Category Archives: Arts

Farrow & Ball’s Window On Westport

Unless you’re a 5th Avenue department store at Christmas, it’s tough to get folks to look in your window.

It’s especially difficult when you’re located next to Trader Joe’s in Westport. You’re set back from the Post Road — and who can pay attention when you’re weaving in and out of traffic at 40 miles an hour, anyway?

But that has not stopped Farrow & Ball from trying.

The intriguing Farrow & Ball window invites you to peek inside.

The intriguing Farrow & Ball window invites you to peek inside.

The UK-based paint-and-paper crafts shop has 14 US showrooms. As part of an AIDS awareness and fundraising initiative with DIFFA — Design Industry Foundation Fighting AIDS — each location chose a local designer to create a window based on the theme “Comfort and Cure.”

Westport’s Farrow & Ball selected Connie Cooper. She wanted to make her design intriguing from inside the store, as well as the street.

She imagined the vignette as the home office of an international doctor, home relaxing during the holidays. She found an antique bag from 1948, filled with all kinds of vintage doctor tools. It belonged to an actual naval physician.

And here's the view from inside.

And here’s the view from inside.

It’s a cool window. But you should do more than just glance at it, as you fly toward your parking space by Trader Joe’s.

Every time someone shares a photo of the window on social media (#FaBForDIFFA), the firm donates $1 to AIDS research.

It’s up for a couple of more weeks. So hurry! (But drive safely…)

(An open house at Farrow & Ball from 5-7 p.m. this Thursday [January 19] salutes window creator Connie Cooper. Guests receive a goody bag, while supplies last.)

Ghost Light

For as long as anyone can remember, “ghost lights” have lit otherwise darkened theaters. Some say the lamps or bulbs are there to ward off ghosts. Others think the tradition began as a way to prevent accidents.

Whatever the reason, the “ghost light” tradition has inspired a new action. This Thursday (January 19, 5:30 p.m.), at over 300 theaters nationwide, actors and arts groups join in a collective, simultaneous action to create light.

That light is a way to make or renew a pledge to stand for and protect the values of inclusion, participation and compassion for all — regardless of race, class, religion, country of origin, immigration status, (dis)ability, gender identity or sexual orientation.

ghost-lightSome of those theaters are on Broadway. Others are regional houses or high school auditoriums.

Here, the Ghost Light Project is planned for the Westport Country Playhouse.

The public is invited to attend. Attendees should bring a clear white electric light source of any kind. Flashlights, cell phone lights, flameless candles and lanterns are ideal.

Meanwhile, Staples Players is hosting their own, private event.

“Players has always strived to be an inclusive and supportive community,” says co-president and current senior Brooke Wrubel.

“Our participation in the Ghost Light Project reaffirms these long-held values.”

On Thursday evening, Staples students will be in the midst of exams.

“This is a traditionally stressful week,” co-president and senior Remy Laifer notes. “But the Ghost Light Project is a timely reminder that we’re here for each other, and never alone.”

(For a full list of participating theaters nationwide, click here.)

 

Pop! Goes The Art Show

A pop-up art show doesn’t just pop up.

It takes tons of behind-the-scenes work.

This week, it was all hands on deck. The Westport Arts Center is preparing for tonight’s Westport Artists Collective Pop-Up Show. Fifteen diverse artists show their stuff, from 6-8 p.m.

westport-arts-center-pop-up

But like a true pop-up, it won’t last long. There’s an artists’ talk tomorrow (Friday, January 13, 10 a.m.).

The works are on view Saturday too.

Then — poof! — they’re gone.

Though of course many hands will be there Sunday removing them, too.

Proud Townees Offer Westport Wear

Last summer, Ted Vergakis was on vacation in California. He saw someone wearing a simple T-shirt, with 2 words in beautiful script: “King’s Highway.”

Ted’s a Westporter. He had no idea what the shirt referred to. It could have been “a San Diego biker gang,” for all he knew.

No matter. He wanted one.

His oldest son Theo went to Kings Highway Elementary  School. His youngest son Alecko is a student there now. The family calls it “a special place,” and seeing those words crafted on a T-shirt seemed both cool and rare.

