Category Archives: Arts

Pic Of The Day #1008

In front of a Post Road West art gallery: a banana duct-taped to a utility pole. Art? Or a snack “hidden” by a hungry runner? Something else? (Photo/Kirsten Woods)

Photo Challenge #264

I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: “06880” readers are good.

I was sure that last week’s Photo Challenge would stump almost everyone. Susan Ross’ image showed a flip-flop, tea cup, cameo jewelry, and random other, less identifiable objects. (Click here for the photo.)

It was colorful. But how could anyone identify it?

Almost immediately, Seth Schachter did.

He was followed, rapid-fire, by Jennifer Kobetitsch, Betsy Kahn, Sarah Halevi, India Penney, Julie McMahon, Tina Green, Luke Garvey, Michelle Vitulich, Leslie Petersen, Polly Temple, Darcy Sledge and J. Seideman.

All nailed it: The mosaic surrounding one of the parking garages behind the houses on Old Mill Beach. It’s just to the left of the first footbridge heading to Compo Cove.

I know the bridges and walking paths between Sherwood Mill Pond and Long Island Sound are a popular — if hidden — Westport gem.

But the parking garages are off to the side, little noticed, even obscure. And the mosaic is at the end of the lot. Most people’s attention is focused on the water.

At least, that’s what I thought.

Congratulations to our eagle-eyed readers. A special shout-out to Betsy Kahn — a gifted photographer herself — who added this information about the artist, Claudia Schattman:

“She is one of the coolest artists in town. And people can hire her for special mosaics, pottery and photography. She does installations with all mediums and sizes.”

This week’s Photo Challenge is far less colorful. Will it be as easy? If you know where in Westport you’d see this, click “Comments” below.

(Photo/Mark Mathias)

Sing Your (A Cappella) Songs!

In 2016, Danielle Merlis created Westport’s first cello camp.

Danielle Merlis

The award-winning musician — who was initially inspired at Long Lots Elementary School, earned first chair honors in the Staples High orchestra, and went on to perform with Chris Brubeck and the Eagles, at venues like Lincoln Center — wanted to give back to the community that gave her so much.

It was an instant success.

Three years ago, she added a summer a cappella camp. It includes vocal technique, beatboxing, ensemble skills and choreography.

Now there’s a winter and spring workshop too.

Starting February 2 and running through April 26 at the United Methodist Church, the camp — for students in grades 4 to 12 — will help them “shake off daily school stress and experience the joy of singing with friends,” Merlis says.

Each week will include a cappella ensemble coaching, beat-boxing masterclasses, vocal improvisation, solo technique and choreography. It ends with a final concert for friends and family.

Typical performances include A-ha’s “Take on Me,” Pentatonix’s “Take Me Home,” “Kendrick/Timberlake’s “True Colors” and One Republic’s “I Did.”

All vocal skill levels and ranges are welcome. Merlis believe that singing should be fun, so she promotes a “supportive, positive, non-competitive” atmosphere.

Sounds good to me!

(For more information on Camp A Cappella, click here.)

Youth Concert Brings China To Westport

Years ago, the Westport Youth Concert began as an opportunity to enrich students’ cultural awareness, through music.

As the school district’s emphasis on global understanding has grown, so has the Youth Concert. It’s evolved into a cross-cultural, collaborative event involving not only music, but Westport Public Schools’ visual arts and world language departments.

Outside organizations like the Westport Library, Westport Public Art Collections and PTA Cultural Arts have signed on as community partners.

A scene from last year’s Youth Concert.

This year’s event exemplifies the music department’s mission. “Music of China” features Staples High School musicians, the award-winning Middle School Percussion Ensemble, and guest artists from the New York Chinese Cultural Center. They’ll perform a lion dance and musical piece using a pipa, guzheng and erhu — with mini-lessons about each instrument.

The feature performance is Tuesday, February 4 (7 p.m., Staples auditorium). On that day, and February 6, in-school educational concerts for 3rd through 6th graders will complement the public concert.

It’s a huge undertaking. Youth Concert planning begins at the start of the school year. Coordinator Candi Innaco creates a classroom guide. It introduces the theme, and includes links to resources and classroom instruction.

Leading up to the event, teachers at Greens Farms, Long Lots and Saugatuck Elementary School had students design China-related art: hanging lanterns, wish kites, brush paintings, Ming Dynasty vases and the like.

Westport student art: Ming Dynasty vases.

All elementary music instructors are teaching the tune and lyrics to “Jasmine Flower.” At the concert, students will sing it from the audience — led by Staples’ Orphenians.

Staples’ world language department is involved too. Mandarin students will emcee the concert, and photos taken by teacher Chris Fray on his recent visit to China will be shown.

WestPAC, meanwhile, is displaying art and photography from China at their traveling pop-up galleries, at every school.

