Category Archives: Arts

“A Tribute To Pamela”: Local Benefit Show With Wide Impact

Jim Naughton is a pro.

Whether winning Tonys on Broadway, raves for roles in films like “The Paper Chase” and “The Devil Wears Prada,” or plaudits for directing plays like “Our Town,” the longtime Weston resident does things the right way.

Pam Naughton

After his wife Pamela died in 2013 of pancreatic cancer, he dedicated himself to raising funds to fight the disease. He has brought in hundreds of thousands of dollars for a very important clinical trial — and on Sunday, May 7 he’s set to raise more.

He’s doing it with a very professional — and extremely entertaining — benefit show.

“A Tribute to Pamela” brings his family together on the Westport Country Playhouse stage. Naughton will be joined by his son Greg, a producer, actor, singer/songwriter and founding member of the Sweet Remains; his daughter Keira Naughton Forgash, a Broadway and TV actress, and Greg’s wife Kelli O’Hara Naughton, Tony-winning actress and Broadway star in “The King and I,” “South Pacific” and “Light in the Piazza.”

The songs and celebration will support research aimed at early detection of pancreatic cancer. It’s led by Westporter Dr. Richard Frank, of the Whittingham Cancer Center at Norwalk Hospital.

Newman’s Own Foundation is a lead sponsor of the May 7 event.

So it’s a very local, one-night show. But its impact could be global — and everlasting.

(Click here for tickets. For more information, call 203-839-7354.)

Dragon Needs A Home

Thousands of Maker Faire-goers admired the dragon standing outside the library on Saturday.

(Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

But now it’s Monday. The event is over. This is not the New York Public Library. Unlike its 2 famous lions, our dragon can’t stay here forever.

If you want the dragon — for whatever reason; no questions asked — contact Alex Giannini, the Westport Library’s manager of experiential learning (agiannini@westportlibrary.org; 203-291-4847).

You can’t beat the price: free. The library may even help you transport it.

PS: The New York lions are named “Patience” and “Fortitude.”

Our dragon should be called “Cool.”

[UPDATE] Friday Flashback #36

Sconset Square is seldom in the news. But now — as the small Myrtle Avenue shopping center seems poised for redevelopment — Westporters suddenly see it with new eyes.

It’s been around a long time. Originally called Sherwood Square — a name with far more historical meaning here than the faux-Cape Cod “Sconset” — it included stores like the Paint Bucket, in this 1966 shot.

Click on or hover over to enlarge. (Photo/Peter Barlow)

The view above is toward the west (Church Lane). As photographer Peter Barlow notes, it was an anchor store that sold many kinds of paint, decorating supplies and picture frames.

It also featured an art gallery — and that very cool “palette” sign.

In later years, these buildings became CamerArts. And wasn’t Carousel toys in there at one time too?


UPDATE: 12:25 p.m. After seeing today’s Friday Flashback, Seth Schachter sent along his own Paint Bucket photo. He’s told it’s from the 1950s, but wonders with the wild colors if it may be ’60s-vintage:

“Main Street To Madison Avenue” Opens Tomorrow On Riverside

When the Westport Arts Center announced its next exhibition — “Main Street to Madison Avenue,” honoring Westporters’ involvement in advertising and art over the last 70 years — folks flocked to offer items.

Children, grandchildren and surviving spouses scoured studios, attics and basements to find sketches, paintings and storyboards. WAC officials had expected some interesting submissions. But they were stunned at how much had lain around, unnoticed and untouched for years.

One of the people was Miggs Burroughs. A noted artist and photographer himself, he hauled in his father’s portfolio. In the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, Bernie Burroughs was one of those Westporters whose drawings helped influence consumer habits around the country — and eventually the world.

Miggs had not looked at some of his father’s work for decades. The Arts Center staff was fascinated by it.

After a couple of hours, Miggs casually mentioned Bernie’s van Heusen ad campaign — which Andy Warhol later appropriated.

That fit in perfectly with the “Main Street to Madison Avenue theme.” In addition to paying homage to Westporters, the show examines nationally known artists who were influenced by the iconic design and aesthetic of that era.

