level to create a more open, light-filled enclosure that allowed for greater use of the space and views of the Saugatuck River. A space on the second floor was designated in the plans for the tile wall.
  • Prior to start of construction, the Library hired Crozier Fine Arts, a leading art storage and logistics firm, to remove the River of Names tile wall. The wall was professionally disassembled into sections, at considerable expense to the Library, in order to remove it safely.
  • Prior to removal, the tile wall and the individual tiles were each professionally and meticulously photographed for posterity and preservation.
  • Since the transformation build started, the River of Names has been in climate-controlled storage at the Crozier facility, at the Library’s expense.
  • To make sure future generations are aware of the project, the Library created a dynamic River of Names digital platform that showcases the tile wall in its entirety. It is available on the Library’s homepage.
  • As part of the original design for the Transformation Project, the tile wall was to be reinstalled in the renovated space on the upper level, outside the Children’s Library. It would have been mounted and wrapped around a corner, where patrons could see it and enjoy it for many years. This location was unequivocally rejected by the individuals involved in the original development of the tile wall because it wrapped around a corner.

(From left): Former 2nd Selectwoman Betty Lou Cummings, tile artist Marion Grebow and historian Dorothy Curran. All were involved in the River of Names project.

  • Upon the rejection of the proposed location, the builder, along with the trustees, re-analyzed the design and determined that there was no other suitable location in the building to re-hang the tile wall, according to the requirements provided by the individuals involved in the River of Names original development.
  • At that time, and for several years afterward, we explored, in earnest, both public and private locations in town to re-hang the River of Names on a reinforced wall. While one location was potentially identified, the funding to prep the space and reinstall did not exist.
  • The Library honors the donors whose names were recorded on the tile wall. Their names are listed on the new donor wall located at the main entrance that was designed as part of the recent Transformation Project.
  • In September 2019, the Library Board met and decided unanimously to keep the tile wall in storage, and cover the storage fees, hoping another location could be found. The Board informally discussed that paying to store the wall for an additional three years was reasonable.

The Westport Library (Photo/Lynn Untermeyer Miller)

  • In October 2021, as the town was reviewing its public art collection, the Board asked the Library staff to contact community partners to obtain their points of view on the River of Names. The staff reached out to representatives of the Town’s Art Advisory Council, TEAM Westport, and the Westport Museum for History and Culture. These organizations independently expressed concerns about historical inaccuracies and the lack of representation of diverse people who played a significant role in Westport’s history. These opinions have been shared publicly.
  • The Library’s Board of Trustees confirmed the decision to not reinstall the River of Names. The decision was made after years of thoughtful discussions, looking at multiple points of view and consideration of numerous factors.
  • In April 2022, members of the Board met with Dorothy Curran and Betty Lou Cummings and informed them that there was no place to reinstall the wall at the Library and reminded them that they were welcome to have it. The Library offered to pay storage through the end of the year, or longer, if they needed additional time.
  • The Library has offered and remains open to transfer ownership of the River of Names to any responsible party who demonstrates a reasonable interest.

The decision not to reinstall the tile wall was one made by the Library’s Board of Trustees and the Board alone. We appreciate that not everyone agrees with the board’s conclusion, and we understood that it might not be universally popular, but it was made in good faith based on the mission and values of the Library.

We love Westport for many reasons, and one of the things we cherish most is that Westporters are passionate and engaged. We believe that reasonable people can disagree, at times strongly, on an issue, and we support that conversation. In fact, it aligns with the Library’s stated commitment to empower the individual and strengthen the community through dynamic interaction and the lively exchange of ideas.

The Board advocates for civil conversations that are respectful and topical, not derogatory, or personal. We ask that varying points of view be shared respectfully and for the ongoing discussion to be one of learning, sharing, decency, courtesy, and growth.

We are grateful for our continued partnerships with the Town’s Art Advisory Council, TEAM Westport, and the Westport Museum for History and Culture. The Westport Library looks forward to continuing to work on our shared interests with the goals of enriching the lives of the residents of Westport and beyond. It is unfortunate that through this recent discourse, these organizations are being attacked for a decision the Library’s Board of Trustees made regarding the tile wall.

