Category Archives: Arts

Stevan Dohanos’ Firehouse Comes Home

Pat Kery thinks of the Saugatuck firehouse as “her” firehouse.

The art appraiser once had an office at Bridge Square. She still lives nearby.

So when she found a Stevan Dohanos print for sale called “Hose Co. 4” — which looked a lot like the Saugatuck firehouse, Engine Company 4 — she was excited.

The Saugatuck firehouse.

Actually, more than excited. She helped bring it home to Westport.

Kery consults for WestPAC — Westport’s Public Art Collection. She’s also a longtime Dohanos aficionado. Researching her 1982 book, “Great Magazine Covers of the World,” she learned a lot about the local illustrator. He drew 123 covers for the Saturday Evening Post — as well as the incredible mural that has hung since 1953 in the Coleytown Elementary School office.

Dohanos’ 1950 firehouse lithograph shows firemen shooting the breeze with a mailman, as they wait for the next call.

Stevan Dohanos’ “Hose Co. 4.”

“His genius was capturing the ordinary things in life — in particular some of the small details we might miss in our fast-paced lives,” Kery says.

“Hose Co. 4” shows bedposts in the 2nd-floor windows, laundry drying on a clothesline, and an alert Dalmatian for companionship.

“From a stylistic standpoint, the artist brilliantly echoes circles and squares — the firehouse, the trees, the dog — to visually tie in elements in the print,” she explains.

Stevan Dohanos at work.

Recently, Kery learned the print — signed by the artist in the lower right, one of an edition of 250, and in pristine condition — was being sold by a dealer in the Midwest. She called, and learned he’d visited Dohanos in Westport shortly before his death.

The seller offered an excellent price — and framed it. Sam  Gault generously provided funds for its purchase. Now it joins 3 other Dohanos Saturday Evening Post covers, and various illustrations — in the WestPAC collection.

It’s a treasure trove of art, including a Picasso and other world-renowned works.

But the real value of WestPAC is the chance to bring something like Stevan Dohanos’ firehouse “home.”

BONUS STEVAN DOHANOS PHOTO BELOW: 

This circa 1950 print — donated by Kery — is from a photograph at the Norman Rockwell Museum’s Famous Artists School Archives.

It shows Dohanos hanging out with Westport firefighters, in front of the original fire headquarters. It was on Church Lane downtown, next to the YMCA Bedford Building (left).

When fire headquarters moved to the Post Road, where it is today (next to Terrain),  the old firehouse was incorporated into the YMCA. Its 1st floor became the Y’s new fitness center, while the 2nd floor was converted into a weight room and cardio studio.

Today, both the Bedford Building and old firehouse have been refashioned into  Bedford Square.

PS: Check out the dalmatian at Dohanos’ feet!

When Comics Were King

Over the years, Westport has been known nationally for a few things.

During the Civil War, our onions helped Northern troops stave off illness. In the ’70s and ’80s we were awash in marketing companies.

And for a longer period of time — the 1950s through ’90s — we were part of “the comic strip capital of the world.”

Vanity Fair’s September issue explores that funny period in our history. Writer Cullen Murphy — whose father was one of those illustrious illustrators — looks at all of Fairfield County as the world capital. It was

where most of the country’s comic-strip artists, gag cartoonists, and magazine illustrators chose to make their home. The group must have numbered 100 or more, and it constituted an all-embracing subculture …. In the conventional telling, the milieu of Wilton and Westport, Greenwich and Darien, was the natural habitat of The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit — and I was certainly aware of the commuters who took the train into Manhattan every morning from my own hometown of Cos Cob. But, for me, those salarymen with their briefcases seemed like outlandish outliers.

Murphy cites Westport’s “large cluster” of cartoonists Bud Sagendorf (“Popeye”), Leonard Starr (“On Stage,” “Little Orphan Annie”), Dick Wingert (“Hubert”), Stan Drake (“The Heart of Juliet Jones,” “Blondie”), Jack Tippit (“Amy”), John Prentice (“Rip Kirby”) and Mel Casson (“Mixed Singles/Boomer”).

