Category Archives: Arts

Vital Organ At Saugatuck Church

If you haven’t been in the Saugatuck Congregational Church sanctuary for the past few weeks, you’re not the only one.

The historic pews and altar — where, in 1835, the town of Westport was officially formed — are filled with construction equipment.

It’s all good. The church — which spent a few years recovering from a nearly devastating 2011 fire — is in the midst of installing a new pipe organ.

It’s not easy.

A team of 3 men from Orgelbau Klais — one of Germany’s premier organ builders — arrived in early June. The organ — in many pieces — followed soon.

Organ pieces fill the Saugatuck Congregational Church sanctuary …

Since then, the crew has installed a tracker system, and associated parts. They added fire protection and lighting. Pipe installation is next.

The organ includes over 2,000 pipes, and 26 ranks. A blower apparatus can be pumped by hand.

Craftsmen from Germany are building the organ by hand.

The German team is here until at least the end of August. The church unveils the fantastic new instrument on September 8.

When it’s done, the organ will do more than make beautiful music. A Plexiglas window in the back of the console provides an inside view into how it works.

It will be the worth the wait. The organ is expected to last up to 200 years.

Which is the same pretty much how many years ago Westport was founded, in that very same sanctuary.

Progress!

Travels With Larry

In many ways, Larry Untermeyer’s life mirrors lots of residents who arrived in the 1950s and ’60s.

He’s a Korean veteran (Army special services). He worked in TV (“Pulse,” the first-ever morning show) and advertising (JWT, Hill & Knowlton, his own firm).

He and his wife Nikki raised 2 kids. When she retired after 23 years as a Weston Middle School teacher, they traveled the world. With good friends Ted and Carol Diamond, they visited 30 countries.

Larry Untermeyer and his daughter, Lynn Untermeyer Miller. (Photo/Mike Elliot)

She died nearly 6 years ago, of pancreatic cancer. That’s where Untermeyer’s story diverges a bit from other Westport 91-year-olds.

A month after Nikki died, he had a major operation and almost died. He had to learn to walk and write all over again.

Just a couple of months later, he took a trip. He spent 3 months in southeast Asia.

By himself.

His daughter Lynn — a longtime “06880” photographer — was terrified.

Untermeyer had a wonderful time. He calls it “one of the most extraordinary trips of my life.”

It was not his last. He’s traveled overseas 6 times since then. Untermeyer just returned from several wonderful weeks in Tanzania. It was his 7th time there. Each trip has been to a different country.

The Serengeti in Tanzania. (Photo/Larry Untermeyer)

His traveling companion was Bill Balch. A former Westporter whose wife died a year and a half ago, he now lives at Meadow Ridge. Previously, the men traveled to Greece — where they rented a car, and also sailed through the islands — and, on another trip, throughout Europe.

The 2 men knew each other through the Y’s Men’s Camera Club. Untermeyer had carried a camera throughout his many trips as an advertising executive. In retirement he became a noted photographer for, among other outlets, “06880” and WestportNow.

Untermeyer and Balch shot over 7,600 photos. They captured “every creature that crawled, walked and swam in the rivers and lakes,” as well as “birds of all sizes and color, on the wing and under brush.”

(Photo/Larry Untermeyer)

Untermeyer timed the trip to photograph the annual migration of more than a million wildebeests and zebras. They gather on the wide open plains of the Serengeti, heading several hundred miles north.

“It’s a sight to behold and to photograph,” Untermeyer says.

He and Balch also spent time in the Ngorongoro Crater, an ancient collapsed volcano where rare beasts and birds graze and roam.

Bill Balch and Larry Untermeyer.

Two days before she died, Nikki told her husband of 62 years, “Keep doing what you’re doing. You’ll live a long, long time.”

He heeded her words. Traveling — and photography — is energizing, Untermeyer says.

“I never wanted to sit around and feel sorry for myself,” he says. “I’m very lucky to have my health and my brain, and to be able to use my camera. As long as I can move around, I’m happy.”

Photography has been “a constant thread through my life. From my early days to now, it’s been a steady force.”