The motto of the Library is “open to all” — and we truly see it that way. That is not only those who agree with this decision or those who will disagree with a future decision. The Library is for everyone, a gathering space and a community resource. We are thankful to all who have reached out to share their thoughts constructively. Please know we have listened and regarded every opinion. And we look forward to sharing this community space — in the days, weeks, and years to come.

Westport Library Board of Trustees

57 responses to “Library Trustees Issue “River Of Names” Statement

  1. The most incredible library, without a doubt!!!!!

    • John D McCarthy

      I used to love taking my young children to the Mural when we visited the library to show them their names on the tile their Grandparents sponsored. Was a fun and tangible way of showing how they would always be connected with Westport.

  2. I have no problem with the decision to not rehang the mural.

    But this doesn’t make sense to me:
    “Thus, due to how they were adhered, tiles cannot be separated without causing damage.”

    The mural was disassembled into several large pieces. What is stopping a skilled professional from further disassembling the wall? Is it not worth exploring whether individuals who invested in creating the wall would be interested in further investing to keep a portion of the wall before the entire mural is disposed of?

    • I was struck by that statement as well. And it made me wonder from a different perspective: how was the wall ever going to be put back up intact? Wouldn’t it have suffered some damage in the process of taking it apart?

      Re “The Library offered to pay storage through the end of the year, or longer, if they needed additional time”: does this mean the Library will continue to pay for storage beyond next month and not allow the River of Names to be “disposed of” by the facility as previously indicated?

      If not, and if the River of Names mural is disposed of—incidentally, I think Eric Arthur Blair would have appreciated this language— by the storage facility next month, Debbie and I have talked it over: we would like the Library to return our original donation.

  3. Wow. What a betrayal to those donors. When someone is promised to be remembered in perpetuity by an organization, that is a promise.

    • Well, then the individuals involved in the original development of the tile wall should not have rejected the approach of wrapping it around a corner. The tiles could have been hung by now, but instead they got overly demanding, and now they got nothing.

      I fully support the Library Trustees. Enough is enough.

      It’s funny how the upset people are calling it a “donation” — but they’re acting like they purchased a part of Library real estate that needs to show their names in perpetuity.

    • Exactly my thoughts, Valerie!

    • Tabitha Nguyen

      Since the donors have been recognized with a plaque on the donor wall, this is hardly “betrayal”. There are very few donor contracts that are designated in perpetuity, especially if a foundation or endowment isn’t provided by the donor. 99% of organizations would not agree to such terms. Was there a trust established to ensure future care of this lamentable art? The answer is no, and that is why it was not required to be reinstalled. Let it go along, with brown paneling and calico curtains.

  4. This is exactly why I’m finished “donating” anything in this town. I’m done! (I bet if I donated $15,000,000 dollars to the library, they’d figure out a way to get it done!)

  5. I’m awaiting Dan Katz’s comment.

  6. Clark Thiemann

    Our family has donated to the library many times over the past decades. Our names wore off the brick down at the edge of the water we sponsored in the late 80s and while I’m pretty sure we had a tile, I feel no sense of betrayal that they didn’t block a window to rehang it in the amazing recent renovation. We have a library to be proud of. Last year at the Crossword Competition (one of the best things in town each year) I was sitting next to two out of towners in awe of the library and the great room. I was there a number of weeks ago and walked into an expert level piano concert in a room with exceptional acoustics. Ive heard fascinating speakers and watched a World Cup game. My kids have read hundreds of books endorsed by the dedicated staff upstairs in the children’s library. Let’s stop being nasty here and attributing bad motives to people.

    • Well said. And spoken like a true “donor.” Someone who donates money to display their name and take credit for their donation is not a “donor”, but rather is doing so for selfish reasons. Those people can keep their money as far as I’m concerned, the hassle just isn’t worth it. I admire “anonymous” donors who don’t want any credit.