Bernie Fuchs’ famous studio. It was demolished earlier this year.

Murphy’s father compared Bernie Fuchs to Degas. The writer adds: “Fuchs’s career was all the more remarkable because he had lost 3 fingers on his drawing hand in an accident when he was a teenager.”

Murphy does not mention Curt Swan (“Superman”). I’m sure he’s missed others.

From the 2002 book “Curt Swan: a Life in Comics”

Murphy offers a few reasons why this area attracted so many illustrators: lack of a state income tax; affordable homes, and of course the presence of other artists.

It was solitary work — which is why so many Fairfield County illustrators got together in groups, here and on Wednesdays when they brought their art to their editors in the city. They talked about their work. They also ate and drank.

Murphy notes:

One defining reality about the cartoonists was that although their characters —Beetle Bailey, Snoopy, Prince Valiant, Blondie — were known worldwide, they themselves passed through life more or less anonymously. Unlike actors or sports figures or reality-TV stars, they were never stopped on the street. They didn’t have a “gal” to protect them or “people” to speak for them.

Semi-domesticated, they depended heavily on their families, especially wives, who in many ways held the entire enterprise together, from basic finances to rudimentary social cues…. Life was interrupted mainly by mundane chores. More than a few collectors have bought original comic strips and found notations like “prescription ready” or “diapers, bologna, Chesterfields” in the margins.

Bud Sagendorf, and his most well-known character.

Of course, nothing lasts forever. Murphy writes:

The concentration of cartoon talent in Fairfield County was a product of special circumstances, and those circumstances have disappeared. Newspaper comic strips are not the force they were, and few magazines still publish gag cartoons.

The New York City newspaper strike of 1962–63 led to the demise of the Hearst flagship, the New York Journal-American, whose funny pages were the best in the country. Making it there was like opening at the Roxy. Now it was gone.

New York remains the center of the publishing industry, but the railroad is no longer a lifeline: the Internet has meant that artists can send their work from anywhere. Connecticut has a state income tax now, though that’s not what has made Fairfield County unaffordable — Wall Street is responsible for that.

Westport, of course, is now a financial capital — both as headquarters to the world’s largest hedge fund, and home to many financial executives.

I wonder what kind of cartoon Bud Sagendorf, Stan Drake, Mel Casson or any of the others would draw about that.

(Click here to read the entire Vanity Fair story. Hat tips: Doug Bonnell and Paul Delano)

From comics to capitalism: Westport is now home to Bridgewater, the world’s largest hedge fund.

This One Day At Bass Camp…

She’s Sooo-z Mastropietro.

And her story is as intriguing as her name.

A Westporter for 12 years, she’s a visual artist and classical bassist. She’s played with the American Chamber Orchestra and Civic Orchestra of New Haven. She was on the Saratoga Performing Arts Center stage as a teen, toured Europe, and — while pregnant with her 1st of 3 children — made a quick stop at Carnegie Hall.

A few days ago, she was contacted by a bass-playing friend. Extras were needed for “Mozart in the Jungle,” season 4.

Sooo-z Mastropietro

A couple of days later — after filling out pages of tax forms, signing agreements and harnessing her mane into a braid that did not interfere with the rest of the musicians — Sooo-z was ready to rock.

“Malcolm McDowell is a very cool cat,” she reports. “He clearly enjoyed hanging by the basses. And Bernadette Peters is gorgeous. She patted my bass case.”

But that did not distract Sooo-z from another passion: Bass Camp. A day-long intensive session at the Quick Center on August 28, it’s all about bass trios, quartets and (hopefully) a master class with Brian Torff.

“The bass is often misunderstood and under-heard,” she notes. “This gives us an opportunity to celebrate this great beast, without pressure.”