And when Warhol used Bernie Burroughs’ work, his model was Ronald Reagan.

“That’s the whole point of this show: making those connections,” WAC executive director Amanda Innes says.

“Van Heusen 356,” by Andy Warhol — based on work by Bernie Burroughs.

Miggs had another surprise for the WAC curators. He said that as a child, he’d go to the Westport station with his dad. When the train pulled in, Bernie would hand his portfolio to the conductor — along with some cash.

The conductor delivered it to Bernie’s New York ad agency. That was common practice, Miggs said.

“Conductor,” by Bernie Burroughs, is part of the Westport Arts Center show.

“That’s a great story about trust,” Innes says.

“But it also shows the anonymity of these artists. They created the work, but they didn’t sign them. They weren’t invited to ad meetings. They didn’t even own the art — the agencies did.”

Part of the reason for this show, she says, is to “honor the men who created so much of this iconic imaging and branding.” (And yes, everyone in this show — like nearly all of Madison Avenue then — is male.)

The Arts Center show opens tomorrow (Friday, April 21, reception from 6 to 8 p.m.). On display is original art and advertisements from illustrators like Bernie Burroughs, Al Parker and Bernie Fuchs. Hung alongside are works by artists like Andy Warhol, Walter Robinson and Richard Prince, who appropriated so much of that material.

Westport artist Bernie Fuchs painted this for Pepsi. He also created art for Coke. Both are displayed in the WAC show.

Innes has had a great time — and an excellent education — mounting the exhibit. For example, hearing it was in the works, Harold Levine headed over. He spent 2 hours regaling Innes about his career.

He had a lot to talk about. In addition to co-founding (with Chet Huntley) a legendary ad agency, he knew Warhol when the struggling young artist asked him for work.

Sadly, Levine will not be there tomorrow. He died in February, at 95.

But that gives you an idea of the kind of show it will be.

Part of Jonathan Horowitz’s “Coke/Pepsi,” on display at the Westport Arts Center. He draws upon the work of Andy Warhol — who in turn appropriated advertisements drawn by Westport artists.

Simultaneously, the WAC will showcase 30 works by high school students. The show is juried by treasured Westport artists Ann Chernow and Leonard Everett Fisher.

Tomorrow evening, a Westport student will receive the Tracy Sugarman Award — named for another of our most famous artists.

That award — and the entire show — is a great way to tie our artistic/advertising past in with our consumer culture present. It’s also a chance to highlight the next generation of local artists.

Some day, some may gain fame for their paintings. Some may toil anonymously, but have their works seen by millions.

And — like the professionals featured in the new Westport Arts Center show — some may do both.

(During tomorrow’s opening reception for “Main Street to Madison Avenue,” the video room will run a loop of advertisements — including some from Harold Levine’s agency. The show runs through June 22.)

Drew Angus Does SNL

If you saw “Saturday Night Live” this past weekend, you (hopefully) roared at Melissa McCarthy’s spot-on skewering of Sean Spicer. (“I know they’re not ‘holocaust centers.’ I clearly meant to say ‘concentration clubs.'”)

Drew Angus had a front-row seat to the show.

In fact, even better: The 2007 Staples High School graduate — a talented musician and “American Idol” golden ticket winner — was on stage.

Let him tell the story:

———————————–

I got a call from my voice coach at 2:09 last Thursday afternoon. He asked, “are you in town right now? SNL gig. They need 2 white guys who can sing. Giving your phone number to them right now.”

Two minutes later the drummer from the band Shawn called, and asked how quickly I could get to 30 Rock.

I got there fast. How often does an opportunity like this come around?!

At guest check in they said, “Oh, Mr. Angus, right this way!” I went up the elevator, down the hall and through the doors to the Studio 8H set. I was living a childhood dream.

Immediately I saw the iconic Grand Central Station facade/bandstand behind all the hanging lights, moving scenery pieces, cameras, cables and crew.

They put me right on the scene.  My friend Ian, who also got called, taught me the song we were to sing. (We were hired to reinforce the melody with the cast.)

