Category Archives: Arts

Headstand For WestPAC

Westporters know Larry Silver for his iconic images of “The Jogger” and “Beach Showers” — photographs taken at Longshore and Compo Beach, respectively.

But to the rest of the world, his most iconic image is “Headstand.”

Silver — a longtime resident whose works have been shown around the globe — took that shot in 1954 as part of a series in Muscle Beach, California.

Years later, the International Center for Photography featured those photos. The rest is history.

“Headstand” hangs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Brooklyn Museum, the RISD Museum, and the Getty Museum, among many others. It’s been shown around the globe.

“Headstand” (Photo/Larry Silver)

History will be made again on Wednesday, June 12.

Friends of WestPAC — the Westport Public Art Collections — holds its annual fundraiser at Rive Bistro (7 p.m.). “Headstand” is one of the world-class pieces in the auction. It’s the first time Silver has donated the photo anywhere.

He’s been urged for years to show the piece here. He was reluctant, claiming it’s not an image of Westport. Finally — thanks to WestPAC — he feels comfortable doing so.

You can bid on many wonderful works at the WestPAC event (and enjoy great food and more, too).

But only “Headstand” will have you doing backflips.

(For tickets and more information about the June 12 WestPAC fundraiser, click here.)

Our Town’s Players

David Roth has acted in 3 productions of “Our Town.”

In 1980 — the summer he moved to Westport, as a rising Staples High School freshman — his introduction to his new town’s drama community came via Thornton Wilder’s classic play.

A few years later in college, he was cast in it again. The third time was as an adult, with the Wilton Playshop.

Kerry Long was introduced to “Our Town” as a Staples student. English teacher Karl Decker traditionally read it to his senior class.

Roth and Long now co-direct Staples Players. But in over 60 years, the nationally recognized organization has produced the play only once.

That was in 1962. Craig Matheson directed, 4 years after founding Players.

This Thursday through Sunday (May 23 through 26), Roth and Long will stage “Our Town” again.

Both love it.

“It’s brilliant,” Roth says. “It so well captures the human experiences we all go through.”

Much has changed in 57 years. Besides the auditorium, there’s now a smaller Black Box theater.

That’s where Players will stage “Our Town,” from Thursday through Sunday (May 23 through 26).

But much has not changed.

The set is spare. Props are minimal. Very little separates the audience from the actors, or both from life’s experiences.

Emily (Sophie Rossman) and George (Nick Rossi) at the soda shop. (Photo/Kerry Long)

Players’ 2019 cast wears contemporary clothing. Though the play is set in 1938 — and the “play within a play” covers the years 1901 to 1913  — Roth and Long want their audience to focus on the timelessness of the message, not its time frame.

The directors make good use of the Black Box’s intimacy and versatility. The audience sits on stage. They flank the actors, so the action happens both in front and behind.

Roth and Long have loved “Our Town” for years. They are excited to introduce a new generation of performers — and theater-goers — to it.

Mrs. Gibbs (Camille Foisie) and Doc Gibbs (Tobey Patton). (Photo/Kerry Long)

Most of the teenage actors knew of of the play, Roth says. But few of them actually “knew” it.

Now they appreciate it as much as their directors do.

That’s the magic of theater. Of “Our Town.”

And of Staples Players.

(“Our Town” will be performed Thursday, Friday and Saturday, May 23, 24 and 25 at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, May 26 at 3 p.m. Online tickets are sold out, but a limited number will be available half an hour before curtain, at the door.)

Norma Minkowitz: Artist On The Run

Norma Minkowitz has quite a routine.

In the morning she goes to The Edge. Three days a week, she runs 1.5 miles on the treadmill. Then she does lunges, curls and core work with a trainer. She follows up with an hour-long spin class. The other days, she runs outdoors.

Then she heads back to her Westport home. She climbs the stairs to her studio, and begins a full day of work as an artist. “I run from one piece to another,” she laughs.

A few of Norma Minkowitz’s pieces, in her Westport studio.