Sooo-z wasn’t sure her idea would fly. But Danielle Merlis — who runs a Cello Camp — was supportive.

She connected Sooo-z with Jeff Zimmerman, another Westport bass player (and a specialist in the relationship between music and physical health).

It turns out that they both grew up in the same New York town. They went to the same high school — and had the same music teacher, 10 years apart.

“Small world, big instrument!” she says.

(For information on Sooo-z’s Bass Camp, call 203-454-4010.)

Sooo-z Mastropietro, on the set of “Mozart in the Jungle.”

Werner Liepolt Picks Up Painting

Some folks retire with no clue what comes next.

Werner Liepolt was not one of them.

After 42 years as an English teacher at Staples High and Bedford Middle Schools, he knew immediately what he wanted to do.

His daughter Jordan — a Rhode Island School of Design graduate, working now as director of design for an international textile company — had left boxes of art material in her parents’ home.

She thought no one would use them.

But Liepolt — whose previous art experience consisted of doodling during English department meetings — did not want the supplies to just sit there.

He pulled out 2 boxes of pastels, and enrolled in Tom Brenner’s course at the Silvermine Arts Center.

Liepolt drew upon his Bridge Street neighborhood, his garden, his hiking experiences in Maine and the Adirondacks, and boating on Long Island Sound. He loved those places, and wanted to show them to others.

The Bridge Street Bridge inspired this work by Werner Liepolt.

Early recognition came at Seven Arts Gallery in Ridgefield. Fellow Westport teacher Paul Fernandez included 5 of Liepolt’s botanical illustrations in a show.

Liepolt — a longtime visitor to Mount Desert Island — submitted several pastel works to a juried competition sponsored by the Rockefeller Land & Garden Preserve there. Two were accepted. They’ll be shown starting Tuesday (August 8).

Great Marsh in Acadia National Park, by Werner Liepolt.

He also participated in an invitation plein air “Paint the Adirondacks” conference with 80 top artists at Lower St. Regis Lake.

Underneath his daughter’s boxes of pastels, Liepolt found water colors. Last spring, he began studying with Kristie Gallagher at Silvermine.

He notes, “I’ve had the good fortune to teach in a community that supports good education. I’ve found a receptive audience for my plays and screenwriting, and am enjoying the rewards of expressing my take on the world through visual expression.”

Werner Liepolt at work.

As an undergraduate, Liepolt heard John Cage speak. The composer cautioned students not to succumb to a corporate job.

“What will you do when there is no one to tell you what to do?” he asked.

Perhaps paint.

Werner Liepolt painted his son fishing in the Rockies.

“Young Shoots” Sprout At Farmers’ Market

I’ve written before about the Westport Farmers’ Market’s “Young Shoots” photo contest.

It’s open to 3 age groups: 8-10, 11-14, 15-18. They can take shots every Thursday (10 a.m. to 2 p.m.). Fruits, vegetables, flowers, people — they’re all there, showing off the vitality of the market in colorful, imaginative ways.

First-place winners receive a $100 cash prize, and the chance to lead a food photo shoot with Bill Taibe (chef/owner of The Whelk, Ka Wa Ni and Jesup Hall). Second-place winners get $50.

In addition, winners have their work shown in a gallery-like setting at Sugar & Olives (a favorite Farmers’ Market vendor).

Those are nice rewards. But the contest also changes lives.

Last year, Lillie Fortino was art coordinator for the Norwalk Housing Authority’s after-school program. She thought the contest would be great for her kids.

Many had never been to a farmers’ market. They were hesitant at first. But they trusted Fortino, and her excitement fed theirs.

They brought a completely fresh eye — as children and photographers — to the bursting-with-goods-and-activity Imperial Avenue lot.

They also experimented with foods they’d never tried, like snap peas and soft cheeses, and bought flowers they’d never seen.

A talented girl named Anastasia Davis won her 11-14 age group.

Anastasia Davis’ winning photo.