A kid named Harry introduced himself. I looked at the script, and realized he was Harry Styles.

Jimmy Fallon sat in front of me. Bobby Moynihan stood next to me. It seemed unreal. I’d gone from Head Mouse in “The Wiz” to Union soldier on SNL.

We rehearsed the sketch 5 or 6 times, then got sent to wardrobe. We were measured up, and on our way in an hour and a half.

Later that night, I was playing the Bon Jovi after-party with my band that’s on tour supporting my new record “Hold onto Something” (available on Spotify and iTunes!).

Shawn called again, asking if I could come in at 8:30 the next night to do another thing for the opening monologue. I canceled my Friday gig

Of course, there’s another Westport connection.

I showed up Friday night to sing background vocals in the booth on Bowie’s “Let’s Dance” during the opening monologue. My friend Ian got the same call, along with a guy named Frank Simms.

Frank has done SNL hundreds of times. He knows the ropes, and everyone knows him. He was our shepherd for the night.

Nile Rodgers

Frank and his brother sang the backing vocals on the original “Let’s Dance” record, produced by Nile Rogers — who has lived in Westport for years.

Frank said he, his wife and daughter lived for many years as caretakers of the Westport Woman’s Club house on Imperial Avenue.

Saturday was long. Call time was 11:30 a.m. Rumors of Nile Rogers playing on the opening monologue came true when he showed up in the afternoon.

We went through rehearsals, they cut sketches, we got wardrobe. Jimmy told me to break a leg as we passed in the hallway.

The food was amazing. The crew was awesome.

At 8 p.m. we did dress rehearsal with a test audience. The producers then met for final changes.

We went live at 11:30 across the country — for the very first time in SNL history — with Jimmy Fallon as host.

Drew Angus (right), on “Saturday Night Live.”

The energy was truly electric. I think the cast really has as much fun as it looks like they do.

At some point between the dress and live shows, Frank took us up to Nile’s dressing room. We talked about Sally’s Place, Trader Joe’s, Achorn Pharmacy, Bobby Q’s, Bedford Square, Arnie’s Place, and how all the mom and pop shops are gone from Main Street.

Then they called Nile down to the stage and we left.

It was insane.  I still have no words.  Tina Fey smiled at me in the hall.

It will be hard to top that weekend.


Thanks, Drew, for that great inside look into SNL. But I disagree with your last sentence. 

One day soon, you’ll be a featured artist — or guest host!

Meanwhile, click below for the full video of Drew’s “SNL” appearance:

Jim Hammond, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Famous Writers And The Westport History Rabbit Hole

Jim Hammond grew up in Westport. He graduated from Staples High School in 1979, but has not been back for a long time.

Jim Hammond

A few weeks ago, he heard about the controversy surrounding TEAM Westport’s “white privilege” essay contest.

That led him down the “06880” rabbit hole — and a story on fellow Staples alum Deej Webb’s documentary about F. Scott Fitzgerald’s time in town.

That spurred him to write and post an essay on his philosophy-and-literature website — 2 of his passions, since he was a teenager.

And THAT led him to send these thoughts to “06880”:

Fitzgerald lived on South Compo Road, near what is now Longshore, in the summer of 1920. J. D. Salinger also lived on South Compo, from about 1950 to 1952.

I read a Salinger short story, and asked my mother, Nancy Hammond, about old Westport. She lived there from 1957 to 1997, and was involved in local politics.

When she arrived, Westport was home to the Famous Artists School, which purported to turn people into artists. Prominent artists like Norman Rockwell lent their names to the scam.

Norman Rockwell (center, bow tie), with some of the Famous Artists School’s faculty.

You would send in a sample of your work. They would write back, saying you had great potential, and should enroll in their school. Salesmen combed the country, recruiting gullible students. Ads filled the newspapers, Money rolled in.

It was so profitable that a Famous Writers School was also established in Westport, using the same template. Bennett Cerf of Random House was a founder. Prominent writers like Clifton Fadiman, Bruce Catton and Mignon Eberhart lent their names. By 1969 the stock price had risen from $5 to $40.

