Category Archives: Arts

“Save Cockenoe Now” Posters: The Sequel

Yesterday’s post about the “Save Cockenoe Now” posters at Walter and Naiad Einsel’s estate sale reminded readers of a past political battle: When Westporters saved Cockenoe Island from becoming the site of a nuclear power plant.

Everyone who was here then also remembers the Einsels’ iconic artwork.

But alert “06880” reader Jeff Manchester went over to the sale, and found other posters that never gained that cult-status attention. It’s kind of like finding unreleased Beatles tapes, nearly 50 years later.

Here, in all their late-’60s, trippy glory, are 3 of those “unreleased” posters. I particularly like the “Fishin’, Not Fission'” one.

Thankfully — with a big boost from the Einsels — we’re here today to tell that tale.

cockenoe-poster-2-einsel

cockenoe-poster-4-einsel

cockenoe-poster-3-einsel

Save Cockenoe: Then And Now

Last month, “06880” previewed Walter and Naiad Einsel’s estate sale. I don’t usually promote that stuff — but the longtime local artists’ Victorian farmhouse was filled with thousands of pieces of folk art, antiques, paintings, prints and advertising items. It seemed like a great Westport tale.

Andrew Bentley was one of the many art lovers who was there. He says it was “more like a folk art museum than a house.”

Andrew wandered past mechanical toys, kinetic sculptures and books of illustrations, on into Naiad’s studio. Magic markers, colored pencils and scissors were all in place, as if she had gone downstairs for coffee.

Thumbing through a stack of posters, he spotted a large envelope. Inside was a shimmer of gold and bronze. Removing it, he discovered a beautiful metallic silk-screened “Save Cockenoe Now” poster.

save-cockenoe-now-poster

Bentley knew it was from the late 1960s, when Westporters opposed a plan to build a nuclear power plant on the island just a mile off Compo Beach. (Click here for that full, crazy story.)

But he’d only seen a black-and-white thumbnail-sized image of the poster, in Woody Klein’s book on the history of Westport.

Suddenly, he held an original. After nearly 50 years, he says, “the colors were still electric.”

Andrew turned to the stranger beside him. He explained that the poster represented a perfect confluence of Westport’s artistic heritage, revolutionary spirit and environmental priorities.

Then, in another Westport tradition, he gathered up as many posters as he could find, negotiated a bulk discount, and made a list of friends in town who deserved a gift.

In 1967, Westporters saved Cockenoe.

In 2016, Andrew saved its posters.

Both stories are worth telling.

(PS: Andrew Bentley designed the logo for The Flat — the new Railroad Place spot that mixes design, art and objects with contemporary lighting, accessories and jewelry. Owner Becky Goss has a few framed Save Cockenoe Now posters there, ready for sale.)

 

Final Bell Tolls For 17 Soundview Drive

“06880” has chronicled the history of 17 Soundview Drive.

One of the most recognizable homes on the beach exit road, it played an important role in Westport’s musical history.

Today, the nearly 100-year-old house played its final chord. Paul Ehrismann was there. He took this photo, and posted it on Facebook:

17-soundview-drive-paul-ehrisman

(Photo/Copyright Paul Ehrismann)

I knew the old owners. They are good friends.

I know the new ones too. They are also friends. They respected the property — and its history. But they could not find a way to save it.

They’ll do right by the home that replaces it. It will fit in well with its neighbors, and the neighborhood.

In the 1920s the voices of Enrico Caruso, Maria Callas, Robert Merrill and others soared from the living room radio and onto the beach, thrilling neighbors and passersby.

Decades later, Meat Loaf played his next single on the roof deck. No one on the beach could see him there — but they heard him. At the end, everyone applauded.

The house is gone. But those musical memories — and countless others — will remain, long after the final notes have been played.

Stevan Dohanos’ Thanksgiving

Decades ago, Westport artist Stevan Dohanos painted this Thanksgiving scene:

stevan-dohanos-thanksgiving-art

He often used Westport places — and people — as models.

Does anyone know the back story to this one?

But whether you’re a Westport native who remembers Dohanos personally, or you are celebrating your 1st Thanksgiving here: Enjoy the holiday.

We’re thankful you’re here!

Broadcasting Christmas

Yesterday’s “06880” looked back at Cynthia Gibb. In 1986, she played fellow Westporter Jean Donovan in the 1986 movie “Salvador” about the rape and murder of 4 Catholic lay missionaries.

Today’s “06880” looks at her latest project.

Tonight at 8, the Hallmark Channel airs “Broadcasting Christmas.” The film stars Gibb — and fellow Westporter Melissa Joan Hart. (Dean Cain — “Superman” — plays a love interest.)