Taibe invited Anastasia to Kawa Ni and the Whelk. There, she tried even more foods. Nothing was off limits.

The contest sparked a partnership between the Norwalk Housing Authority and Westport Arts Center. Fortino has a new job — director of education for the WAC — and this year she included work by NHA youngsters in the arts center’s student show. One boy proudly sold a piece there.

Ahead: collaboration between the NHA and the WAC’s artists’ residency program.

Everyone knows the Westport Farmers’ Market vendors grow great food. Who knew the market helps young kids grow too?

Anastasia Davis

Alexander Platt: An “Itinerant Music Pastor” Comes Home

Ten years ago — when the Westport Arts Center asked Alexander Platt to head its Concert Series — the timing was not right.

The 1983 Staples High School graduate was in the midst of a long career leading orchestras and an opera company in Chicago, North Dakota and Florida — plus a summer “Maverick Concerts” music festival in Woodstock, New York.

His twin brother Russell got the job instead.

Now it’s Alexander’s turn.

Alexander Platt conducts the Minnesota Philharmonic.

For professional and personal reasons — including feeling like “an itinerant pastor,” and the death of his mother (his father still lives in Westport) — Platt has returned home.

“It’s time to be intensive, rather than extensive,” the new Concert Series curator says.

“It’s wonderful to conduct orchestras. But it’s equally pleasurable to run them as a sherpa or guide.”

The chance to put a full season together — to “shape it, host it, bridge it with the community” — proved irresistible.

The Yale and King’s College Cambridge graduate is excited about the 2017-18 series. The WAC wanted classical music, jazz and “something in between.” Platt delivers it all.

Igor Pikayzen

From the opening on September 23 (cutting-edge pianist Anthony de Mare reimagines Stephen Sondheim), to internationally renowned violinist (and Westport resident) Igor Pikayzen, through the noted Juilliard String Quartet and the up-and-coming Calidotre String Quartet, ending with jazz and classical pianist Simon Mulligan, Platt has created 5 outstanding events.

“Even if you hate music, you’ll love these concerts,” he says. “They’re the best of the best. They bridge genres. I get in free, but I’d pay anything to hear them!”

Yet his work does not remain within the WAC’s walls.

Platt has begun building partnerships with “comrades in arms.” He’s reached out to Beechwood Arts & Innovation — his friendship and work relationship with Frederic Chiu and Jeanine Esposito goes back more than 20 years — and Suzuki Music School.

He’s also talking with the Westport and Pequot Libraries. Platt not only wants to eliminate date conflicts; he hopes each organization can cross-promote others’ events.

The Westport native remembers hearing “first-class music” every weekend, at venues ranging from Town Hall to the Unitarian Church.

“You didn’t have to go to New York or New Haven,” Platt notes. “I want to rebuild the audience for great music right here.”

He pauses.

“And there’s no place I’d rather be than Westport.”

Nina Royce Heads West

She’s not a politician. She’s not a civic volunteer. She’s not a noted artist.

But politicians, volunteers and artists — especially artists — all love Nina Royce.

And we’ll all miss her, now that she’s left the Westport she loved and served so long and well.

She moved here in 1969, from New Haven. She married a Harvard guy, David Royce. Three children — and a master’s in fine arts — followed.

Nina spent 45 years at Max’s Art Supplies — the beloved downtown gathering spot for artists, designers, and anyone else needing pens, paint or paper. Nina was an important part of the glue that kept this town’s arts scene connected and vibrant.

Nina Royce (far left) with Max’s colleagues — and the store’s famous Karron’s clock.

For the past 3 years — ever since Max’s closed — you could find Nina at Age of Reason. She worked her magic on that innovative toy store’s many devoted customers — young and old.

Nina was also a regular at the Senior Center. She enjoyed exercise classes — and everyone there enjoyed her quiet, sunny presence.

Now it’s time for a change. Nina is moving to Ashland, Oregon. She’ll be near her son Zach, and granddog Otto. Seattle (son Peter) and Minneapolis (daughter Casey) are not too far away.