Ted realized that though there are places to buy things that say “Westport,” they don’t feel as if they were created specifically for here.

Ted and Stephanie Vergakis.

Ted and Stephanie Vergakis.

So he and his wife Stephanie decided to create a hand-drawn script for Westport, and a unique illustration that can’t be found anywhere else in town.

This was not a total stretch for the couple — but not exactly what they’d been planning either.

Both grew up in small Massachusetts towns. Both started their careers in advertising, managing creative departments and producing campaigns.

Stephanie went on to work in fashion, at Donna Karan. Ted spent several years running the global creative group at IMG — with clients like the Olympics, NCAA, sports stars and models.

Now they run their own studio, called Offmad. They provide creative and strategic support to clients like Kayak.com, PwC, Vroom and others.

Ted and Stephanie's Westport hoodie.

Ted and Stephanie’s Westport hoodie.

Their route to Westport — via Manhattan and Hoboken — was similar to others’. When they felt the need for more space, and realized the commute would be longer, they wanted someplace special.

“More of a destination, not just a suburban town,” is how Ted describes it.

Work colleagues suggested Westport. On weekend trips here, Ted and Stephanie “pretty much knew it was the perfect place.” They loved it all: seeing houses in the morning, then lunch at the Mansion Clam House, a trip to the Compo Beach playground, a stop at Trader Joe’s.

“We were really taken by how much at home Westport made us feel,” Ted says.

“It felt very New England and familiar. We both loved where we grew up and vacationed — Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard. Westport really reminded us of all those special things from home.”

But — like most Westporters — when Ted had his aha! T-shirt moment, he also realized that Main Street has become flooded with retailers that do not offer anything authentic and Westport-special.

So he and Stephanie decided to partner with skilled designers and illustrators. They wanted to celebrate their town, and the artists who created its legacy.

Townee's sparkling Saugatuck Bridge t-shirt.

Townee’s sparkling Saugatuck Bridge t-shirt.

Creating the sparkling Saugatuck Bridge illustration for their “Townee” apparel — which now includes short- and long-sleeve T-shirts, hoodies, fleeces and rally caps, for adults, kids and toddlers — was particularly important.

“I don’t think there’s a soul in town who doesn’t love the way the bridge looks during the holidays,” Ted says. “It’s perfect from every view — from 95, driving over it, walking through it.”

As for the company name, Ted says, “We think being called a townee is a compliment — a badge of honor. It’s someone who knows the best things to do, see, when to go places.

“Loving where you live makes you a townee. We all spend so much time  here doing normal day-to-day things. We want to remind others of how special Westport is.”

Their reminder: a line of high-quality apparel that’s comfortable, can be worn every day, and shows the pride people have in their town.

Townee launched last month. You may already have seen folks wearing Ted and Stephanie’s gear.

Just call them townees.

(Ted and Stephanie offer free delivery to all addresses. For more information — including ordering — click here.)

Justin Paul: Golden Globe Winner!

Justin Paul — the 2003 Staples High School graduate who, with his songwriting partner Benj Pasek, has taken both Broadway and Hollywood by storm — began 2017 the same way he ended 2016: with raves from critics and fans.

A few minutes ago in Beverly Hills, the duo earned a Golden Globe Award for Best Original Song in a movie. The winner was “City of Stars,” from the hit film “La La Land.” Pasek and Paul wrote the lyrics; Justin Hurwitz wrote the music.

Paul did the honors, giving the acceptance speech.

Justin Paul (left) and Benj Pasek, moments after learning they'd won a Golden Globe for writing the lyrics to "La La Land."

Justin Paul (left) and Benj Pasek, moments after learning they’d won a Golden Globe for writing the lyrics to “La La Land.” (Photo/Rhonda Paul)

The Oscar nominees are not yet out. However, Pasek and Paul’s latest award gives them a leg up in that race.

And, of course, there are the Tony Awards in June. Perhaps you’ve heard of the songwriters’ other little project, “Dear Evan Hansen”?

(Hat tip: David Roth)

Remembering Nat Hentoff

Nat Hentoff — the wide-ranging, free-thinking, controversial and passionate author, columnist, jazz critic and social bomb-thrower who died yesterday at age 91 — had a strong Westport connection.