“Broadcasting Christmas” — about the search for a TV host in the days before a holiday telethon — is set partly in Westport.

But you won’t know it when you see it. Shooting took place in Fairfield, Bridgeport and Stamford.

The film crew stayed in Norwalk. Westport did not benefit at all from the millions of dollars spent making a film about our town.

And to all a good night…

Westport's Melissa Joan Hart and Dean Cain, in "Broadcasting Christmas."

Westport’s Melissa Joan Hart and Dean Cain, in “Broadcasting Christmas.”

 

[UPDATE] Cynthia Gibb Remembers Jean Donovan And “Salvador”

It was the worst audition of Cynthia Gibb’s career.

Just a few years after graduating with Staples High School’s Class of 1981, the actress — already known for her “Search for Tomorrow” and “Fame” TV roles — was searching for a movie project.

Her agent found a part in “Salvador.” Written by Oliver Stone — who would direct it too, as his 1st major film — the story was based on real-life political struggles in El Salvador.

The casting director gave Gibb the wrong material. She and star James Woods were, she says, “literally not on the same page.” She went home sobbing, horrified at having done so badly.

Cynthia Gibb

Cynthia Gibb

Her agent convinced her to go back. She got the role — and learned a great lesson about recovering from bad experiences. Gibb uses that incident today, back home in Westport. A voice and dance coach, she tells students not to be flustered by a bad performance (or audition).

But there’s much more about Westport to this story.

Gibb’s “Salvador” role was based on the real-life Jean Donovan. She was one of 4 lay missionaries beaten, raped, and murdered in 1980 by Salvadoran military men.

Donovan was also a Westporter. She attended Westport schools, and graduated from Staples in 1971 — exactly 10 years before Gibb.

Gibb did plenty of research — in leftist publications, because there was little in the mainstream press — to understand Donovan’s character. But she had no idea they shared the same hometown until midway through filming in Mexico, when Stone learned that Gibb was from Westport.

That spurred her even more. She became fascinated with the woman whose story — unknown to many, even here — she was telling.

salvador Gibb — who is not Catholic — dove into the kind of work the missionaries did. She learned Spanish, which Donovan had done before heading to El Salvador.

And Gibb read even more political writing. “I wanted to be as informed about US policy in Central America as Jean was,” Gibb says. “And I wanted to be as passionate about Third World countries.”

The film was released in 1986. In Los Angeles, Gibb honored Donovan and her fellow nuns, by volunteering for Central American organizations.

She was invited to El Salvador for 5 days. She met the handsome and charming right-wing military man in charge of death squads. She also saw dirt huts, and the church where an archbishop was gunned down.

“That film changed my life,” Gibb says. “I’d never been politically active before.”

Her career continued, mostly on TV.  She married, had 3 children and divorced. Gradually, “Salvador” faded from her mind.

Jean Donovan

Jean Donovan

After she moved back to Westport, however, she met John Suggs. The RTM member has dedicated years to keeping Donovan’s memory alive. He says that in progressive Catholic social justice networks, “Jean Donovan is considered a saint.”

Suggs is particularly active this time of year. The anniversary of Donovan’s death is December 2.

Gibb will be thinking of Donovan too. Years after the movie was released, the actress spotted a small story in the New York Times. It described the declassification of documents relating Central America during the Reagan years. Sure enough, the US provided financial assistance to death squads that were responsible for the rape and murder of the 4 women, and others, during the Carter and Reagan administrations.

“There were horrific people doing horrific things, with our backing,” Gibb says.

“Jean Donovan and those women were there to help people. Her death was so useless.”

Perhaps now is the time for Donovan to be remembered in Westport. Suggs is raising $3,600 for a plaque honoring her, to be hung either at Staples or Town Hall. Click here to donate.

Gibb is helping.


Click here for “06880+”: The easy way to publicize upcoming events, sell items, find or advertise your service, ask questions, etc. It’s the “06880” community bulletin board!

The Holidays Are Here! Candlelight Concert Tickets Available Tomorrow.

Last year’s 75th Candlelight Concert celebration was classic — a warm, wonderful mix of voices, instruments, tradition, reverence, fun and joy that captivated audiences from near and far.

So what can Staples High School’s music department do for an encore?

They’ll reach for the brass ring again with their 76th.

The timeless "Sing We Noel" processional, in 2015. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

The timeless “Sing We Noel” processional, in 2015. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

This year’s Candlelight Concert — featuring the symphonic orchestra, concert band and 3 vocal ensembles — includes longtime favorites like the “Sing We Noel” processional, excerpts from the “Nutcracker Suite,” “Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring” and the rousing “Hallelujah Chorus” finale, along with exciting new additions.