Next month, Norma interrupts that routine. She heads to Albuquerque, New Mexico, for a national championship track meet. She’ll compete in the 1500, 800 and 400 meter runs.

She hopes to win a US title in her age group: 80 to 84 years old.

At 81, Norma has spent fully half her life in Westport. She met her husband Shelly at Cooper Union. She studied fine arts; he was an engineer.

Jobs with Sikorsky and PerkinElmer brought them to Connecticut. But he changed careers, becoming a home builder. Harvest Commons is his work. Four decades ago, he built their house on Broadview Road.

Meanwhile, Norma pursued her own career. In the 1960s she began working with fiber. “Back then it was considered ‘arts and crafts,'” she says. “Now it’s a fine art.”

Norma Minkowitz, and 2 of her works.

Her specialty is crocheted cotton thread. She also does pen and ink, and sculptures.

Her style is “very personal,” she says. “It has a dark edge, about life, mortality and human nature. I’m interested in sequences, and how things evolve.”

Her art grows stronger every year, Norma notes. “I’ve pared things down to simple lines, shapes, forms and meaning.”

Norma’s work is now in 32 museums. And they’re big: the Metropolitan, the de Young, the Wadsworth Atheneum.

Norma Minkowitz, before the 1987 New York Marathon.

She came to running later in life. In 1985, a friend talked her into training for the New York Marathon. She did not prepare well, and lasted “only” 20 miles.

The next year, Norma trained with a coach. At 49 years old, she completed all 26.2 miles in 4 hours, 6 minutes — a 9:25 per mile pace.

The year after that, she had bronchitis. She ran anyway.

But, Norma says, she is “not in love with long races.” In 1986 she began running shorter distances, in the Westport Parks & Recreation summer series organized by legendary track coach Laddie Lawrence.

Those were more her speed. She’s participated every year since.

These days, she often trains with 4- or 5-kilometer runs. It sounds daunting. But Norma insists, “that’s not real long distance.” After training, she feels “healthy, strong, accomplished — and tired.”

She also feels “like I’ve done something for my body. Maybe it’s the blood going to my brain.”

Running helps her artwork, Norma says. In her studio, she often stands. “Artists have to be strong,” she notes.

She sees people her age who “hardly move.” No one says that about Norma.

One reason she loves her spin class is meeting so many nice (and young) people. “Some of them tell me they wish their mothers did this,” she says. “And their mothers are younger than I am!” She’s made many friends through the running community.

Her fellow spinners — and runners, and artists — are in awe of Norma’s accomplishments. They know how committed she is. And how hard she is training for the upcoming National Senior Games at the University of New Mexico.

Three years ago — at 79 — Norma Minkowitz led a pack of much younger runners.

It’s a big deal. Over 13,500 “seniors” — ages 50 to 100 — will compete in age group categories. Events include swimming, diving, biking, paddleball, bowling, golf, pickle ball and pole vault.

She qualified for her 3 track races last year, in a downpour in New Britain and a follow-up meet in New Jersey. Her times were well below the cutoffs.

But she’s leaving nothing to chance. She has no idea how the high altitude will affect her. So she’s working with former Staples High School runner and coach Malcolm Watson.

Last month, she ran in the Westport Young Woman’s League Minute Man race. Her mile time was 10:30. “That’s pretty good for 81,” she says.

It is indeed.

Two of Norma Minkowitz’ medals, from the Senior Games qualifying meet in New Britain.

“It’s exciting,” Norma says of the upcoming national meet. “I’m a novice. But you never know…”

And if Albuquerque goes well, there’s the 2020 Senior Olympics in Fort Lauderdale.

“That’s sea level,” Norma says with relief. “On the other hand, there’s the heat…”

(Click here for more information on the National Senior Games. Click here for Norma Minkowitz’s art website. Hat tip: Mitch Thaw.)

August Laska: A True “Broadway Bounty Hunter”

When he was in Staples Players, audiences knew August Laska as an actor. His roles included “Guys and Dolls,” “Little. Shop of Horrors,” “West Side Story” and “A Chorus Line.”

