River Of Names: Time For Tile Mural To Unite, Not Divide, Westport

The River of Names was created to bring Westport together.

Unfortunately, over the past few days it’s become a symbol of division.

The motives of organizations and individuals — and their reputations — have been questioned, maligned and impugned. Fingers have been pointed (and middle fingers raised), by folks who always worked together — and always should.

The time has come to put all that vitriol aside. Sure, it’s the holiday season. But it’s also the right thing to do.

The River of Names, when it hung in the lower level of the Westport Library.

The River of Names is clearly a beloved, integral part of Westport. It means a lot to many people — those who contributed to it, or whose families did. Those who bought tiles in loved ones’ memories. (And not just “historical” tiles. Hundreds of others simply bear names and dates.)

It is, quite simply, an important piece of our town.

But it’s not a perfect one.

A number of people and groups have worked behind the scenes to seek a resolution to the tile mural situation. Several themes have emerged:

  • The Westport Library seems willing to extend the storage lease, while discussions about a solution continue.
  • There may be places in the Library where it could be rehung — for example, the Komansky Room — with structural improvements.
  • If the Library is not a feasible spot, other places — Town Hall or the Main Street pedestrian tunnel, perhaps — might work.
  • Because of its construction, it’s unfeasible to cut the mural. Its “river-like” theme mirrors Westport history — but it’s incomplete. More information and details, more nuance, a more modern interpretation of that history is crucial. Residents and visitors alike must understand where our town came from, so we can appreciate — and make it better — today and tomorrow.

Wherever it goes, the River of Names needs to be put in context. It was a work of an earlier time — a snapshot of some historical moments.

Many other moments were omitted. We’ve learned of more, and our views of our history have changed, in the years since.

The time is ripe to add supplementary and interpretive material. It can be done in many ways, using old-fashioned tiles or new technology.

The “River of Names 2.0” could even be a fantastic new fundraiser for the Westport Library.

Let’s turn the corner on the River of Names controversy. (Photo/Lynn Untermeyer Miller)

We’re all on the same page. Let’s all work together — the Library, Westport Museum for History & Culture, TEAM Westport, Westport Arts Advisory Council, other town organizations, and individuals on all sides of the debate — to find a solution.

Please add your positive thoughts to the “Comments” section.

That’s right: Only constructive, positive comments will be allowed. No name-calling, shaming or negativity at all. Thank you.

44 responses to “River Of Names: Time For Tile Mural To Unite, Not Divide, Westport

  1. Yesterday, received sort of a thanks for donating Christmas card signed by Bill Harmer with a return contribution envelope…was gonna’ send back with pissy note about no way until tile wall re- installed…thanks to your post, I will be far less pissy and pledge to any fund aimed at the wall.
    Many thanks for the important heads up.

  2. Perfectly said, Dan. Thanks for your continued focus on this and for your leadership in finding a solution. This is a town treasure. I know an equitable solution is possible.

  3. What great news! That’s fantastic that the Westport Library “seems willing to extend the storage lease, while discussions about a solution continue”—and that a possible solution might even be a space in the library.

    Thank you in advance to everyone who works together to bring back the River of Names in the manner described in Dan’s write-up.

  4. Excellent mediation, Dan.

    • Agreed. And a teaching moment for us all. Speaking of, and in addition to the possible venues proposed by Dan and others, would reinstallation in a Westport school be feasible? Gift the mural to the Westport Art Collection? Surely there are a number of suitable long walls, with options to supplement the display with further context, supplied by students…

  5. Thank you for thoughtfully reframing this controversy, Dan. I agree that it’s time to set aside our disappointment and pivot to finding common ground. To that end, I fully support the notion of including additional information with the re-installed River of Names. As it has been firmly established that this community sourced work of art is of great value to many, many Westporters, and the outlines of a resolution appear at hand, let’s move forward – together. I’m in!

  6. John D McCarthy

    Good plan

  7. All that needed to be done in the first place. Thanks as always for making the center hold, Dan.

  8. I really appreciate your post. I contributed a tile to the wall to commemorate an important time in my life and would love to see it saved. Surely there’s a way to include comments on the back story of the historic tiles and save all the personal tiles which probably mean a lot to people in town.

