Category Archives: Arts

Abstract Irony

Alert “06880” reader — and ace photographer — JP Vellotti sent me this shot, from the weekend’s Fine Arts Festival. He calls it “Abstract Irony.”

(Photo/JP Vellotti)

It took me a few seconds to figure out why he gave it that title.

When I realized the reason, it fit perfectly.

If you catch the irony in JP’s image, click “Comments” below.

Meanwhile, kudos to the Westport Downtown Merchants Association for this year’s 45th annual event.

Over 180 exhibitors in charcoal, watercolor, pastel, pencil, ink, photography, digital art, sculpture, printmaking, mixed media, glass, ceramics, jewelry and wood filled Main Street, Elm Street and Church Lane.

Live music, special performances, children’s activities, food and non-profit groups’ exhibits added to the flair.

Around the corner, the Westport Library‘s annual book sale drew plenty of bargain hunters (some of whom were also paying serious prices for art).

The book (and CD) (and DVD) (and more) sale continues tomorrow (Monday, July 16, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., half price day) and Tuesday (9 a.m. to 1 p.m., everything free but contributions gladly accepted).

It was a great weekend to be downtown.

And I say that without any irony whatsoever.

Friday Flashback #99

At first glance, this photo looks unremarkable.

Fred Cantor took it in 1977, he thinks — during the Great Race. That was the fun, funny and often alcohol-infused event in which people dressed in costumes, created their own vessels, ran from Taylor Place to the river, jumped in their watercraft, raced out to Cockenoe Island, filled a bag with garbage (the cheaters already carried pre-packed trash), then rowed or sailed or whatever-ed back to shore.

Meanwhile, Main Street merchants held sales. This was the scene outside Remarkable Book Shop. The stalls were always outside, but on this day they attracted huge crowds.

(Photo/Fred Cantor)

The Great Race is (regrettably) long gone. But this weekend the Fine Arts Festival returns to Main Street. It’s a great show.

Unfortunately, few Remarkable-type stores anymore offer something else to all those art-lovers (though Savvy + Grace is worth a trip from anywhere).

Also this weekend, the Westport Library hosts its 26th annual Book Sale. Those squintillions of volumes make this Remarkable scene look, well, unremarkable. But whenever and wherever people buy books, it’s a good thing.

Finally, this Friday Flashback raises the question: Now that Remarkable Book Shop is gone — and Talbots too is a long-ago memory too — will anything ever take their place?

2 Westporters Earn Emmy Nominations

Westporters will have 2 favorites, when the Emmy Awards are broadcast in September.

Justin Paul — the 2003 Staples High School graduate who has already earned Grammy, Oscar and Tony honors — could become a legendary EGOT.  The songwriting duo were nominated for “In the Market for a Miracle.” They composed the tune for “A Christmas Story Live” — Fox’s adaptation of their 2012 stage musical.

Justin Paul was in Westport last month, entertaining and inspiring the Westport Library’s “Booked for the Evening” crowd.

(Speaking of legends: John Legend is up for an acting Emmy. If he wins, he becomes an EGOT too.)

Kelli O’Hara‘1st-ever nomination comes for Outstanding Actress In A Short Form Comedy Or Drama Series. She plays Katie Bonner in “The Accidental Wolf.”

Kelli O’Hara performed earlier this year at a fundraising cabaret for Staples High School’s Orphenians. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

We’ve got 2 months to wait. The 70th Emmy Awards will be broadcast on Monday, September 17 (8 p.m., NBC).

(Hat tip: Kerry Foley)

Rising Talent Records At Studio 8

You won’t find Brody Braunstein in Westport this week. He’s in Australia, singing and touring with Staples High School’s elite Orphenians.

Music is the rising junior’s passion. He is also a member of the Fairfield County Children’s Choir, has sung at Carnegie Hall, and is lead singer for the popular band Kill the Chill.

In addition to singing, Brody plays piano, keyboard and guitar. He’s taken college classes in music production software. He’s a published songwriter. And he built a sound studio in his house.

Yet Brody understands that he can’t work creatively alone.

“Technology is great. It’s pretty much given everyone access to the tools they need to make music,” he says.

Brody Braunstein

“But just like in real life, technology in music can be isolating. You’ve got all these amazingly talented aspiring artists sitting in their bedrooms creating music on Garage Band. There’s access, but no connection to other people. No give and take.”

A few months ago, Brody heard Edge say that much of U2’s early creative process took place in the recording studio. The band went in with a vague idea and rudimentary tracks — and emerged with something they loved.

Unfortunately, Edge noted, that does not happen much today. Studio time is too expensive.

Brody — who realizes how lucky he is to have so many resources — had a flash of inspiration.

The result: Studio 8.

It’s a not-for-profit collaborative recording studio for teens. And run by teens.

No, it’s not a full, professionally equipped studio. But it has everything a young artist needs to record, mix and master their music.

It also has Brody to help.

And it’s free.

Brody Braunstein, at work in his home studio.

It’s also just one part of what Brody does. This fall, he’ll begin working with youngsters at KEYS. The Bridgeport organization provides music education to underserved communities.