      • I doubt I’d be so negative if it weren’t for the debacle caused by the Westport Museum. There was a monumental rip off!

      • Jay: One important distinction here is that many donors felt, back in the 1990s, they were contributing to the creation of a unique work of art—one that could have been reinstalled in the renovated library had it not been for the way the Board wanted to design the new space.

        So, in essence, a beloved work of art that felt like a community effort is apparently about to be destroyed—by a library of all places—solely due to design considerations. That’s what is so upsetting to so many of us.

        The fact that the Board offered a place in the renovated library for an altered version of the River of Names mural does not absolve it here from my perspective. The artist had valid reasons for rejecting that altered version.

  7. Eric William Buchroeder SHS ‘70

    A well-crafted response. Damage control worthy of the most threatened bureaucrat. In view of the obvious reality that the peculiarly motivated museum of history and culture has overridden all other considerations the library and museum has little choice but to consolidate into a common entity. The current location can be vacated and relocate museum offices and staff to the new Westport Library and Museum of Contemporary Cultural Warfare. The former location can serve as a tomb and mausoleum for artifacts such as the vandalized tile wall. Perhaps at some point archeologists can restore its dignity.

  8. I am the owner of the westport company Among the skill we have is tile installation and repair to tiles. The task of removing tile from a well done installation is very difficult. Depending on the initial installation the task to separate the tiles may be possible or may not. If a highly skilled experienced tile person attempted to separate the tiles they may chip or crack. The initial installation could have been modified to allow for removal and separation.but that’s Monday morning quarterbacking.

  9. I think it’s a terrible decision and will not be contributing to the library anymore

  10. Joan Hume-Cohen

    I had the honor of working at Westport Library January 2000 to June of 2013. I met the most interesting people not only at work but also those I worked with planning events and programs. Over those 13 years, I had the distinct pleasure of sitting on a chair many evenings across from the Tile Wall that offered me solace and comfort as I thought about what I was planning, how I was going to get it done, and who I could ask to help me. There was something about those tiles that spoke to me. And as I sat there, I was so happy to see so many of the names of Wesporters I knew over the years who had come and gone. The work that went into making the tiles. There were so many of them. While a decision had to be made, some of the reasons are ones I would have fought against had I the chance. Joan Hume-Cohen, now living near Cincinnati, OH where art and murals and theater and museums abound.

    • Eric William Buchroeder SHS ‘70

      Hi Joan, I am an “Old Westporter” and moved with my immediate family to West Chester, OH (suburb near Cincinnati) in 1992. There are, indeed some wonderful museums and libraries here. The “new and improved” museum and library in Westport could have taken a page or two out of Cincinnati’s playbook in terms of community engagement and respect. Happy Holidays to you.

  11. Eric William Buchroeder SHS ‘70

    I’m not sure I understand your analogy between the Berlin Wall and the river of names, tile wall, road kill or whatever it continues to be called. One wall separated people and the other brought many people together. Anyone can decide for themselves which is which. Earlier, Jack Backiel called it a case study in how not to handle a transition and I think that is about as accurate a summation as this forum is likely to see. Some will be sorry, others will be hurt and most will likely not care. It’s they who won out in my opinion.

  12. I found the statement of the Board of the Westport Library on Dec 15 to be thoughtful and thorough account of their reasoning re: the River of Names. What I understand: After the renovation they had planned to reinstall it on the Children’s level, but that offer was rejected. They took on the expense of storing it while searching for a new home for the Project in other public spaces but no one claimed it. Now, they have honored the donors by mounting their names, they have honored the art and history by photographing all the tiles and making them easily available to view. And they have honored the public by welcoming discussion.

  13. What will,happen to the tiles now??

  14. I give you X, and you promise me Y. Now there’s no more Y. Next time, just ask for X with no Y.

  15. Hedi Lieberman

    I worked on the tile wall. The community loved being able to see their tiles when they came to the library.