  9. Jacque O'Brien

    Great things can happen when opposing sides come together and work as one. Thank you, Dan, for beginning the job!

  10. Wynston Browne

    Thank you Dan! And happy holidays Westport!!
    Let’s all be accountable for the future we great together, with better choices, more understanding, and compassionate action in the new year.

    I look forward to learning more about our history, so I can learn from it and make the world better in the weeks and months ahead…


    Wynston Browne and Family

  11. Count me in Dan! Great news that the Library will continue to pay for the storage while the community comes together and finds a solution. I am all for some form of updating the story both now and into the future. We can possibly do that quite easily by updating the digital component that already exists. Have that updated screen next to the original art piece.

    Nice work everyone! And thank you Dan and the 06880 community!

  12. I agree wholeheartedly just find a good spot for it and them move on.

  13. So encouraging, so positive, and so inspiring ! Wow!

  14. Yes! It would be great on one wall of the main st tunnel of love 💗! Add all the context and missing history in a poster. Live, Learn, Love!


    Thank you, Dan, and Happy Holidays!

  16. The Westport I remember would have definitely come to consensus on this in a way that stood as an example for everyone. The Westport of today can do this too. Sending love from afar.

  17. A holiday miracle in the making!

  18. Spoken like a true leader who brings people together instead of dividing them. Maybe you should run for office.

  19. Richard Bortolot

    Good Points. Since it can be placed somewhere in the library, With some structural work, that is where it should go. That was the original purpose. That is what people contributed to. That is what people enjoyed. Each tile is a snapshot in time. Interpret it as you wish. No one needs the library board, Westport Museum and the selectman’s office to interpret it for them. By the way, nice timing on the library donation request!!!

  20. don Sheila bergmann

    To quote Wendy Crowther, “well said Dan and Morley”. Dan does not often take a stand in his efforts to present issues without directing them. This is a wonderful exception. Let us all celebrate when this is resolved and the “River” once again appears for all with, as Morley said, some historical comment to further enhance its importance.
    Don Bergmann

  21. Gloria Gouveia

    At the end of the day isn’t it generally best to take the high road? As for the possibility of “River of Names 2.0”, just tell me where to send my contibution.
    Happy New Year to All!

  22. Roseann Spengler

    I love Westport, warts and all. Thank you Dan for being a leader at this important time.

  23. Thank you for your inspiring words! Your post made me think of opportunities for all walks in town to work together to honor and better understand Westport’s history. Here’s an idea. During the Westport Museum’s Saugatuck walking tour this fall, I was fascinated to learn of Benjamin Adair, a black businessman who bought property in the 1850’s and later sold it at a huge profit to the expanding New York and New Haven Railroad. What if community minded land developers and others in the private sector incorporated information like this within the areas upon which they are building or running their businesses? What was the land like, who were the people, what happened there before? The River of Names can flow everywhere through town and spur curiosity and discovery about our shared past. Westporters are so creative. I’m hopeful! Thanks again Dan.

  24. Riverside Park is in the midst of a reawakening. Perhaps the River of Names could be relocated along one of its many paths leading to the River along with an explanation of its derivation and an enhanced version of town history.

  25. Michael and Rhoda Nayor

    Dan, you have provided the catalyst for resolving this sticky issue and your commendations are well deserved.
    It is heartening to note that even far-flung political voices have come together after your call for a positive voice.
    There is no doubt that the Wall reflects a specific period of time and represents an important teaching tool.
    With the library’s vast amount of open space, perhaps with some amount of creativity and willingness, an area can be reconfigured to accommodate the River of Names. Even its own free-standing wall doesn’t seem out of the question.
    Thanks to all who will tackle this matter in order to resolve it, not rationalize it or kick it down the road.

  26. Carolanne Curry

    You have done your part well, Dan.
    Now much will be accomplished on behalf of this wonderful wall of history and hope…taking your words to heart.