Performances are set for Friday, December 16 (8 p.m.) and Saturday, December 17 (2 p.m. and 8 p.m.). The free tickets always go fast. This year — for the first time ever — they’ll be available online. Requests will be taken starting tomorrow (Thursday, November 17); click here for the form.

A limited number of tickets can be requested by mail (through December 9). Send a self-addressed stamped envelope to Candlelight Tickets, Staples High School, 70 North Avenue, Westport, CT 06880. For more information, call 203-341-1243.

60 Roseville Road: Another Historic Arts Home For Sale

Hot on the heels of 157 Easton Road — the former home of concert violinist Leopold Godowsky Jr. and his wife Frankie Gershwin (George and Ira’s younger sister) — another Westport property with a wonderful arts pedigree is on the market.

60 Roseville Road is listed on a state database of homes owned by famed children’s book authors and illustrators. From 1946 until his death 30 years later, Hardie Gramatky lived — and worked — there.

His name still resonates. In 2006, Andrew Wyeth called him one of America’s 20 greatest watercolorists. Decades after he wrote and illustrated Little Tootit remains a beloved classic.

The other day, Linda Gramatky Smith — the artist’s daughter — and her husband Ken sat in the light-filled home. They’ve lived there since 1993. Now they’re moving to New Jersey, to be closer to their daughter. They hope they can sell it to someone who cherishes its creative bones.

60 Roseville Road

60 Roseville Road

The house has had only one other owner. Joe Chapin — a famed New York art director — built it as a weekend place. When he died, his wife Henrietta moved to Imperial Avenue (where she lived with Rose O’Neill, creator of the Kewpies comic characters).

The Roseville Road house was rented out. In the mid-1940s, tenants wanted to buy but could not afford the asking price. So they refused to let potential purchasers inside.

Gramatky peered into the windows. He loved it — and bought it for $22,000.

Hardie Gramatky, Dorothea Cooke and their daughter Linda, during their early days in Westport.

Hardie Gramatky, Dorothea Cooke and their daughter Linda, during their early days in Westport.

Moving day was set for December 26, 1946. A huge snowstorm roared in a few days earlier. The tenants — still enraged at not being able to buy — turned off the heat, and opened the windows.

Realtor Muriel Baldwin drove by, and saw what was happening. “She saved the house,” Linda says gratefully 70 years later.

Gramatky quickly became part of Westport’s lively arts community. With Stevan Dohanos, he started a watercolor group. Howard Munce, Ward Brackett and others met monthly to chat, critique each other’s work, and socialize.

Gramatky created a “Little Toot” poster for the Westport Red Cross. He drew caricatures at the Yankee Doodle Fair, was a frequent elementary school classroom guest, and played in the popular fundraising “artists vs. writers” basketball games.

Gramatky’s wife, Dorothea Cooke, was a noted artist herself. She drew covers for magazines like Jack and Jill, and lived in the home until her death in 2001.

“They adopted the community. And the community adopted them,” Linda says.

Hardie Gramatky: "Compo Beach Figures"

“Compo Beach Figures,” by Hardie Gramatky

His home inspired his work. Gramatky could see Long Island Sound from an upstairs window, and painted that scene. Another work shows a boy and his beagle walking down Roseville Road — then just a country lane.

He painted the 1867 house across the street — owned for years by the Fonetlieu family — from many angles. Linda hung some of those works in her living room, next to windows with a view of that home.

The Gramatky house was a neighborhood gathering place. Kids played in the big yard, and sledded in winter. If they wandered into his studio, the artist let them paint. (Dorothea baked cookies for them.)

When Gramatky was dying of cancer, he spent much of his time in the warm sun porch.

Fellow illustrator Munce said in his eulogy, “Some artists go to France for inspiration. Hardie just looked out his windows, and painted those scenes.”

"Green's Farms Station," by Hardie Gramatky.

“Green’s Farms Station,” by Hardie Gramatky.

Linda looks around the house that she and Ken are selling. It has a long, rich history, and holds memories.

“It’s such a livable home,” she says. “I hope someone buys it who understands what it means, and wants to preserve it.”

Westport artist Hardie Gramatky donated this "Little Toot" book cover to the Westport Schools Permanent Art Collection.

Hardie Gramatky donated this “Little Toot” book cover to the Westport Schools Permanent Art Collection.

Justin Paul, His Best Friend, And The New York Times

“06880” has covered the career of Justin Paul extensively. All of us in Westport are intensely proud of the Broadway songwriter, who — with his musical partner Benj Pasek — has been called the next Rodgers and Hammerstein.