But — like many members of the high school drama program — he learned about many other aspects of theater. He directed a studio production, “Museum.” He headed up the publicity team. He watched his friends take on projects like fundraising and outreach.

After graduating in 2013, August majored in film and media at Middlebury College. He learned how to communicate with mass audiences, and discovered the connection between movies and Broadway.

August Laska

While many of his classmates joined the “Middlebury to Goldman Sachs pipeline,” he headed to Los Angeles. He worked for Snapchat and loved the West Coast, but realized technology was not for him.

A bit over a year ago, August joined Disney Theatrical Productions in New York. He enjoys his marketing work there immensely.

Thanks to his college internships in Broadway offices, an outside job recently came his way. Though he’s still in his mid-20s, August is now a co-producer.

He’s working on “Broadway Bounty Hunter.” The Off-Broadway musical — written by Tony-nominated writer (“Be More Chill”) Joe Iconis — is set to open in July.

So after his full-time, daytime gig, August spends his nights raising money to make sure that happens.

Every show needs money. There are directors, designers and creatives to hire; space to rent; sets to build — all before one ticket is sold.

There is no handbook or Wiki article on how to be a producer. August is learning by doing — and watching those who have already done it.

Fortunately, co-producing fits his skill set. And he appreciates growing up in a community that values the arts.

He’s contacting some of those Westporters right now, while raising capital for “Broadway Bounty Hunter.” (He’s also involved a Broadway show opening this summer — but he can’t share those details just yet.)

“Investing in theater is risky,” August admits. “Not every show is ‘Hamilton.’ But when it is, you make back your investment big time.

“It’s a long journey though. Its not a one-time lottery ticket.”

Show people are special people. Not everyone can act on stage.

August Laska did, at Staples. Now his action takes place behind the scenes.

But co-producers get awards beyond tickets to opening night.

“You know all those people you see on stage at the Tonys?” he asks. “They’re producers. They get a statuette too.”

Justin Paul Joins “American Housewife”

“American Housewife” — the ABC comedy in which Katy Mixon raises her “flawed” family as the supposedly 2nd fattest housewife in Westport — has been renewed for a 4th season.

That’s the semi-good news.

The really good news is that the season 3 finale — at 8 p.m. on May 21, mark it down! — will include an original song by Justin Paul.

The Staples High School Class of 2002 graduate has already won a Grammy, Oscar and Tony, for his work with writing partner Benj Pasek on “Dear Evan Hansen” and “La La Land.”

Executive producer Kenny Schwartz — another Staples grad — occasionally slips Westport references into “Housewife.” (The Black Duck was called, I think, the White Mallard.)

No word on whether Justin will do the same, for his season-finale song.

(Hat tip: Jeff Mitchell)

Justin Paul, perhaps watching “American Housewife.” (Photo/Dan Woog)

Woodstock: Westport Remembers

If you grew up when I did, you’ve got a Woodstock memory.

I had a ticket and everything (except actual plans about how to get there).

Me, in my Woodstock days. Or should I say, Woogstock.

Then I got grounded. (Well deserved, I must admit.) Instead of getting rained on, sleeping in the mud and being awakened by Jimi Hendrix, I sat at home. I read about the huge festival in the New York Times. A few months later, I saw the movie.

Several years later — now out of college — I was cleaning my old room at my parents’ house. I found my Woodstock ticket: still pristine, never used.

“Oh,” I said to myself. “That’s interesting.”

And promptly threw it out.

That’s not the most compelling — or financially savvy — Woodstock story. But it’s mine.

Other people have much better ones.

Like Michael Friedman (Staples High School 1961 grad/music producer/ photographer). Roger Kaufman (Staples ’66 musician/musicologist). Dodie Pettit (Westport actress/singer/Woodstock attendee). Paul Nelson (Johnny Winter’s guitar player). Ira and Maxine Stone (Woodstock performers). Bruce Pollock (author).