    Dorothy and Betty Lou worked tirelessly to make the wall happen. Everyone in Westport was given the opportunity to have a tile in their name.

    Sometimes change occurs and leaves only memories.
    Such is life.

    Happy Holidays to all.

    Hedi Lieberman

    Former Board Member and ex President of the Friends

  16. Such is life… oh well..change occurs. There’s an answer for you!

  17. Destruction of Art and Breaking of a Promise. Dark times in our fair burg that needs alot of work to redress.

  18. Priscilla A Long

    I am not totally sure why, but I feel compelled to make a comment on this very controversial topic. I loved looking at the tile wall in the old library. I am someone who has supported the arts in this community in many ways over the years. In recent weeks I have been part of conversations with friends about the wall, and I am struggling to understand why there isn’t a place in town where it could be installed, As the former Chair of WSPAC, I have seen art placed all over this community. Is there not ONE space where it may find its home? I am sad to think that this art will be destroyed or disposed of — I hold onto the hope that all possibilities have been explored! Thank you.

  19. Odd that the Library reached out to the Arts Council, TEAM Westport and the History Museum (all worthy organizations), but not to original donors.

    Setting aside that the mural was a quaint representation and not a literal historic document, I’m surprised that now was the time for a historical vetting. Seems like less of a reason and more an excuse.

  20. Can someone from the Library please share with us the monthly costs of the storage facility? Those interested in saving the wall might want to start a GoFundMe campaign to cover the ongoing costs and to ensure the storage contract continues. Thanks.

  21. Michael Shafrir

    The amount of time, effort, and (digital) ink spent on this tile wall “controversy” is really inspiring in the sense that it’s not inspiring at all. Of all the issues in the world…

    • Eric William Buchroeder SHS ‘70

      Michael, there is more to this “controversy” than meets the eye (or the nose).

  22. Bill Strittmatter

    I’m fully sympathetic to the Library’s position. For better or worse, the “open concept” design they felt important for the new library not surprisingly did not accommodate a large straight solid wall necessary to remount the mural as-is. However, to their credit, they did find an alternative site to mount the mural in a place that was arguably as visible, if not more visible, than the old location. Unfortunately, the “gang of three” mural committee rejected that location due to the bend and the mural went into storage with much back and forth and gnashing of teeth in Dan’s blog at the time.

    So, several years down the road, no one (not the library, town nor mural committee) has been able to find a new home for the mural. As I recall from the discussion at the time, the mural is rather fragile and unsuitable for mounting outside where it is exposed to the elements and wide range of temperatures. That and a requirement for a load bearing 30 foot empty straight wall makes in unsurprising that an alternative location has not been found. Presumably the alternate library location was still available for some period, but continued to be unacceptable to the mural committee.

    The question then becomes, “how long is it reasonable for the library to continue to pay for storage for something they are not allowed to hang where they want but that no one else wants?” At some point, time runs out, whether it is now, a year from now or five years from now. It’s been what? 3-4 years? That seems a reasonable enough time to me.

    Where this sort of breaks down for me is the Library’s approach to the three entities for their “opinions”.

    Why those three? Why not the Chamber of Commerce, VFW, Rotary, Westport Women’s Club, DAR, MoCA Westport or any number of other organizations? Or a much beloved charrette? Or even Dan Woog?

    One could speculate that the responses from the chosen three were most readily predictable and thus would provide the Library with an added DEI fig leaf excuse for what is otherwise simply a rationale economic decision that any of us might have made about an old piece of furniture running up charges in a storage unit.

    One could debate the quality of their responses (as is obvious from previous comments) but, frankly, if I were one of the three organizations, I’d be pissed at the library for having been played.

  23. Question: If it was always intended to replace the tile wall in the “New” library why wasn’t that an integral part of the design of the new building? Seems to me if the Tile wall was part of the fundraising for the new building design why wasn’t it included from the get-go? I can only assume it was never seriously intended, designing is not an after thought. I understand all the problems of the depictions of the history but that’s not the issue. That’s a “new” issue obfuscating the “old” issue sweeping it under the rug. Just saying.