The next year, Jessica Mitford published an exposé, called “Let Us Now Appraise Famous Writers,” in the Atlantic Monthly. An investigation was launched, the stock price fell, and in 1972 the Famous Writers School went bankrupt.

JD Salinger

When J.D. Salinger moved to Westport, Famous Artists School had been going for 2 years. It’s likely that he heard about the school. In 1952 he published a short story about an art correspondence school, called “De Daumier-Smith’s Blue Period.”

When I was growing up in Westport, the phrase “Famous Artists” rang in my ears. The school rented space from Eddie Nash on Riverside Avenue. Since money was rolling in, they decided to build a new headquarters.

They chose my neighborhood as the site. Specifically, they selected an area we called the Gravel Pit. Now known as Partrick Wetlands, it’s between Partrick Road, Wilton Road, the Merritt Parkway and Newtown Turnpike.

According to rumor — spread by my mother, in countless phone conversations — Famous Artists School planned to build a large office, with a parking lot for 1,000 cars.

My mother banded together with other neighbors, and formed a group called Families for a Residential Westport.

A pond near the Partrick Wetlands. (Photo/Scott Smith)

They referred to their opponents as the Boyd Group (or The Boyds). John Boyd was a prominent Westport lawyer, who favored business and development. One of his allies, Lu Villalon, ran the local newspaper, the Town Crier.

My parents were Republicans. So were the Boyds. The battle over Famous Artists wasn’t a Republican-Democratic battle, or a conservative-liberal one. It was a development battle, similar to those fought in thousands of American towns.

My mother’s group won the battle. Famous Artists never moved to my neighborhood. They built their new headquarters on Wilton Road, along the river.

Cockenoe Island, off Compo Beach. In 1967, it almost became the site of a nuclear power plant.

The next development battle in Westport was over Cockenoe Island, where Northeast Utilities proposed building a power plant. Anti-development forces used the fledgling newspaper, the Westport News, to help rally support. The anti-development forces won, and the paper became the dominant one in town.

A third battle was fought over a dairy farm, Nyala, where Stauffer Chemical proposed building their headquarters. They won that fight.

Fortunately, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s house is still standing. I plan to take a look on my next visit to Westport.

And maybe I’ll visit Partrick Wetlands too.

Sherri Wolfgang Masters Painting

As a 12-year-old Queens girl — visiting her divorced father here in 1969 — Sherri Wolfgang fell in love with Westport.

She was a camper at Mahackeno, and later became an art counselor there. Her dad took her to Max’s Art Supplies, where she bought her first drawing pad.

The budding artist always got an “artists’ vibe” from this town. She grew up, earned a BFA at Carnegie Mellon, and embarked on a career as an illustrator.

Sherri got married, and lived in Greenwich Village. When she had kids, it was time to move to the suburbs. But she wanted a place with that same “great, creative environment.”

In 1992, Westport was that place. Through Max’s — and meeting spots like Glynn’s restaurant — Sherri met artists, illustrators and cartoonists. Stan Drake, Curt Swan and many others welcomed her in.

She formed a studio, called Dynamic Duo. She created covers for Time, Barron’s, Sports Illustrated and Business Week, and helped with ad campaigns for Coca-Cola, Burger King, IBM and MTV. She couriered her work to New York by train, just like all the famed illustrators here did.

Sherri Wolfgang, in her Kings Highway South studio. (Photo/Pam Einarsen)

In 2004, Sherri turned the studio into an art school. For 2 years she taught her craft to kids and adults.

But she missed painting. Ten years ago she started again. She’s been a full-time painter ever since.

Sherri proudly calls her style “old school.” Figure painting is not as popular today as it once was, she says, but that’s how she was trained. She loves it.

She layers oils and resins in traditional style, like the old masters. But Sherri is not da Vinci, Michelangelo or Rembrandt. Her paintings are contemporary. Many include a bit of whimsy or humor.