  27. Hedi Lieberman

    It makes me so sad that the Library and the Tile Wall has become a “fixture” of the current state of America. Whatever the outcome please focus on what makes the Library one of the most Democratic institutions we have. Enjoy your families- come to the library and reflect on how lucky we are.

    With much love and holiday blessing.

    Hedi Lieberman

  28. Priscilla A Long

    Thank you, Dan, for forging the way ahead for the River of Names! And, thank you to the Westport Library for extending their lease on storage. I am certain that there is a viable solution about to appear on the horizon! Happy Holidays to all!

  29. Werner Liepolt

    A plot, time of year, and theme for a remake of “It’s a Wonderful Life.” I especially like the potential for a happy ending.

  30. Andrew Colabella

    Let us not forget…

    The River of Names was a project meant to create a stronger relationship between the public and the institution itself!

    This could be a win win for the Library Trustees and the public, to restore it back to an area for the public to be able to once view, at kids level. When I was a kid, we would run our hands over the tiles. ,

    Furthermore the history of our town, corrected by actual historians and scholarly primary sources should be displayed.

    Want to add or update, this is the time to create funding to make it happen!

    Happy to see the trustees are taking another look to the future to preserve it by ensuring funding for its storage, and even funding to find a place for it.

    Reminding the public, because of the materials it’s made of, this cannot go outside. I know people have brainstormed being near the water or outside, it will crack and fall apart.

    We are fortunate to have people such as Dan Woog, Morley Boyd, John Suggs, Betsy Pollak, Dorothy Curran, and many others who I have spoken to that were so energetic and driven to find ways to save this.

    The work continues…

    • Thanks, Andrew. But you forgot one important person: yourself. You are playing a huge role in this too. It takes a village. I’m proud to be part of this one.

  31. With a huge surge of happiness and enormous sighs of relief, I have renewed hope that the River of Names may rise again to instruct and inform as it was meant to. In 2001, the library published a catalogue produced by Dorothy Curran entitled, appropriately enough, River of Names, to provide background for the historical tiles and the project itself and to raise money for the library. I just unearthed mine and have to marvel at what a prodigious labor of love it was! So much information, so many little-known details ….the best compendium of Westport’s history that I’ve experienced. But, as this community conversation has shown, there’s much more to be included. Perhaps the “catalogue, which itself is an extraordinary work, could be amended, annotated, enhanced and republished in an expanded edition as a fundraiser for both the library and the relocation of the River of Names. The concept of a shared community was a major thrust of the original project and it could be again. Thanks so much, Dan, for providing this platform and for pointing out feasible ways to get the ball rolling.

  32. Dorothy Robertshaw

    Happy to hear The River of Names will possibly be reinstalled. I think adding to it and maybe adjusting a few of the tiles is the best idea…. And easily done ….It is a beautiful piece of artwork and I think all of the donors should be honored. Thank you Dan as always , you are the best reported … Thank you for informing us that their is Hope ❤️👍 for its future..

  33. Deb Rosenfield

    Dan, you’ve done it again! Thank you, and, thank you to everyone who piped up here as well as to those who worked to come up with possibly preserving something that means so much to so many.

    The current benefit is the learning experience from this and the future benefit will be providing more depth to the history of this town and surrounding areas.

    Wouldn’t it be neat if this River of Names, and the updated additional learning about our history, could be integrated with that from other local towns? Could make for some interesting day-long school field trips for students, as they travel from town to town and learn the real history of the area as we acknowledge it today. Sort of like one big museum that is spread out across Connecticut, but interconnected.

  34. I don’t think that the Library Trustees anticipated the uproar they would create when they announced their decision to scrap the River of Names.

    So many people — current residents, former residents, long-time residents and those who had just moved to Westport, all had something to contribute to the discussion.

    Fortunately, the Trustees stepped back and looked the situation over and is willing to work out a reasonable solution that will hopefully satisfy most people.

    Thank you so much, Dan, for all you’ve done to defuse the situation and heal the rift.

    Although I am no longer living in Westport, as you have often said, “Once a Westporter, always a Westporter.” And I live only 20 minutes away.