Now the New York Times has taken note too.

A long — loooong — cover story in this coming Sunday’s Theater section by Michael Paulson is headlined “What It’s Like to Make It in Showbiz With Your Best Friend.”

Justin Paul (right) and Benj Pasek.

Justin Paul (right) and Benj Pasek.

It begins:

They met at 18, the worst dancers in a college ballet class, and sought refuge in a basement practice room, taking a first stab at songwriting with a tune about adolescents playing hooky and footsie at a suburban diner.

They went viral before going viral was a thing — their undergraduate years coincided with the birth of Facebook, and the first song cycle Benj Pasek and Justin Paul wrote, called “Edges,” was discovered, shared and performed by musical theater majors around the country.

Now, at the age of 31, after a decade of being touted as promising, up-and-coming, and ones-to-watch, Pasek and Paul have arrived.

Ben Pasek (left) and Justin Paul, deep into their

Ben Pasek (left) and Justin Paul a few years ago, deep into their “24-Hour Musical.” (Photo by Kerry Long)

There are ample shoutouts to Westport:

They are, on the surface, quite different from each other. Mr. Paul, who lives in Harlem, is a churchgoing Christian from Westport, Conn.; straight; married; and the father of a 7-month-old daughter. Mr. Pasek, who grew up in Ardmore, Pa., and now lives on the Upper West Side, is gay, Jewish and single.

But they both began as little boys who loved to sing.

Mr. Paul, a talented pianist, started early. At age 3, he was singing gospel music with his father, a pastor, in church. Later, he sang and danced at senior centers with Music Theater of Connecticut; and then, at Staples High School, he performed in “Into the Woods,” conducted the orchestra in “Hello, Dolly!” and spent his free time poring over Broadway “fake books,” which help pianists master melodies.

There’s much more, of course. For the full story — and photos — click here.

(Hat tip: Tommy Greenwald)

The Einsels’ Very Artful Estate Sale

I don’t usually post stories about estate sales.

Then again, most Westport estate sales don’t attract interest from as far away as Canada.

Most estate sales also don’t feature items from an 1853 Victorian farmhouse that for over 60 years was the home of husband-and-wife artists, both of whom were inducted into the Society of Illustrators Hall of Fame.

Walter and Naiad Einsel

Walter and Naiad Einsel

The couple — Walter and Naiad Einsel — were Westport icons. They worked together and independently on book and magazine illustrations, posters, ads and package designs.

They were the first married couple to create stamp designs for the US Postal Service. They also produced 55 figures — with intricate details and moving parts — for Epcot Center.

They were also important members of Westport’s arts community. Naiad designed our Bicentennial Quilt, sewn by 33 women and on display in Town Hall since 1976. She earned a Westport Arts Lifetime Achievement Award in 2011.

In 2006 the Einsels received a Preservation Award for their South Morningside Drive home. Starting Friday, the entire contents of that house — including attic, basement and crawlspaces, plus their studios, the barn, outbuildings — are up for sale.

Folks will come from all over the East for thousands of pieces of folk art, antiques, paintings, prints, kinetic sculptures and advertising items. The list seems endless: a 1900 cast iron kitchen stove; an Edison standard phonograph with horn and records; 15 antique clocks, and on and on.

Tjhe Einsels' "Saver," made of copper, brass, polychrome and wood, 90 messages appear on tape in the megaphone as the flag is waved and the hat revolves.

The Einsels’ “Saver,” made of copper, brass, polychrome and wood, 90 messages appear on tape in the megaphone as the flag is waved and the hat revolves.

There’s also the usual stuff you’d find at any Westport estate sale, like sterling silver, crystal, cabinets, sofas, bookcases, blah blah blah.

I’m always amazed at the number of cars parked at “normal” estate sales. This one could be a record breaker.

There’s early buying on Friday (November 11, 4 to 9 p.m.). It costs $50 per person that night — but a portion of that fee will be donated to the Westport Historical Society.

That’s fitting. The Einsels had a lot to do with restoring the WHS’ 7-sided cobblestone building. There, Walter’s kinetic sculpture “Uncle Sam” tips his hat, and  his eyes light up. Naiad’s “Statue of Liberty” also moves: her torch shines, and her heart pulsates.

The estate sale continues Saturday (November 12, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.) and Sunday (November 13, 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.).

It will be packed. Items will go fast. But if you don’t find anything you like, you can still purchase something Einsel-related.

The historic house is up for sale too.

(For more details, click here.)

Walter and Naiad Einsel's South Morningside Drive house.

Walter and Naiad Einsel’s South Morningside Drive house.