  24. Werner Liepolt

    There’s a strong lesson and a powerful message here for would-be community-minded do-gooders. DON’T.

  25. Cost of storage, BTW, is, I am told, about five grand a month.
    Though unhappy that my tribute my parents and my kid’s grandparents is slated for destruction, mostly, I regret the loss of the only beautiful thing that ever graced our library…the wall is magnificent and it’s removal, despite all the “open space,” leaves the library without the only thing that once made it unique…and that is a shame.
    PS. Where the hell is Ms. Tooker in all of this?

    • Tooker is probably doing what all select people seem to be doing these days which is enjoying the glam parts of the role, ribbon cuttings, free meals, etc. Why stop to provide leadership during an important issue as it may get in the way of those activities?

      • Eric William Buchroeder SHS ‘70

        Admittedly empty suits in municipal politics are all the rage, particularly in the greater NY metro area as Westport has become. But the library’s leadership got itself into this mess and it would be a character building opportunity to get themselves out of it. The revisionist historians at the museum can watch and learn.

  26. I understand the Library Board’s position. The board is clear in taking a very inclusive view of the town’s past, and in the mural not representing that view. It is very much like the removal of Confederate monuments in the South. Those who donate to have their perspective on the past memorialized want to stick to that view. Feelings have been hurt, perspectives have been challenged, and the board has stuck to an inclusive position.

    • Eric William Buchroeder SHS ‘70

      As has been said earlier, multiple times in multiple ways by multiple people, the library board chose to consult everyone in the world but the contributors to the wall. That was their mistake and that is why everybody with an axe to grind has managed to insert themselves into this very simple case of “biting the hand that fed you.”

    • John D McCarthy

      Bruce, equating this mural with confederate monuments in the south is off base, intellectually simplistic and offensive to those who created it and supported it. Do some research into why most confederate monuments were put in place in the early part of the last century, and then do a comparison of the motivations of the southern monument erectors with the motivations of the people that supported the mural installation. And I would love to know what “View” you think was motivating those who supported the mural.

    • Seriously?

  27. I have an idea. Fairfield has a “ structure” near Town Hall whereby all the names of servicemen are named who were from Fairfield and who fought in wars. For the price of keeping those tiles in storage for 4 months, you could construct a structure like Fairfield has. I believe the names are behind glass and this has been there for decades!

    • Eric William Buchroeder SHS ‘70 (expelled 12/16/22)

      The venue already exists on the green that fronts the majestic, stately town hall formerly known as Bedford (arch 18th-19th Century Westport Capitalist and exploiter of people of color world-wide as the museum of history and culture will gladly corroborate as many times as is unnecessary). Lots of dead Westporters on the wall that already exists there and there’s even a tile on a godforsaken remembrance wall gathering dust in some godforsaken warehouse @$5500/month depicting a grieving town employee (white Westport male for those of you who don’t care) adding names of dead Westport warriors that was depicted in 1944 I believe on a Saturday Evening Post (decadent passé symbol of ultra non people of color culture of the old, decadent Westport) created by Westporter (and famous artist before Westport became known for his talent and exploited his reputation to drive up property values to the point that real people with non parasitic life works had to leave town), the wonderful artist Steven Dohanos.
      Merry Christmas Westport!!!! May God Save Us ALL!!

  28. I am aghast and disappointed in the Library Board’s poor planning and blame-shifting in the matter of the River of Names tile mural. We blame the mural for its homelessness.

    I am the son of a former Library Board member from that era. My mom, Denise Taft Davidoff, was a believer and champion for diversity and inclusion decades before most people. I cannot speak for Mom in this matter; I have no idea what views she held concerning River of Names. I only know that she was a quite active and concerned board member as the present library was designed and constructed originally. And that she accompanied me years earlier when I was photographed at age five signing for
    my first library card in the then-library space now occupied by the downtown Starbucks.