She paints large canvases, often in series. “Twisted” — which took several years to conceive, create and complete — portrays women who are addicted to cosmetic surgery. That doesn’t sound funny. But Sherri — who believes that “beauty comes from within” — manages to turn that serious subject on its Botoxed head.

If you recognize some of the women, you should: Sherri used herself as a model.

“Lunching in Westport,” from Sherri Wolfgang’s “Twisted” series. (Photo/Pam Einarsen)

She’s had group shows at the Westport Arts Center and Silvermine Guild, plus solo shows at Nylen Gallery here and City Lights in Bridgeport.

Now Sherri is gearing up for her biggest show yet. It opens June 1 at Bridgeport’s Housatonic Museum of Art.

Specifically, the Burt Chernow Gallery. It’s named for the longtime professor, who began his teaching career in the Westport school system. He helped found the Westport Arts Center — where Sherri spent plenty of time, in its studio days at Greens Farms School.

Sherri will exhibit 2 complete series. “Nick.e.lo.deon” celebrates the wonders of the human form. Her model was Nick Daley, a Staples High School 2012 graduate and professional dancer.

One of Sherri Wolfgang’s “Nick.e.lo.deon” paintings. (Photo/Pam Einarsen)

She’ll also show “Twisted.”

The Chernow connection to Westport’s old arts vibe is important to Sherri. Glynn’s is gone. Max’s closed too.

“I’d walk in to buy art supplies, and end up hanging out for hours with Shirley, Nina and Jay,” Sherri recalls. “That was our haven.”

When owner Shirley Mellor sold everything in August 2014, Sherri bought its iconic clock. She beat out fellow artist Miggs Burroughs by a minute. He’s still a friend, as is Nina Bentley — reminders that despite many chances, artists still live, work and thrive here.

Sherri Wolfgang (center) with Max’s Art Supplies’ famous Karron’s clock. She’s surrounded by (from left) Max’s famed Nina Royce, Rita Ross Englebardt, Shirley Mellor (owner) and Jay Cimbak.

Ten years after resuming painting, Sherri says she is in “mid-career.” She feels “lucky and honored” to be able to work in her large, bright and art-filled South Kings Highway studio.

After years of study — including lugging large books of the masters home from the Westport Library — Sherri says, “Things make sense now. I’m a more confident painter. My brush strokes are more solid. And I know when a painting is done. When it’s finished, I can walk away.”

With “Nick.e.lo.deon” and “Twisted” done — and preparations underway for her Housatonic show — Sherri is ready for her next series.

Called “American Pathos,” it’s based on what she sees as her daughters and their Staples friends begin their adult lives. (Sherri calls Class of ’12 grad Maya Schumer — a neuroscience major at Carnegie Mellon — and current junior Eden Schumer “my best works of art.”)

Those young women and their friends wear earrings and tattoos. Sherri will paint those — with Renaissance backgrounds.

Move over, Old Masters. I can’t call Sherri Wolfgang a New Mistress — but I sure can be at her Burt Chernow Gallery opening this spring.

Buell Neidlinger: The Ace Of Bass

He’s played and recorded with Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand, Ray Charles, the Beach Boys, Elton John, Dolly Parton and Barry White.

He hung out with Pablo Casals — in Westport.

He’s 81 years old. He lives a continent away, near Seattle. In fact, Buell Neidlinger hasn’t been back here much since he left in 1955.

But he’s an avid “06880” fan. He comments frequently, primarily on music and looking-back stories.

And man, does he have tales to tell.

Buell arrived in Westport in 1938, at 2 years old. His parents rented a house on South Compo Road. (A few years later, his father worked with General Eisenhower’s staff in London, planning the Omaha Beach landing.) Buell’s grandfather lived nearby, on Thomas Road.

Buell went to Bedford Junior High, then St. Luke’s in New Canaan.

Pablo Casals was one of the first famous musicians Buell Neidlinger met. He would not be the last.

His first instrument was the cello. That led to his early encounter with Casals. The bass came later.

He spent one year at Yale. The McCarthy hearings mesmerized the country. Buell realized, “I was in school with the same type of people I was watching every day on TV.” College was not for him.