Nat Hentoff

Nat Hentoff

A Boston native long associated with New York City — the AP describes him as “a bearded, scholarly figure, a kind of secular rabbi, as likely to write a column about fiddler Bob Wills as a dissection of the Patriot Act, to have his name appear in the liberal Village Voice as the far-right WorldNetDaily.com, where his column last appeared in August 2016,” and whose friends included Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, Malcolm X and I.F. Stone — he had a Westport home for many years.

Hentoff appeared several times at the Westport Library, as a speaker. There he provoked local audiences, just as he did readers worldwide.

Once, in a talk on censorship — which he vehemently opposed — he startled the attendees by advocating firmly for the anti-abortion side of that volatile topic.

Hentoff’s sister, the poet Janet Krauss, was also a longtime Westport resident.

(Hat tip: Maxine Bleiweis)

Great American Stamp Store Closes Soon

It may seem like a strange, niche business.

great-american-stamp-storeBut for 25 years — now behind Little Barn; before that, tucked away past Carvel and Aux Delices — the Great American Stamp Store has provided Westporters with artful rubber stamps, from over 100 manufacturers. They also sell art tools, ribbon, punches, dies, pens and more.

Yet all good things must end. Owners Judy Ritchie and her daughter Jamie are retiring. The shop closes on January 27.

A longtime customer says:

Together they’ve written books, taught classes, and provided the large scrapbooking, journaling and mixed media artist community with a big variety of stamps, paper, inks and embellishments. They’ve brought in well known mixed media artists from around the country to teach classes. On Tuesday mornings, they have a free “make and take” where they teach you how to make a greeting card.

There are no stores like it in the area. People travel from all over to go there. To me, they are like family. I will be sad to see them go.

Judy Ritchie (standing), with customers hard at work during a class. (Photo/Michael Trent)

Judy Ritchie (standing), with customers hard at work during a class. (Photo/Michael Trent)

Another customer adds:

Judy and Jamie don’t blame the new Michael’s as much as the internet. It’s easier to buy online than travel 25 miles to the store. I’ll tell you this though: Nothing beats the advice and inspiration you got from going there in person.

There’s still a couple of weeks left to head over, and buy your final stamps.

Including the one saying “The End.”

Jake Bernard’s “City Of Love”

Jake Yarmoff is a singer/songwriter. So it’s not surprising that he cites Alice Lipson as a major influence. At Staples High School — from which he graduated in 2010 — the choral teacher helped him hone his smooth sound.

But he also was mentored by English instructor Julia McNamee. “She woke me up my last 2 years there, ” Yarmoff — who now goes by the easier-to-remember name Jake Bernard — says. “She taught me to be harder on myself, and made me the writer I am.”

Jake Bernard

Jake Bernard

Even math teacher Lenny Klein made an impact. “His policy of total honesty and great sense of humor were so important,” Bernard says. “He’s all about taking your work seriously — but not yourself.”

With that background, it’s not too surprising that at Penn State the aspiring entertainer majored in … finance. And minored in sociology.

He interned with Vanguard after junior year, then joined the investment firm full-time in financial sales at its Philadelphia headquarters. Bernard calls Vanguard “a great company, and a fantastic experience.” But he left 8 months ago.

“I knew I had somewhere else to be,” he says simply.

That “somewhere else” was metaphorical — not physical. He remained in Philly, and dedicated himself to his musical craft.

“My goal in my career is to have a positive impact — to inspire and give ‘wow’ moments, like other musicians have for me,” Bernard says.

“I want to make people smile, laugh and be their full selves. Ever since I was little, in every interaction with people — even outside of music — that’s been my aim.”

So Bernard wrote songs. He played. And he’s been in the studio, recording a series of singles he’ll release over the coming months.

Right now, “City of Love” is getting a lot of attention. And love.

It’s a 2-way street. Bernard has come to appreciate Philadelphia — a place that, growing up in Westport, he never really thought of — for its small-town-in-a-big-city vibe.

It took several months to get the tune right. But it — and a music video that shows Bernard singing and playing in some of Philadelphia’s most iconic spots (yes, of course including the “Rocky” steps!) — is a catchy, compelling love song to his adopted city.