    I speak for myself, having grown up in Westport, attending its public schools from kindergarten to graduation in the Staples Class of 1975. I live now in Bridgeport. Other than the Unitarian Church, I treasure no other institution in Westport as much as its public library.

    In the River of Names matter, I feel that an outstanding attempt in depicting local history has been now hidden, derided, and besmirched by modern history regulators.

    How far do we take this review of history in the collection of the town library? Do we throw away the works of recent local historians Dan Woog and Woody Klein? Do we throw away earlier histories of Westport on the shelves because they might be discovered to be not inclusive or diverse? Do we trash the library’s easily accessible archive of Staples yearbooks because they indubitably contain material that might today be viewed as sexist? Do we block access to the YouTube film video dating to 1938 of Staples’ second principal, Wilbur Cross (namesake of the parkway) because, as governor of the state, he issued loving, treasured, and beautifully evocative Thanksgiving proclamations that were nonetheless filled with “men” and “mankind” language? Can we even find fault with the Minuteman himself?

    But I do admittedly exaggerate. I agree with the Library Board that we need a solution and a permanent home for the mural. It should not be lost or forgotten.

    I hope this public discussion, even as the board takes a drubbing, leads to a better home. Just to throw out a sudden light-bulb idea: perhaps a well-protected but open and accessible public art installation across from the Westport & Saugatuck Metro-North Station in the Saugatuck Hamlet development. (Draws in breath at daring to co-mingle two separate current town controversies.)

  29. Mr. Herman.

    I appreciate your attention but I disavow significant portions of your response.

    While I keep up with “woke” discoveries in The New York Post and in Project Veritas, I nonetheless do not believe that woke indoctrination lies under every rock and in every classroom. I have far more faith than you in public schools, even with failings. I’m not inclined to turn to blanket labels.

    Speaking of labels, count me as a silly white man with mental problems. I have worked hard over many years to combat severe depression. I am doing much better, thank you. But I did not turn this dialog into an unrelated speculation about the “silly” mental health of strangers. You did so. You probably did not expect to catch me in your snare intended to entrap unnamed but identifiable white women.

    The mother of which I wrote spent her early years in Westport during the 1960s and 1970s devoting much volunteer time to the Mental Health Association of Fairfield County. As a son who needed help as a child and then as an adult, I am grateful that she studied ways to combat the stigma of mental illness. To use your own factory analogy, your comment unnecessarily and inappropriately manufactures stigma for mental health where none is warranted and where the very topic is off-topic. What is it about your own “silly” mental health that prompted you to raise this disagreeable and wholly unrelated topic? A cry for help?

    • Another response to “J. Herman.” I assumed you are a man. But nothing in your nom de blog indicates your gender. You might be a woman who thinks other women are silly. I apologize for making a rash assumption.

  30. Wendy Crowther

    An item in the Library’s statement requires further explanation. It states:

    “At that time, and for several years afterward, we explored, in earnest, both public and private locations in town to re-hang the River of Names on a reinforced wall. While one location was potentially identified, the funding to prep the space and reinstall [it] did not exist.”

    Please tell us what wall locations you explored and why you ruled them out. As for the one potential space that was identified, tell us why the funding challenge wasn’t discussed in a more public forum and why a possible fundraiser to mount the mural wasn’t considered.

    Since several years have passed since locations were explored, perhaps new ones could be offered or discovered now, especially in response to this recent publicity. According to the library’s statement above, the wall needs to be “reinforced.” Though I’m no engineer, I don’t think reinforcing a wall is that big of a deal.

    Also worthy of renewed discussion is whether the River of Names mural could still be mounted on the wall in the library’s upper level as was offered in the past, even though the mural would need to turn a corner. Perhaps this would feel more acceptable now when faced with destruction as the alternative.

    Given the recent public outcry, these strategies should be newly considered/reconsidered. And, since the library offered to store the mural until the end of the year “or longer,” please go longer in order to seek a better outcome.

    On a personal level: My parents donated to the library’s renovations over the years. The brick they bought for the first fundraiser is no longer discernible among the hundreds of others that have experienced the same fate. Weather has taken its toll. But nature did what we all knew it would do eventually. I can’t blame nature for that. And I can still walk on the path.