In March, the Westport Library will bring the same guest artists from the New York China Cultural Center, to perform again.

China lion dance, performed by members of the New York Chinese Cultural Center.

The public is invited to the free February 4 evening performance. For more information about this event and the Westport music program, click here.

3 Million Records — In Westport?

A few days ago, the New York Times ran a story about the Archive of Contemporary Music. The non-profit houses one of the world’s largest collections of popular music: over 3 million recordings, plus music books, memorabilia and press kids.

There are “shelves upon shelves upon shelves of vinyl records and CDs, signed Johnny Cash records… boxes of big band recordings, world music and jazz and original soundtracks.”

Keith Richards

It also holds the bulk of Keith Richards’ famed blues collection. (He’s on the board of advisers.)

But rising TriBeCa rents are forcing the mammoth collection elsewhere. They’ve got until June to find a new space.

Nile Rodgers —  the record producer and co-founder of the band Chic — is also on the Archive’s board.

Which raises an intriguing idea, first proposed by alert “06880” reader Jeff Mitchell. With those 2 luminaries so involved — and living in Westport and Weston, along with other great recording artists like Michael Bolton and Jose Feliciano, not to mention our long musical history of legendary concerts from Bo Diddley to the Doors; REO Speedwagon writing 157 Riverside about their time here; Johnny Winter and Joe Cocker recording and rehearsing in Westport — why not invite the Archive of Contemporary Music to set up shop here?

I’m (semi) serious. We already have a Museum of Contemporary Art (formerly the Westport Arts Center). a Westport Museum for History and Culture (most recently the Westport Historical Society), plus the Westport Country Playhouse (unchanged after 90 years). This would be one more cultural attraction.

Where would they go? That’s for wiser heads than mine to decide. But we do have an unused building sitting smack in the middle of Baron’s South.

And we keep talking about all those vacant stores on Main Street…

New home of the Archive of Contemporary Music? (Photos/Chip Stephens)

Pic Of The Day #993

Ruth Bader Ginsburg, downtown (Photo/Dan Woog)

Friday Flashback #174

Last month, a Friday Flashback featured a handsome Al Willmott painting of old-time Westport, with National Hall, the Post Road bridge, and a merchant ship. For years, it hung in Dr. Peter Ferrara’s dental office.

Now practicing in Shelton, Dr. Ferrara still loves this town. He sent along another favorite Willmott painting from his office.

For a couple of decades, Ships anchored downtown. At the corner of the Post Road and Taylor Place — replacing the longtime Colgan’s and Thompson’s drugstore — it was the restaurant to go, for any occasion: meeting friends. Showing Westport to out-of-towners. In the middle of shopping. Before or after movies a few doors away.

And — on a cold winter’s day, like Willmott painted — there was nothing better than Ships’ lobster bisque.

Remembering Martin West

Martin West — actor, filmmaker, and for over 20 years the life partner of noted Westport artist Ann Chernow — died December 31. He was 82.

Martin West and Ann Chernow.

He first appeared on stage in New York in 1959, with George C. Scott in “the Andersonville Trial.” He also appeared in over 30 movies. As a documentary filmmaker, West earned an Emmy Award for “The Making of ‘My Fair Lady.'”

His television acting credits included 9 years as Dr. Brewer on “General Hospital,” and stints on “Perry Mason,” “Gunsmoke,” “Bonanza,” “Ironside,” “Dallas,” “Highway to Heaven,” “Matlock” and “L.A. Law.”

West moved to Connecticut in 1993. He joined Theatre Artists Workshop of Westport, acting in and directing many productions.

In 1999 Ann Sheffer commissioned him to produce “A Gathering of Glory,” a documentary about the history of the arts in Westport. The film included artist Paul Cadmus, actors Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward and Christopher Plummer, as well as Keir Dullea — West’s lifelong, and best, friend.

(From left): Dick Moore, Jane Powell, Martin West, Ann Chernow, Keir Dullea.

Over the next several years — while still acting — West became a key figure in the Westport arts scene. He was instrumental in expanding the Theatre Arts Workshop (founded by Dullea in 1983), and was part of the Westport Arts Center.

West’s growing interest in the local visual arts led him to develop a film project about artists over the age of 70, who still worked in Westport and Weston studios.

Years in the Making” (2009) celebrated 50 Westport aand Weston artists — some of them in their 90s — working in oil, charcoal, sculpture, photography and printmaking.

The film — made with fellow Westporter Kristen Fox McKinney — garnered several national film awards.

He also developed separate videos about each of the 50 artists. It’s all available now at the Westport Library.

Martin West (center) with photographer Larry Silver and arts advocate Mollie Donovan.

West continued working on new projects in Westport, including a documentary about his partner in life and art, Ann Chernow.

In addition to Chernow, he is survived by his children Jason Weixelbaum, Allie West and Gabriel West; stepson Paul Mend, and sister Gail Britt.