It’s an amazing group, as Brody knows from previous experience. He’ll work with the choir this year — and hopes he can get them to record in Studio 8.

Meanwhile, Brody invites young people in the area to lay down tracks, test out a new piece, flesh out a cover or record something for a college portfolio.

He’s also looking for videographers, social media experts and sound editors (especially those into rap or EDM) to join Studio 8.

Brody is Down Under until July 21. Once he’s back, you can reach him by email: Studio8Collaborative@gmail.com.

(Studio 8 is free — but donations to the KEYS program are gratefully accepted. Use Brody’s email above for more information.)

Melissa Joan Hart Wants Westport To #StopSucking

America knows Melissa Joan Hart as an actress — the star of sitcoms like “Sabrina the Teenage Witch” and “Melissa & Joey.”

Westporters know her as our neighbor. Like moms all around town, she cares about the environment, and the world we’re leaving our kids.

Melissa Joan Hart, with her family.

One of her major concerns is plastic straws. They’re too light to be recycled, and are one of the most common pollutants found in waters — on Compo Beach, in Long Island Sound, everywhere really.

Melissa is not alone. Other Westporters are working to eliminate plastic straws. Internationally, a Plastic Free July Foundation — based in Australia — is taking aim at all single-use plastics.

But Melissa has taken special action. Spurred by the knowledge that ours was the first town east of the Mississippi River to ban plastic bags, 10 years ago — a move many other communities have emulated — she’s beating the bushes to get restaurants to stop using plastic straws.

Or, to use her favorite hashtag: #stopsucking.

The idea, Melissa says, is for restaurants to move to “straws on request only” — and use alternatives like bamboo, paper, pasta or stainless steel straws. Another option: Patrons can carry reusable straws.

A number of leading restaurants are already on board. Melissa has commitments from The Spotted Horse, Gray Goose, Arogya, Jesup Hall, The Whelk, The Cottage and OKO.

She’s working on Terrain, Amis, Bartaco, Granola Bar and Tarantino’s. Then she’ll keep going, through all our many restaurants and other food places. (She’s got an ally in Westport Farmers’ Market director Lori Cochran).

But that’s not all. Melissa wants influential Westporters to post each restaurant that makes the #StopSucking promise, and drive traffic there.

If it’s posted to Instagram accounts like @LonelyWhale, @LifeWithoutPlastics and @Take3fortheSea, the campaign can reach far beyond Westport, she says.

Melissa Joan Hart loves living, raising her kids — and dining — here.

She’ll love it even more when we all #StopSucking.

Westport’s Watery, Wondrous Bohemia

Westporters are used to seeing our town pop up in stories about things to do and see in the tri-state area.

But WCVB-TV — a Boston station whose viewers usually head to places like Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket and Lake Winnipesaukee — featured us in its recent “A Tank Away” series on cool spots to see.

Like a teenager, we’re always concerned with what other people think of us. Here’s how we look on Boston TV.

Westport, it seems, is a place with “celebrity status, elegant neighborhoods and an expensive [or ‘expansive’] public beach, the arts, and an immaculately groomed town center lined with restaurants and shops.”

Our “immaculately groomed town center.”

Our history is “very bohemian,” says interviewee (and Westport Historical Society director) Ramin Ganeshram.

Compo Beach and marina are a 29-acre “park.” Historical properties are “a-plenty.” The Historical Society itself is “a gathering place for the public.”

The Westport Country Playhouse gets a shout-out. So does Earthplace (with a tangent about chinchillas) and DownUnder (especially its “Paddle With Your Dog” program).

“Nature has a starring role” in Westport, Bostonians learn.

And — oh yes — we have “watery wonders.”

You can catch the entire 5 minute-plus feature on WCVB’s website.

Where the subhead is: “Paul Newman was a fan – how much more motivation do we need. We’re off to Westport, Connecticut, a mix of beach town and bohemia that’s worth a trip.”

WCVB’s perky anchors tell Boston viewers to “head west on I-84 for the shores of Connecticut.” At some point they’ll have to head south, too.

(Hat tip: Bob Mitchell)

Happy 90th, Larry Untermeyer!

Larry Untermeyer turns 90 years young today.

The noted photographer — who has exhibited in countless shows, and whose shots enliven many local publications (including, gratefully “06880”) — was born on this lucky day: 7/11.

Larry Untermeyer with his aerial photos of Westport. They’ve been featured for years in a hallway exhibit at Town Hall.

The new nonagenarian shows no signs of slowing down. He recently returned from 6 weeks in Greece.

We’d ask him the secret of his longevity. But we can’t get him to stop and answer.

Happy birthday, Larry!

Rice fields, northern Vietnam. (Photo/Larry Untermeyer)

Danny Fishman: From Goldman Sachs To Guitar Tracks

In 2015 — straight out of college — Danny Fishman landed what many Westporters consider a dream job: Goldman Sachs.

It seemed like the perfect segue: from Staples High School and Tufts University, to prestige, stability and happiness.

Except it wasn’t.