    My parents also bought a tile for the River of Names. My dad is now gone (a former P&Z member) and my mom is headed toward her 96th bday. They didn’t donate huge sums of money for these things nor did they do it for vanity.

    They did it because they cared and also because they hoped that their kids, grandkids and even g-grandkids would not only use the new and improved library but might also touch their tile, learn something about our town, and feel something good inside far into the future. The sadness I feel about the potential loss of the mural – its art and the tile that my parents tucked within it – is profound.

    If no better solution other than destruction is found for the River of Names, we all now know where the blame lies, and it isn’t the weather.

    • Wendy’s questions for the trustees are worthy, as are Fred Cantor’s. I raised my own privately (with Dan and Fred), but I’ve decided to post them in hopes of encouraging a response from the board.

      From the trustees’ statement:
      “As part of the original design for the Transformation Project, the tile wall was to be reinstalled in the renovated space on the upper level, outside the Children’s Library. It would have been mounted and wrapped around a corner, where patrons could see it and enjoy it for many years.”

      Also from the statement:
      “In October 2021, as the town was reviewing its public art collection, the Board asked the Library staff to contact community partners to obtain their points of view on the River of Names. The staff reached out to representatives of the Town’s Art Advisory Council, TEAM Westport, and the Westport Museum for History and Culture.”

      From Bill Harmer, shortly before the release of the statement:
      “The bottom line is, the mural is no longer appropriate. It is exclusive, obsolete and offensive, in ways no one could conceive of in the 1990s. It does not represent the inclusive Westport of 2022.”

      If the mural were currently wrapped around a wall outside the children’s library, would the board now be encouraging patrons to “see it and enjoy it,” or would they be telling us that it’s “no longer appropriate”—”exclusive, obsolete and offensive”? Would they insist on its removal? (Backing up a bit, another question: if the wall had been reinstalled as planned sometime between 2017 and 2019, would the board have asked “community partners” for their “points of view” on it in 2021?)

  31. Come on. That’s a total misrepresentation of Harold Bailey and everything he does for the town. He could not be more collegial and cooperative, hardly the hot-tempered tyrant you imagine in your fever dreams. As for “silly white women with mental problems” who are “backup singers,” I hope the regressive view simmering in your subtext never reaches a boil.

    • Jerry Herman (she/him/depends on my mood)

      Perhaps I was being a bit colorful in my language, but I stand by the analysis. All of these things happen because they are pushed by TEAM Westport and he is the main catalyst. He may be a nice gentleman but he forces his (very radical) views on racial and other identity issues on the rest of us. Every controversy in town originates with his group. And they get their way over and over again. What is interesting about this debacle is that now libs are even offended (not just us wayward MAGA domestic terrorists clinging to outmoded ideas like equality and the belief that art shouldn’t be censored by political bodies). If Mr Davidoff wants to know if the Minuteman is at risk, I sincerely believe he just needs to ask Mr Bailey, because it is entirely up to him. If Mr Bailey decides it’s racist or transphobic or toxically masculine or fails to embody the lived experience of marginalized communities, he and his friends will make a stink and browbeat everyone into submission as they do time and time again. And the Minuteman statue will join the mural at the transfer station.

      As for Mr Davidoff’s microaggression of gendering me without even asking how I identify, all I can say is I will be filing a complaint with TEAM Westport’s pronoun division. Hopefully a resolution of denouncement will be posted on the town website before the end of the week, at least in time for him to be disinvited from any local holiday parties. Additionally I am going to recommend the RTM declare Mr Davidoff a one man public health crisis. Mr Davidoff, this is not who we are.

  32. Has this thing been talked to death yet, Dan? I smell a whiff of decomposing words in this comments column.

  33. I have just one, very important question for the Library. When you consulted with the three outside groups: The Westport Arts Advisory Committee, Westport Museum for History and Culture, and TEAM Westport, on the mural’s historical depictions, did you provide for their review copies of the River of Names catalogue written by Dorothy E. Curran and published by the Westport Library Association?