They’ll all be at the Westport Woman’s Club this Wednesday (May 15, 7 p.m.). They’re part of a “Woodstock: 50 Years Down the Road” panel, talking about their experiences at that almost-50-years-ago/seems-like-yesterday historical event.

“Lotta freaks!” Arlo Guthrie said. “The New York State Thruway is closed!”

After the discussion, the Old School Revue’s Woodstock All-Stars will play  favorite hits from Woodstock. Performers include Kaufman, Pettit, the Stones (Ira and Maxine, not Mick and Keith), Pete Hohmeister, Frank Barrese, Bob Cooper, Billy Foster and Nina Hammerling Smith.

Special guests include Rex Fowler of Aztec Two-Step, Robin Batteau and the Saugatuck Horns (Joe Meo and Fred Scerbo).

The event is free (but register online; seating is limited).

In other words, you don’t need a ticket.

That’s good. If I had one, I’d probably throw it away.

(For more information, click here. “Woodstock: 50 Years Down the Road” is sponsored by the Westport Library.)

Staples Pops Concert Tickets Available Soon

In just 4 years, the Staples High School Pops Concert has become the town’s newest tradition.

And its hottest ticket.

This year’s event is set for Friday, June 7, at the Levitt Pavilion.

Part of the large crowd at last year’s Staples Pops Concert.

The Levitt Pavilion lawn opens at 5:30 p.m. There’s pre-concert music, mingling, and food from 3 trucks. (Bodega, JR’s and Jim’s Ice Cream all donate part of their proceeds to the Staples music department.)

Free tickets will be available online at www.StaplesMusic.org next Monday (May 20), at 9 a.m. They’re first-come, first-served. For the past 3 years they’ve been snapped up almost instantly.

Like its wintertime cousin — Candlelight — the Pops Concert is a Staples music department gift to the town.

Modeled on Boston Pops’ famed Esplanade series, it features popular classical and contemporary music from the high school’s symphonic orchestra, band, jazz band and Orphenians.

Jim Naughton — emcee for the past 3 concerts — is unavailable this year. Pinch-hitting is one of Westport’s foremost arts patrons, and no stranger to Staples High School: former principal John Dodig.

The Pops Concert is a chance to enjoy great music on the Levitt lawn, greet friends, picnic, and watch the stars of the future as the stars come out.

But first you need tickets. Mark your calendar: Monday, May 20, 9 a.m.!

Finally, Town Honors F. Scott Fitzgerald

On May 14, 1920, a young couple signed a 5-month lease for a modest gray cottage on Compo Road South.

It was not big news. In fact, it took the Westporter-Herald — the local newspaper that chronicled every visitor, gathering and event in town — until the next month to run this small item:

“F. Scott Fitzgerald, a writer, has leased the Wakeman Cottage near Compo Beach.”

The iconic shot of F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, in front of their Westport home.

But the honeymoon home of Fitzgerald and his new bride Zelda — they’d gotten married on April 3 –had a profound impact on both. It appears in more of their collective works than any other place they lived.

With good reason. The couple drank and partied all summer long.

On May 14, 2019 — 99 years to the day after that now-legendary lease-signing — Westport will officially recognize that event.

The cottage that once abutted larger-than-life multimillionaire Frederick E. Lewis’ property (now Longshore Club Park) still stands. Today it’s a handsome home. First Selectman Jim Marpe will stand there, and declare “Great Gatsby Day” in town.

The official proclamation — a combination of legalese and whimsy — begins:

“Whereas, it was an age of miracles. It was an age of art. It was an age of excess and it was an age of satire….”

F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald slept — and partied — here, on South Compo Road.

But that’s not the only Fitzgerald-Westport connection this month.

On Saturday and Sunday, May 18 and 19, the Westport Community Theater presents a costumed stage reading of The Vegetable.

If you haven’t heard of it, don’t worry.