Buell floated around. He returned to Westport, working in Frank Zack’s “high-class haberdashery” downtown.

He sold aluminum windows. Meanwhile he practiced bass in a warehouse, playing along to records.

Max Kaminsky, a famous jazz trumpeter renting in Westport, convinced Buell to move to New York — perhaps the best advice he ever got. He backed Billie Holiday when she played clubs, during the last years of her life.

The first hit record Buell played on was Tony Bennett’s “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.”

“We’d call the answering service,” Buell remembers. “They’d say, ‘you’ve got a session on Saturday, 10 a.m.’ That would be that.”

The custom of the day was for the rhythm track to be recorded first. Then came vocals, followed by horns. The “string sweetener” — with Buell — came last. The lead vocalist cut another track, this time singing along with the strings.

In 1957, Buell Neidlinger played at the Newport Jazz Festival with famed pianist Cecil Taylor. (Photo/Bob Parent)

Buell’s studio work led to a number of live gigs. He played with Chuck Berry, whose promoter was the first white man Buell ever saw with long hair.

He was on stage with the Carpenters — and can be heard on their famous version of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”

The Moody Blues flew Buell to London. They needed his acoustic bass.

It wasn’t all rock, pop and jazz. Buell also played with the father of bluegrass, Bill Monroe.

The list of famous recording sessions rolls off Buell’s tongue: The Village People’s “YMCA.” The Eagles’ “Hotel California” and “Desperado.” He played with the 5th Dimension and Chicago. He was there the night John Lennon challenged Harry Nilsson to the screaming match that ruined Harry’s voice.

Buell Neidlinger (center), flanked by Roy Orbison and T Bone Burnett.

He met Whitney Houston when she was just 9 or 10. Her mother — famed gospel singer Cissy Houston — brought her to sessions. During breaks, Cissy and other backup singers sang church songs to their kids. “I’ve never heard anything like that,” Buell recalls.

Elton John played piano on his first 3 albums, while Buell played bass. Years later, Elton offered him $10,000 to perform in a Hollywood concert that included Leon Russell (whom Buell had backed on earlier club dates). Buell was honored — but had retired.

He’d gotten other calls too, like the one to play with Frank Sinatra in Egypt, for King Farouk’s birthday.

Sinatra is a huge name. So is Dolly Parton. He played on her “Coat of Many Colors.”

“What a voice! Buell says. “What a song! What a person! What a night!”

Among all the singers Buell backed, Barbra Streisand stands out. During one session, he played a Mozart composition. She did not like one note. “She changed Mozart,” Buell marvels.

Buell Neidlinger and his wife, Margaret Storer, on the Warner Brothers sound stage in 1993. The big blue trunk carried his 1785 Italian bass.

Buell — who for 27 years was principal bassist of the Warner Brothers orchestra — played on hundreds of movie soundtracks. His first was “Soylent Green.” His last was “Oscar and Lucinda.” In between were many others, including  “Aladdin,” “Dead Poets Society,” “Lion King,” “Shawshank Redemption” and “Yentl.”

Film recording has changed a lot, Buell notes. When he began, musicians worked up to 8 hours a day, for 10 days. For “La La Land,” he says, the orchestra played for just 4 hours, once. All the rest was done on computers.

In 1992, Buell and his wife, Margaret Storer, took their very first vacation: to Whidbey Island in Puget Sound. They liked it so much, they bought property there.

That’s where they live now. In retirement, he plays cello all day.

These days, Buell Neidlinger plays in a local coffee shop. He calls himself “Billy the Cellist.”

Though he hasn’t been back to Westport in decades, he remembers it fondly. “It was so beautiful,” he says. “It was like living in the wilderness — with amenities.”

He asks about local musicians, then answers his own question: “I hope Jose Feliciano is doing well. I did a session with him in L.A.”

Of course he did. He’s Buell Neidlinger.

The only man from Westport who has played with Pablo Casals, Brian Wilson, Duane Eddy.

And Ringo Starr.

Kindertransport Conversation Comes To Playhouse

Every day, the world loses Holocaust survivors.