Untermeyer is already planning his next trip. It may be Portugal. Or Namibia.

Actually, that sounds like 2 more trips, for Westport’s favorite 91-year-old photographer.

(Photo/Larry Untermeyer)

Westport’s Poet Laureate Raps With “06880”

During her 22 years in Westport, Diane Meyer Lowman has done a lot.

As her 2 sons moved through the school system, she was involved in many PTA ventures, including ArtSmart. She helped formalize and coordinate Staples High School’s library volunteer program, and was on the district’s food committee.

She was a substitute Spanish teacher, at Staples and the middle schools. She did pro bono nutritional consulting for Homes with Hope. She teaches yoga at Town Hall.

But until a few days ago, Diane — a graduate of Middlebury College, with a master’s in Shakespeare studies from Britain’s University of Birmingham — had never been Westport’s poet laureate.

That’s okay. Until a few days ago, we’d never had a poet laureate either.

Diane Lowman (Photo/Jane LaMotta)

If you missed the announcement, you’re not alone. It came in the middle of the Westport Library’s opening-day ceremonies. (The library was part of the selection process, along with the superintendent of schools’ office and the town Arts Advisory Committee, which manages the poet laureate program.)

The application process was rigorous: a resume, personal statement, 4 letters of recommendation, and several interviews. “It was like applying to college,” she says.

So what exactly does Westport’s poet laureate do?

Good question.

The job description includes the importance of promoting poetry as a form of communication, inspiration and entertainment; expanding and promoting awareness and appreciation of poetry and writing in general, and advocating for poetry, literature and the arts.

Diane admits she is not a poet, per se. (She has, however, written 1600 haiku.)

“This is the inaugural position,” she says. “There’s no template. But I’ve got some good ideas.”

They include working closely with schools, the library and the arts community; helping students and senior citizens collaborate through writing; organizing poetry slams at places like Toquet Hall and the library; bringing a “Poetry on Demand” desk (and local poets) to townwide events; putting bulletin boards around Westport, for anyone to post poems; working with ArtSmart, the Westport Arts Center and Artists’ Collective of Westport to include poetry alongside exhibitions; integrating poetry into WestportREADS — stuff like that.

“I wake up every morning thinking of something new,” Diane says.

She welcomes ideas from the community. “This is not about me. It’s about Westport,” she explains.

Diane knows that the word “poetry” can be intimidating to some people. When she studied Shakespeare, she realized that his name too carries “a cultural cachet that can feel elitist or off-putting.”

But, she insists, “everyone can read and write poetry. It’s just another way to communicate feelings. It makes us realize how much we all have in common, whether we’re seniors in high school or seniors at the Senior Center.”

Her favorite poets are Shakespeare, T.S. Eliot, and her son Dustin. (He’s midway through an MFA program at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Her other son, Devon, is an artist and art  handler, also in Chicago.)

Devon, Diane and Dustin Lowman.

There’s no type of poetry Diane does not like — except “poems that intentionally try to be difficult. Challenge is fine. Thinking, reflecting, questioning — that’s good. But it’s not good to make someone feel dumb or stuck.”

Westport’s new poet laureate — who began her honorary, non-compensated 2-year post on July 1 — is both excited and humbled.

“I’m so appreciative of this community,” Diane says. “I’m so glad to be able to give back to it. I know it sounds trite, but I’m very enthusiastic and excited.”

No, not at all.

Not trite; quite right.

(Westport poet laureate Diane Meyer Lowman welcomes all suggestions and ideas. Email waac@westportct.gov — with “Poetry” in the subject line — or dilo922@gmail.com)

Happy 95th Birthday, Leonard Everett Fisher!

Leonard Everett Fisher is a Westport icon.

One of our our town’s most cherished artist/illustrators, he’s designed 10 US postage stamps. His works hang in the collections of the Smithsonian, Library of Congress, New York Public Library, Yale Art Gallery and New Britain Museum of Art.