Richard “Deej” Webb — the Westport historian who collaborated with Robert Steven Williams on a film and book that describe the Fitzgeralds’ Westport sojourn, and make the strong case that it heavily influenced The Great Gatsby — calls it “his worst work.”

The Vegetable is Fitzgerald’s only full-length play. It was his lone attempt to establish himself as a successful playwright, and his sole foray into political satire.

The plot involves an accidental president who undergoes impeachment. Coming during the corrupt administration of Warren Harding — who died the year it was published — it was “ahead of its time,” Webb says.

To call it forgotten today is an understatement. According to Webb, it was last performed in the 1990s.

The WCT has modified it a bit. What Webb calls “a racist scene” has been edited out.

That may have been a product of its time. But nearly a century later, impeachment is back in the news.

And — at least in Westport — F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald are too.

(The staged reading of The Vegetable is Saturday, May 18 at 8 p.m., and Sunday, May 19 at 2 p.m. For tickets, call 203-226-1983.)

River of Names Mural: The Library Responds

Westporters reacted with fury to yesterday’s announcement that the River of Names mural will not be re-hung in the Westport Library.

Most of the dozens of readers responding to the “06880” story expressed chagrin that the 26-foot long, 6-foot high mural — whose 1,162 tiles represent 350 years of Westport history and memorials to families, and which was commissioned as a 1997 fundraiser — will reappear only in digitized form.

Some commenters asked for their tiles back. Others wondered if the mural — removed during the Transformation Project — was already destroyed.

The River of Names was hung in the lower level of the Westport Library.

Some readers also wondered why no library representatives stepped forward to respond.

This morning, they did.

Original plans for the transformed library included a spot for the River of Names, say director Bill Hamer and board of trustees president Iain Bruce.

It was to be located on the upper level, outside the children’s library near new meeting rooms. It’s a high-traffic area, just beyond the elevator and at the top of stairs. The mural would be well-lit, visible from the main level — and in an area where new generations of youngsters could learn Westport’s history from it.

Library officials presented the idea to 3 key River of Names stakeholders: Betty Lou Cummings, who conceived the project; Dorothy Curran, who shepherded it through, and Marion Grebow, the artist who created every tile.

They objected adamantly. The reason: It would wrap around a corner, on an “L”-shaped wall. They believed that would destroy the “river” design. They insisted it be remounted on one straight wall.

“We were sensitive to their feelings,” Bruce said. “We did what we had to do all along: We took it down.”

This view from the main floor looks toward the childen’s library above (behind the portholes). Library officials proposed hanging the River of Names nearby. (Photo/Lynn Untermeyer Miller)

The wall on the lower level of the library no longer exists. The mural had to be removed and stored in one piece. Individual tiles cannot be taken apart.

The library hired Crozier Fine Arts, a professional moving and storage company. They carefully took the mural down (including the wall it is permanently part of). They preserved it, and are storing it in Ridgefield under climate-controlled conditions.

The cost to the library is $30,000 so far.

After the 3 originators told the library it could not be rehung on 2 walls, town arts curator Kathie Motes Bennewitz searched for a spot in another building.

However, Harmer says, “it can’t just hang on any wall. It’s very, very heavy.” To accommodate the mural, an existing wall would have to be demolished and rebuilt, or reinforced — at an expense considerably more than it cost to remove it. No town body was willing to pay.

“The library is committed to cooperating with any town agency or other body that wants to install the tile wall on its premises,” Harmer says.

However, an outdoor location like the Levitt will not work. The tiles were not made to withstand New England weather. If they got wet and froze, they would shatter.

The River of Names includes tiles for places like the original Westport Library, and others honoring families, local businesses and historic events.

“It was never our intention to have an irate public,” Bruce says. “A digital version seemed most logical, once we could not hang it in the library, and no one stepped up with an appropriate alternate place.”

“It was not sledgehammered,” he continues. “It is being carefully stored.”

In fact, Harmer says, the wall outside the children’s library was designed — and has been built — with the mural in mind.