    I ask precisely because one of the primary stated purpose of publishing this catalogue was to provide important historical content and background research material to this unique piece of art.

    But let the catalogue speak for itself:

    “This mural’s virtue is its power to simplify history. This catalogues challenge is to order an account for what has been simplified. Determining how to condense a community 360-year-saga into four themes and 80 images loosely arranged in chronological order was no small task, nor was boiling down the related fax into accurate dates and concise tile captions. Providing models or guidelines for accurate pictorial representation – especially for eras in which no portraits of local personages exist – added to the effort. More than 18 months of historical research and collaboration, preceded the development of final production guidelines. In partnership with Grebow, responsibility for selecting each tile’s subject matter belong to the River of Names Historical Committee — Eve Potts, Mollie Donovan, Barbara and Alan Raymond (JFS Edit – The Town’s long serving Historian!), Betty Lou Cummings, and myself (Dorothy E. Curran in collaboration with the Library Reference Staff and the Westport Historical Society. Key resources included extent local history, by Edward Coley Birge, Johanna Foster, George Jennings, Eve Potts and Dorothy Tarrant and John Tarrant. (Woody Kleins book came later.). We also relied on Westport Historical Society resources, newspaper, archives, and Ledyard, Connecticut’s Mashantucket, Pequot Museum, and Research Center. (Even before the museum’s village life dioramas first open to the public, historians Paul Costa, Kevin McBride, and photographer. Alan Phillips graciously provided us with preview materials.)”

    The catalogue continues by stating the obvious:

    “Necessarily also, our committee’s relative judgments reflect whatever biases or benefits of experience a late twentieth century perspective may imply. With an eye to Westport’s future, we sought to highlight forgotten heroes and to reconstruct daily life in a past obscured by a shortage of records, renderings or portraits. We also sought to remove artifacts of prejudice permeating some earlier local histories and sometimes, to supply parallels, admonitions or ironies by introducing overlooked or recurring facts.”

    “The scope of our quest to include “lost culture” and, especially, “lost women,” from local history prompted a resolution to depict women and girls, named or not, wherever appropriate. Accordingly, thanks to visual references provided by the Mashantucket Pequot Museum & Research Center, Grebow’s rendering of Pequannock women (see tile 2) at work in their village is groundbreaking.”

    Then, in a prophetic and direct response to the recent complaint made about Tile 25 “1840’s, 1850’s & 1860’s Emerging diversity of religious worship” which was criticized for neglecting to reference the presence of the Jewish Community the catalogue, in the very first paragraph describing this tile states this: “In fact, religious diversity was not new to town. Local Jewish history dates to 1742, when Michael Judah – with a loan from Shearith Israel, his congregation in lower Manhattan – established a West Indies corn shipping business at what, through mistaken pronunciation, became known as Judy’s Point. He married Martha Raymond, a Gentile, but retained strong ties to his New York Congregation.”

    In short, the published catalogue that accompanies this amazing work of art, offers a resounding testament to the rigorous and professional historic historical research that was undertaken over a period of eighteen months prior to the very creation of this art. Historical Research and authentication that was generously provided by two of the very same organizations – the Library and the Westport Museum for History and Culture – that now condemn this art as “no longer appropriate….exclusive, obsolete and offensive.”

    Again, have any of you bothered to read this art work’s very own catalogue?

    • Thank you for sharing that John. The library and all the advisory committees make it seem like the tile mural was amateurish and casually racist- almost like some kind of slapdash community center project run by a bunch of ignorant blue haired ladies. But in fact it was a carefully considered work of art and historical narrative. The chair of the library board and the chairs of the advisory committees really should all step down over this. Also, before the mural gets thrown out, is there an option to store it in a basement somewhere, possibly even a private home? Sure, a climate controlled environment would be ideal, but we should at least try to store it for free somewhere before throwing it in the garbage.