Nina has put out the welcome mat for Westporters heading west.

Happy (Oregon) trails, Nina, from all of us whose lives you have enriched!

(Hat tip: Jo Shields)

Nina Royce (seated, center) was feted by friends last week. She’s already on her way to Oregon.

Have You Seen Carole McClintock’s Koi?

The Fine Arts Festival that filled Main Street earlier this month was a great success.

Art lovers flocked to see — and buy — wonderful paintings, sculptures and photos. Artists happily sold as much as they could.

But one piece went mysteriously missing.

As Westporter Carole McClintock was packing up her work — no long drive home for her! — she absent-mindedly left a large, wet koi fish painting up against the brick wall of Bedford Square.

Carole McClintock, with her unfinished painting.

She spent the next 10 days traveling. So she realized only now that it was not in her studio, with the rest of that weekend’s work.

McClintock would love to have it back. Not only is it unsold, but it’s unfinished. It had not even been signed.

“My guess is that someone found the painting and kept it, not knowing what else to do with it,” she says.

If you can connect the artist with her missing work, email carolemcclintock12@gmail.com.

Pic Of The Day #99

Waiting in the Staples High School auditorium lobby for last weekend’s production of “Working.” The painting is “Birth of the Blues” — one of 7 in a series by Staples grad, and noted artist/musician Eric von Schmidt. (Photo copyright Lynn U. Miller)

All-Star Cast Raises Voices For ADL

Fairfield County is a microcosm of our country. People of every race, ethnicity and religion — and with every imaginable political view — live within minutes of each other.

But we all live in strictly defined towns and cities. We hardly ever mix — let alone listen to each other.

For over 100 years, the Anti-Defamation League has used its strong voice to build mutual respect among communities.

On Sunday, September 10 — thanks to the leadership of ADL’s Connecticut director Steve Ginsburg, a Westport resident — the organization will use many voices to bring area residents together in a celebration of similarities and differences.

“Voices: A Concert for Unity” will inspire its Levitt Pavilion audience through music, dance, video and spoken word. The list of performers is very impressive.

Emcee Paul Shaffer — of David Letterman fame – will introduce the red-hot Plain White T’s, and national artists Suzanne Vega, Garland Jeffreys and Napoleon da Legend.

Plain White T’s

They’ll be joined by Westporters who have earned national notice: Alisan Porter (winner of “The Voice”), “Newsies” star Adam Kaplan, Michael Bolton’s drummer Drew McKeon, and Justin Honigstein (lead singer of Honeystone). The Staples High School 2016-17 Orphenians will sing too.

Also onstage: Bridgeport’s ABCD, Neighborhood Studios and Pivot Ministries Choir; Weston’s Chris Coogan and the Good News Choir, and Fairfield’s Double Up Dance Studio and FRANK (School of Rock).

Westport’s own Alisan Porter. with “The Voice” trophy.

Artistic director Sarah Green is one of the Founders of Kool to be Kind, and the director of the wildly successful Slam Jam held earlier this year at the Westport Country Playhouse.That broad array of talent is matched by a variety of partners. ADL is working with more than 40 non-profits across the area.

They’re reaching out too to religious groups, universities, local and state law enforcement agencies, and government officials across the political spectrum — though this is a non-political event.

The outpouring of support from national and local celebrities, businesses, volunteers and the host town of Westport is greater than for any previous local ADL event, organizers say.

Sponsors are still being sought, to enable community partners to attend free of charge — and help fund ADL’s programs to fight bias, bigotry and bullying of all kinds.

ADL has been a powerful voice in an important fight. They’ve assembled other powerful voices for September 10. Now you can add yours, too.

(For tickets to “Voices: A Concert for Unity,” click here. To learn more about sponsorships click here, or contact Terry Sidera by email [tsidera@adl.org] or phone [203-780-0209]).