Fishman had always been successful. At Staples, he was part of state and FCIAC championship volleyball teams. He snagged a Goldman internship in college, the summer before senior year.

Danny Fishman, Staples High School volleyball star.

Yet, he says now, that internship — and the subsequent job offer — was just “a retreat to safety.”

His good friend Andrew Accardi died during Fishman’s junior year at Tufts. “I did a lot of soul-searching,” Fishman says. “I felt lucky for my own life, and terrible that his had been cut short. I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I just knew I didn’t want to drift passively.”

He set his sights on finance, as “a challenge. I thought I’d find purpose and direction there.”

He moved to Battery Park. He was assigned to the prime brokerage branch in the securities division. He learned the ropes and earned greater responsibilities, including client interaction. There was plenty of socializing with his fellow hires.

However, he says, “I didn’t identify with the values of the people around me. The uniformity, the hive mind, the mentality of what success looked like — it was omnipresent.”

He did not fit in.

Danny Fishman

“From an abstract point of view, I don’t disagree with the sense of vicious competitiveness,” Fishman explains. “I just didn’t see myself that way.”

He felt “beat up, exhausted. I didn’t know if I had a ton to offer, or if I should offer what I had.”

Though it was “a pretty miserable experience from the get-go,” he does not want to exaggerate the experience. Half of his best friends now are people he met at work.

He had made a commitment to himself to stick it out — “if I get good at this, will I feel better about it?” he asked himself — but when he got a how-you-doing postcard from Accardi’s mother, he took it as a sign.

After a year and a half at Goldman Sachs, he quit.

Fishman moved back home to Westport (an option he knows is not readily available to many). He “let go of the fear of trying to pursue something in music” — a hobby that had always brought him joy and energy, but that he had never committed himself to.

He studied the craft of performing. He wrote music. He took a cross-country trip, crashing on friends’ couches and stepping up at open mic nights in Nashville, Austin, Denver and Los Angeles.

Wherever he stopped, he made new friends.

Danny Fishman on stage.

Fishman recorded a demo of songs he’d written. He “stumbled forward,” learning about promotion and booking.

His first single got 28,000 plays on Spotify. His second got 9,000 in just the first 5 days.

Back home, he met Katie Noonan in a doctor’s waiting room. They chatted; he learned she was a musician too. He had his guitar — he brings it everywhere — and sang for her. She’s offered plenty of support (including a gig at her 50th birthday party).

“A rising tide lifts all boats,” Fishman has learned. “And failure doesn’t feel bad when it’s in pursuit of something you want to do.”

When he “failed” in finance, he says, “I beat myself up. In music, failure leads to something productive.”

The music community, he found, is not a zero-sum game. He has been helped by many performers, writers and producers, and tries to help others.

Danny Fishman and Katie Noona

I told Fishman that a story like this will bring negative comments from readers, lambasting him for turning his back on a well-paying job he got in part because of his background, then returning to that very environment.

“I am super, super lucky to have parents with a home I can come back to,” he says. “Westport is a beautiful place, with lots of resources. I know I’ve been blessed in life.”

But, he continues, “Having money doesn’t make everything easy. If people don’t view my experiences as legit, nothing I can do will change that.”

So, if he went back to counsel himself as a Staples senior in 2011 — not knowing what he wanted, or how to get it — what would he say?

“Try not to worry so much about what other people think of you,” he says. “Be who you are, even if it doesn’t conform to the image of success others painted for you.”

Meanwhile, Danny Fishman will continue to record and tour. He’ll try to “stay true to what I want, and pursue it maturely and responsibly.”

Sounds like a recipe for success, in any field.

Pic Of The Day #447

Full house at the Levitt Pavilion (Drone photo/Dave Curtis, HDFA Photography.com)

Young Artists Featured At Bruce Museum

The future of art is alive and well in Westport.

And Greenwich.

The Bruce Museum is showcasing student works from Connecticut and New York. Its 8th annual “iCreate” exhibit drew more than 600 submissions, from 33 high schools.

Three Westport students made the cut. Their work is among 45 pieces on display, now through August 12.

Henry Koskoff created “Still Life” as part of his junior year Advanced Drawing class at Staples High School. It portrays a pile of shoes, seemingly toppling over each other and illuminated from above. Movement and spatial relationships enrich the piece with life.

“Still Life,” charcoal on paper by Henry Koskoff.

Recent Staples graduate Branton Zhang found inspiration on a trip to Paris. He found himself in a small, dark room disconnected from the rest of the Louvre. The only light appeared angelic, illuminating a desolate chair while revealing an “odd beauty.” He was inspired to create what he calls “my first important piece of art.”

“Empty Chair,” oil on canvas by Branton Zhang.

Recent Greens Farms Academy graduate Sophie Lewis has spent years sketching human faces. Her piece uses beeswax and ink to transform simple sketches into tactile, intricate and interesting works of art.

Untitled, watercolor transfer on encaustics by Sophie Lewis.

A People’s Choice Award will be announced August 5. Votes can be cast at the Bruce Museum. For more information on the iCreate exhibit, click here.