“We told Betty Lou and Dorothy yesterday that it could still go there,” the director says. “We’re sorry we came to a crossroads. We’ve invested a lot of money and hours into trying to do the right thing. It’s a question of balancing the wishes of the original sponsors against our desire for an appropriate space.”

Bruce adds, “If they came back tomorrow and said they supported our original proposal, we’d do whatever we could to make it happen.”

Library’s “River Of Names”: 21st-Century Update

The Westport Library’s Transformation Project is exciting and dynamic. When the official opening takes place June 23, users will enjoy an entirely new experience. Space, usage, programs — all have been reimagined.

But the 2-year renovation has brought changes to some old favorites. More than 150 works of art were removed, reappraised, cleaned, photographed and stored professionally. Some will be back on the “new” library walls.

Others found homes in various town buildings. For example, Robert Lambdin’s 1935 WPA mural “Pageant of History” was relocated to Staples High School.

But what about the River of Names?

That was the 26-foot long, 6-foot high tile work that hung on the lower level, just outside the McManus meeting room.

The River of Names, in the lower level of the Westport Library.

Conceived by Betty Lou Cummings, shepherded along by Dorothy Curran, and commissioned in 1997 as part of a capital campaign, it raised $300,000. All 1,162 tiles were individually created and drawn by artist Marion Grebow.

Some portray historical events, like the founding of Westport, onion farming and the arrival of the railroad.

Others feature favorite places around town: the Compo Beach cannons, Minute Man monument and Staples High School. Some cite local organizations and businesses.

Most show the names of nearly 1,000 families. They honor parents, children and pets. They note when the families came to town, and where they lived.

One of the tiles shows Stevan Dohanos’ Saturday Evening Post cover of the World War II memorial outside the old Town Hall.

Tile donors were promised the River of Names would exist in perpetuity.

Yet finding a new home in the transformed library was difficult.

Fortunately, the library has a 21st-century solution.

An interactive River of Names will be an innovative feature of the new building.

A 43-inch touch-screen digital mural will be on view — and very accessible — on the upper level.

The new River of Names will link historic depictions in the mural to additional information about Westport’s 350-year past.

Another tile shows the YMCA’s Bedford building, constructed in 1923. It’s now the site of Bedford Square.

Iain Bruce — president of the library’s board of trustees — acknowledges the challenge of finding an appropriate location for the mural in the renovated space.

However, he says, the mural — and the entire Transformation Project — has forced the library to reassess how to make its collections and materials more accessible and engaging for everyone.

The new digital mural offers “maximum accessibility, interactivity, and continuity for our community today and for generations to come.” It includes descriptions, narratives, maps and photos. Audio and video clips will be added in the future.

Before the original mural was taken down, Miggs Burroughs photographed and documented each tile. It was removed and stored by a specialized company.

The River of Names includes tiles for the original Westport Library, built in 1908 on the Post Road (now next to Freshii) …

Ann Sheffer — chair of the River of Names Task Force Committee — says she is “thrilled that all this will be available to many more generations of Westport.” She calls digitization “a truly 21st-century demonstration of the role of libraries in preserving our heritage while charting our future.”

The River of Names will be accessible not only to library patrons, teachers and students, but everyone  around the globe, adds Kathleen Motes Bennewitz, Westport’s arts curator who consulted on this project.

Like the original mural River of Names, the digital version is ultimately a home-town product.

Square Squared — a Westport company — was the developer. The firm provides creative solutions for print and digital designs, and audio and video production.

Michael Bud — a Square Squared partner — was introduced to the Westport Library years ago, by his mother, a Coleytown Elementary School teacher. He enjoyed story hour and picture books; later, he researched science fair and other projects there.

He was in high school when the River of Names project was installed, and remembers the buzz. Now his 2 children are frequent library visitors.

Soon — thank to Dad — they’ll be able to access the River of Names, digitally.

Along with the rest of Westport.

And the world.

… as well the current library, opened in 1986, and soon to be “transformed.” (Tile photos courtesy of Fotki.com)