He’s also a World War II veteran. Between 1942 and ’46, as a topographical mapmaker he planned, edited and produced maps for campaigns in Italy, France, Iwo Jima, Okinawa, and the aborted invasion and occupation of Japan. In 2013 he served as grand marshal of Westport’s Memorial Day parade.

A longtime Westporter, Fisher just turned 95. Last night, at the Westport Arts Center — of which he’s a founding member, past president and current board member — friends, fans and family members celebrated his birthday.

Leonard Everett Fisher, last night at the Westport Arts Center.

Fisher has seen the WAC in and through many incarnations, from an itinerant organization, to its home at the then-closed Greens Farms Elementary School, to its current home on Riverside Avenue.

Now, the Westport Arts Center is on the move again. It will relocate soon to new digs at 19 Newtown Turnpike.

Fisher looks forward to being there for the grand opening. And for many shows and events to come.

Oyster Gallery Pops Up In Mill Pond

Like many people, Patrick Sikes loves the beauty of Sherwood Mill Pond.

Like many too, he’s fascinated by Hummock Island: the oyster house that sits in the middle of that vast body of water.

The Mill Pond is one of Westport’s most photographed locations. Sikes’ images are particularly good. They should be: He’s a professional photographer.

Recently, he turned some of his Hummock Island shots into unique greeting cards. He posted them on Instagram, where they caught the eye of Jeff Northrop Jr., an owner of Hummock Island Oysters.

He invited the photographer out. Sikes captured the feel of the oyster house: the equipment, the machines, the oysters themselves.

Oystering equipment … (Photo/Patrick Sikes)

His images — black-and-white and color, framed and printed on metal — now hang on the oyster house wall. (Jeff Northrop Sr. made sure  that, as a historic building, no new nails were driven into the wood.)

… and oysters. (Photo/Patrick Sikes)

It’s a unique “gallery.” There’s no electricity, so the photos are seen in natural light.

The other evening, 60 or so oyster-and-art-lovers took the quick boat ride from Compo Cove to Hummock island.

Heading to Hummock Island. (Photo/Patrick Sikes)

They admired the photos. They ate the Northrops’ oysters. And they browsed what is now — thanks to Sikes — a unique gift shop. In addition to greeting cards, he’s created coasters and cutting boards, with his photos and the Hummock Island logo.

Eating oysters outside the Hummock Island house and “gallery.” (Drone photo/Patrick Sikes)

Hummock Island is a special Westport story.

Thanks to Patrick Sikes, it’s now told in striking photos too.

“Antiques Roadshow” Appraises Compo

Stevan Dohanos designed 40 US postage stamps. His works hang in the Whitney, and many other prestigious museums.

But perhaps his greatest fame came from over 100 Saturday Evening Post covers. Many depict scenes from Westport, where he lived starting in the 1940s. He  used many local models.

Some of those folks may still be around. If so, they probably remember frolicking at Compo Beach, for Dohanos’ July 31, 1954 cover.

If so, they should find out when “Antiques Roadshow” airs on their local PBS station. (It’s already been on Channel 13 in New York.) The current episode includes Peter M. Fairbanks’ appraisal of the original painting.

His verdict: It should be insured for $40,000.

PS: No, Dohanos did not make that raft up. Back in the day, several were anchored off Compo. They were popular spots for diving, tanning and hanging out.

Kids’ Detention Center Protest Set For Saturday

Jim Naughton is not sleeping well.

The Tony Award-winning actor is haunted by images of children kept in horrifying conditions in detention centers on our nation’s southwest border.

He is surprised and distressed that Americans are not rising up in protest over the separation from family members, lack of access to basic sanitary conditions — and deaths.

So he’s taking action.

Naughton — a longtime Weston resident — enlisted the help of fellow humanitarian Ken Bernhard. The former Republican state representative, 3d selectman and volunteer board member helped found the Syria Fund, which aids refugees; the Tree of Life Orphanage in Haiti, and the Soles4Souls shoe drive.  

This morning, they arranged for a protest march this Saturday (June 29, 10 a.m.) on the Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Bridge in downtown Westport.