  35. Eric William Buchroeder SHS ‘70

    As you rebuild: Remember the Sheffers……

  36. Marion Grebow was my friend and fellow artist. She was not a witting racist, as is true for so many whites. After spending 10 years as a diversity educator working primarily with high schoolers in Fairfield County (including Staples students), I know that inadvertent racism is very real, and I believe we are all guilty of it.

    Marion would be so glad that her work has spurred a closer scrutiny of race by Westporters. And, as an artist, she would also be glad that there is new hope for continued life regarding the piece she created.

    I thank the powers that be at the library for seeking a solution to preserve this magnificent work, while pointing out the revisionist history it portrays. I’m very proud of Westporters for speaking out.

    • Eric William Buchroeder SHS ‘70

      I’m sure Marion G appreciates you clarifying that she’s not a racist. As you said, so many whites are racist, (often against other whites). Festivus!!! (for the rest of us)

  37. Mary Sikorski

    Thank you Dan and all involved who made this happen!
    When I first read the River of Names was going to end up in the junk heap I was shocked that this town and our library would let that happen.
    When I purchased my tiles back in 2001 if I knew that would have been their fate I would never have bought them or donated to the library.
    When the artist was laying out the design for the tiles I got to pick the placement that I liked. I chose tiles next to the Minuteman Statue. One tile was bought in memory of my father, Robert Elliott who moved his family here in 1965. He loved this town
    so much.
    As Andrew Colabella mentioned he’d rub his fingers over the wavy tiles representing the Saugatuck River. My sons would do the same thing and when getting books out of the library they too would visit Bop-Bop’s tile and run their fingers over his name as well as the other tiles in this beautiful piece of art!
    What a way to begin 2023 knowing that the River of Names will be cherished in this community for my grandson to see.

  38. Jan Degenshein

    Let’s remember that the River of Names is a work of art, representative of the artist’s understanding of history. The wall is a time-stamp and thus an important piece of history in and unto itself. I’m guessing that no one at the time of the commission objected to its depiction of moments in history. Most of us – if not all of us – are unaware of the communication between the library and the artist. What academic resources were available to the artist? What documents were accessible on the library shelves? Let’s also recognize that the dialogue occurring today will have a place in history. How far we – as a conscious community – have journeyed in awareness in just 25 years! (And how far, still, must we travel?) If art is to evoke thought and feeling within the observer, then River of Names is a huge success.
    Confounding the issue is that generous folks donated funds to the library. The River of Names was the conduit of those funds. What were these contributors promised in return? We have now learned that historians must responsibly provide access to an accurate depiction of our heritage. In the process of salvaging this work of art, there is an opportunity to further a dialogue about how misconceptions can be brought to light and corrected. A visible place should be provided for this work of art, along with a counterpoint work of art that represents how a community can come together and mitigate a past failing. And therein lies the next opportunity for fundraising for this amazing library. What we do to solve this dilemma today will become tomorrow’s history.

    • Werner Liepolt

      And — after reading about a NY Times article about a similar situation at a college in Vermont — it appears that our library has violated federal law regarding the rights of visual artists…

      The law reads (in part): “ Visual Artists Rights Act of 1990 – Amends the copyright law to define a “work of visual art.” Grants the author of a work of visual art the right to claim authorship of such work when publicly displayed, independent of other exclusive rights, and to disclaim authorship of such work because of substantial distortion or alteration that harms his or her reputation. Grants such an author the right to prevent any destruction, distortion, mutilation, or other modification of that work which would harm his or her reputation or honor.

      “Extends such rights 50 years beyond the author’s death (or co-author’s, in the case of a joint work) with respect to visual art works created as of the effective date of this Act.”


  39. Eric William Buchroeder SHS ‘70

    Dear Mr. Liepolt (and I do mean dear) Westport is a small town filled with large ironies. That after a long lost Staples student has struggled, seemingly in vain, to save what matters (the library, the educational system, the historical society and last but definitely least – the office of the politically select people – May they maintain their separation of powers – autonomy within a community – you know!!! Everything that makes us free) – it has fallen to a retired Westport teacher who definitely still cares to point we lost Westport souls in the right direction. It’s a Festivus Miracle!!!