In an age of rising anti-Semitism and distrust of “others,” hearing their first-hand stories is more important than ever.

Margie Treisman

Recently, Margie Treisman — a Westport Country Playhouse trustee and Anti-Defamation League national commissioner — was asked to help develop educational programming around an upcoming Playhouse production of “The Pianist of Willesden Lane,” about the Kindertransport children’s rescue.

She called Margie Lipshez-Shapiro. An ADL of Connecticut official and noted Holocaust educator, she knows almost every living survivor in the state who is willing and able to tell their tale.

Lipshez-Shapiro suggested Ivan Backer, a Kindertransport survivor who has written about his journey, and his life afterward. Backer will be at the Playhouse next Wednesday (March 29, 7 p.m.), as part of conversation called “From Hate to Hope.”

The event — sponsored by the Playhouse, ADL and TEAM Westport — is funded by the Anita Schorr “Step in and Be a Hero” Fund. Schorr — a longtime Westporter and Holocaust survivor who inspired thousands with her story of horror and hope — died last year. The event is free, but seats must be reserved by phone (203-227-4177). For more information, click here.

“The Pianist of Willesden Lane” follows a week later with a limited run at the Playhouse (April 5-9). The true story of a young musical prodigy, it intertwines the themes of family, hope and survival with piano selections by Chopin, Beethoven, Bach — even a little Gershwin. Click here for more information.

Speaking Of Bespoke Designs

For years, Shari Lebowitz visited Westport. When the time came to leave Manhattan — and her very successful interior design firm — our town’s arts, culture and strong sense of community made it a natural new home.

Her move worked out even better than she dreamed. Shari bought a home in Old Hill, made friends, found a sense of purpose, and met a fabulous man. They got married last October, in a beautiful wedding at Longshore. Their extended families enjoyed a perfect New England fall weekend.

But — you know there’s a “but” — while Shari wanted her event to be entirely local, the one thing she could not find here was wedding invitations.

Though she’d never heard of Printemps, she was looking for a place like it. Unfortunately, the all-things-stationery shop on Avery Place closed nearly 6 years ago, after 34 much-loved years in business.

The former site of Printemps.

Not long after, Shari saw a “magical” space in Sconset Square. She quickly realized it was perfect for a design studio.

The lease was available.

Bespoke Designs — the name she chose, to describe her one-of-a-kind approach to invitations, paper and engraving — is now open, every day except Sunday (and by appointment too!).

Shari hopes her 2nd-floor studio becomes a “wonderful, warm place” where people feel welcome to stop in, talk, find unique designs, and share special events.

Shari Lebowitz, surrounded by her special designs.

“We create custom products for people who want beautiful invitations and stationery, with their own brand and identity,” Shari explains. “Place cards, monograms — it’s all personalized, high-end, bespoke.”

She notes that weddings today can be much more complex than back in the day — when, say, Printemps opened.

There are welcome dinners, pancake breakfasts, clambakes. Bespoke Designs can create a unique map of Westport, including restaurants, private homes, the church and Compo Beach.

Though weddings are big business (and, Shari points out, “a lot more people are allowed to get married now!”), she is involved in much more. She creates beautiful designs for christenings, kids’ parties, bar and bat mitzvahs, anniversaries — you name it.

She’s done her homework. She represents traditional paper brands like Crane, and has brought designers, calligraphers and hand-letterers into their network (from as far away as New Orleans). “These are people you can’t find elsewhere — or online,” Shari says.

Some will come to the studio for special events. Also in the works: calligraphy and related workshops.

Shari cites a recent Wall Street Journal story, calling ink the new status symbol. “In an age of unattractive communications, where people email and tweet and use emojis, we’ve lost the opportunity to be personal,” she says. “People are going back to pens and ink and personal notes — and they want them to be beautiful.”

Shari — who for years loved nearly everything about Westport — really loves her new venture.

She’s particularly excited about Sconset Square. Le Penguin has brought new energy to the small shopping center.

It’s right around the corner from Printemps. In many ways, what once was old is new again.

Shari Lebowitz, in her Sconset Square doorway.