Bernard knows that — musically speaking — the City of (Brotherly) Love is not in the same league as New York, Los Angeles, Nashville or Austin. It does have a lively hip hop, rap and jazz scene.

But the “beach pop” genre that Bernard specializes in (think Jason Mraz, and Fairfield’s own John Mayer) is wide open. He hopes to fill it.

Jake Bernard, in the city he loves.

Jake Bernard, in the city he loves.

Yet he retains his Westport roots. He recently performed at Toquet Hall with Alan Southworth — a friend since orchestra at Coleytown Elementary School — and Dustin Lowman, another Staples grad on the fast musical track. Bernard has also played alongside Staples alum Drew Angus.

Jake Yarmoff loves Westport. Jake Bernard loves Philadelphia.

And both places love both Jakes right back.

Where Westport Meets The (Art) World

“06880” is not in the business of promoting upcoming art exhibits. There are too many worthy ones — how can I single out any?

But rules are made to be broken. Two upcoming events are well worth your time. Both have local roots — and are also of global interest.

“Westport to Cuba: Building Bridges” takes place at the Saugatuck Congregational Church on Friday, January 6 (5 to 8 p.m.). Over 50 large photos will be displayed, from the church’s mission trip last June. This is a great way to see one of the world’s most fascinating and quickly changing countries, through the eyes of 25 Staples High School students and 15 adult chaperones.

A poster for the Saugatuck Church exhibit shows the 1970s-era, Partridge Family-style bus the Westporters used during their trip to Cuba last June.

A poster for the Saugatuck Church exhibit shows the 1970s-era, Partridge Family-style bus the Westporters used during their trip to Cuba last June.

The next day (Saturday, January 7, 12 to 4 p.m.), the Westport Historical Society hosts an “Art to the Max, Now or Never” sale and celebration. It’s the last day of their exhibit about Max’s Art Supplies, the iconic downtown store that drew together Westport’s artists’ community, which in turn influenced American illustration.

Original art — from some of the over 70 famous artists and cartoonists in the show — will be on sale.

(PS: If you haven’t yet seen the exhibit, go! There’s a recreation of owner Shirley Mellor’s classic corner of the store, a replica of the famous clock — and a sampling of the amazing art displayed in Max’s window during the store’s fantastic 4-decade run.)

"Shirley's corner," at the Westport Historical Society. (Photos/Miggs Burroughs)

“Shirley’s corner,” at the Westport Historical Society. (Photos/Miggs Burroughs)

Young Animator Draws On Her Talent

For as long as Olivia Porretta can remember, she’s loved animation.

“You can make a character very simple, but still get a powerful emotional response,” the Staples High School junior explains. “People can connect to just 2 eyes and 1 mouth — it’s a universal face.”

She also likes the fact that animation is done completely by hand. Every frame is created by a real person.

In 5th grade at Saugatuck Elementary School, Olivia designed storyboards for a made-up character — without even knowing what storyboards were. Her younger brother liked them, so she did more.

Olivia Porretta

Olivia Porretta

At Staples, Olivia honed her illustrating and writing skills in the Animation Club. Using Cintiq — an interactive pen device similar to a big iPad — and programs like Photoshop and TVPaint — her passion grew.

Except for a summer session at New York’s School of Visual Arts, Olivia is self-taught. She’s also a self-starter.

When she met Kimson Albert — a noted animator — she showed him her work. Last year, he invited her to join the Amaze Project. That’s a fun, engaging video series teaching tweens and teens about health and safety, including sexuality, gender identity, relationships, friendships and puberty.

Each short film is written, designed, animated and produced by different people. Olivia was hired — and paid — for a video about online safety.

“I wanted kids to be empowered, not scared, by information,” she says. So her animation delivers its message in the voice of a child. Staples students Chloe Adda and Jake Watzman provided 2 of the voices. Olivia also added her own.

It took several hours each night — for many weeks — for Olivia to complete her 4-minute film. It was released last month. Reaction has been great. Click on the video below, to see for yourself:

Soon, Olivia will be back at work, creating new animations. Meanwhile, she’s enjoying Staples — especially (of course) her English elective class.

It’s called Visual Literacy.

(Hat tip: Sean McGee)