A memorial service is set for this Saturday (January 4, 2 to 5 p.m., Theatre Artists Workshop [Masonic Lodge], 5 Gregory Boulevard, Norwalk).

In lieu of flowers, donations in West’s name can be made to Theatre Artists Workshop.

 

Pop Goes The Art Gallery

It’s a familiar scene on Main Street: A tenant moves out. Landlords leave the space vacant for a long time, searching for the perfect replacement. Or at least, someone willing to pay the sky-high rent.

But take a look at #1. One of the most visible properties downtown — it’s in the old library building, at the Post Road intersection across from Taylor Place — it was formerly the site of Calypso. The “luxury lifestyle brand” moved out more than 2 years ago.

The space is still available. But for the past few months, it’s been occupied — very vibrantly — by a pop-up art gallery.

#1 Main Street

Pop’TArt is the brainchild of Mark Yurkiw. A longtime Westporter and physicist by training, he spent his career helping Fortune 500 companies launch products and services. Part of that involved creating story-telling sculptures for media outlets like Newsweek and Fortune.

His works include a rendition of the Capitol. Commissioned by the George W. Bush White House, it was signed by 256 members of Congress.

In 1995 Yurkiw created a piece of a real estate developer named Donald Trump. He had bought a hotel on Columbus Circle, and wanted to brand it with his name.

A few months ago, in a conversation with fellow Westport artists Miggs Burroughs and Amy Kaplan, Yurkiw learned that Rick Yarmy was looking for a way to champion local artists.

Yarmy’s is the longtime property manager for Win Properties. They handle #1 Main Street (and many other retail spaces across the country).

Yurkiw called. He told Yarmy his idea: a gallery with works that would push visitors to think about current news and headlines.

Yarmy said “sure!”

Yurkiw found a curator. Jennifer Haviland was working in Southampton. But she took a leap of faith, and moved here.

Together, they set out to find local artist who could create or re-purpose pieces to fit a theme.

The current show — called “Words Matter,” because each work’s title is important — includes some of Yurkiw’s own previous efforts. His Capitol sculpture, for example, is called “Re-Birth of a Nation.” Recalling D.W. Griffith, with an egg shape that suggests birth.

Mark Yurkiw with “Re-Birth of a Nation.” Behind him is another work: “New National Bird.” It’s a monarch butterfly.

Yurkiw froze his own passport. He calls it “Passport on ICE.” It’s provocative. But — as with every piece in the show — Yurkiw says, “people can decide how or what to feel for themselves.”

“Passport on ICE,”

Another example: a monarch butterfly, called “New National Bird.” Some people may look at it and think about all the birds that are disappearing. Others might say, “They migrate from Mexico.” Or, “Oh, we now have a monarch.”

Chris Calle — who has designed 32 US stamps, many relating to space — contributed a diptych. Titled “Fragile,” the two parts — “Climate” and “Change” — show the earth from space, in two very different forms. One is lush; the other, arid.

Reaction to Pop’TArt has been excellent, Yurkiw says. And Yarmy — the landlord’s representative — is so excited at the chance to showcase art in an otherwise empty space that he’s talking with Yurkiw about moving the show to other properties.

The storefront is still for rent. But, Yurkiw says, Yarmy sees the gallery as an asset. Potential tenants are excited to see foot traffic, and can envision their own store there.

Curator Jennifer Haviland, with Steven Goldstein’s Paul Newman art.

Meanwhile, Yurkiw forges ahead. He’s spoken with Westport poet laureate Diane Lowman about doing readings at Pop’TArt.

“We want to bring as many artists here, of all kinds, for as long as we can,” he says.

And when #1 Main Street gets rented — well, there are plenty of other vacant storefronts downtown.

(Pop’TArt is open Thursday through Sunday, from 12 to 6 p.m.)

Giving The Gift Of Music

The Staples High School music department is the gift that keeps on giving.

Many holiday parties — here, and around the country — include Christmas carols. Most of the time, guests stumble through a few standards. Then it’s back to the wassail and egg nog.

Steve Ruchefsky and Rondi Charleston’s party is not like that. It’s at their lovely Myrtle Avenue home — but it might as well be Carnegie Hall.

Their daughter Emma Charles graduated from Staples High School, and the Berklee College of Music. Last night, she and her friends — all former Orphenians — harmonized on a few beautiful carols.

They did not rehearse. But — thanks to their Westport music education, amazing voices and joy in singing once again with each other — they made a great party even more wondrous.

Click on, and listen below!

The singers are (from left) Emma Charles, Joe Badion, Jack Baylis, Nick  Ribolla, Ian Goodman and Nick Massoud. Midway through, they’re joined by Emma’s uncle. Apologies: My video quality pales in comparison to the their wonderful voices.