“If our neighbors in Westport and Weston have been waking at night, as I have, horrified by the news of the way our country is mistreating children, and would like to do something, please meet, demonstrate and march with us on Saturday,” Naughton says.

“We hope to bring attention to what’s going on. We need to let our representatives know that we want this situation addressed now. It can’t drag on.

“This is a humanitarian problem. People of every political stripe who find this abhorrent are welcome.”

Your Informal Family Portrait? It Began In Westport.

Westport is filled with talented family portrait photographers. John Videler, Pamela Einarsen, Suzanne Sheridan, Alison Wachstein — they and many more are admired for their ability to capture fun, intimate moments between parents and siblings, in back yards, woods and beaches.

Their photos are so natural, we don’t think twice about them.

But images like these were not always the norm. Back in the day, family portraits were formal affairs: rigidly staged, elaborately posed, everyone stiffly wearing their Sunday best.

A traditional family portrait.

Someone had to develop the art of informal family photography.

Amazingly, that someone was a Westporter.

Betty and Russell Kuhner — married photographers — moved here in the 1930s, when the town was a true artists’ colony. They leaped into its cultural life.

Specializing in men’s portraits, he photographed many of the actors who appeared at the Westport Country Playhouse.

Betty had grown up with no siblings, raised by an unwelcoming stepmother. She was drawn to families that interacted with each other, with love and spontaneity.

She decided to try something new: photographing families doing just that, in outdoor settings. Worried about the effect this novel concept might have on her husband’s Westport reputation, Betty tested out the concept in Greenwich.

(Photo/Betty Kuhner)

She spent hours searching for the right locations. She backlit them naturally, with sunlight filtering through leaves. She let children climb on trees, and asked their parents to lean casually against the trunks. Her portraits were nature-filled — and natural.

They were also beautiful, and well received. Greenwich clients introduced her to friends in Newport. They led her, in turn, to families in Palm Beach, Southampton, and everywhere else the country club set gathered.

Russell quietly supported his wife’s burgeoning business. He stayed in the background, working in the darkroom printing her images.

Betty’s career thrived, for 5 decades. In the late 1980s she handed her cameras to her daughter Kate. Betty died in 2014, at 98.

After Bedford Elementary, Kate went away to school. Her brothers attended private school too.

Kate and Betty Kuhner in Acapulco, 1972.

All these years later, she is amazed by her mother’s accomplishments.

“I’m blown away by what looks like the simplicity of what she did,” Kate says from West Palm Beach, where she lives. “Of course, it’s not simple at all. Somehow, she got family members to interact, and love each other. And she captured it so well on film.”

Today, the black-and-white “environmental portrait” that Betty pioneered is the revered standard.

(Photo/Betty Kuhner)

Kate notes too that retailers like Ralph Lauren and Abercrombie & Fitch have built ad campaigns — and entire brands — around Betty Kuhner’s way of getting people to look at, smile and play with each other.

Kate — a photographer herself — has long been the keeper of her mother’s archives. In April she published a book. Betty Kuhner: The American Family Portrait includes many examples of groundbreaking photography. It includes famous families she’s worked with — Kennedys, Fords and Pulitzers — and Westport families too.

Some of the family portraits of Bobby and Ted Kennedy’s families have never been seen.

Bobby Kennedy and daughter (Photo/Betty Kuhner)

There are stories and anecdotes about the many families she photographed, of course.

But Betty’s photos form the heart of the book. Just as they form a bright, important chapter in photographic history.

One that started right here, in a darkroom in Westport.

(Photo/Betty Kuhner)

 

Fine Arts Festival Focuses On Future

It’s not easy getting into the Westport Fine Arts Festival.

Every year, organizers pick 175 artists from around the country. Every mid-July they fill Main Street with their painting, photography, sculpture, fiber, printmaking, mixed media, glass, ceramics, jewelry, wood and graphics.

Making the cut is tough. So is the juried competition that follows.

But the festival sponsor — the Westport Downtown Merchants Association — recognizes its responsibility to nurture up-and-coming artists too.

So this year — on July 20 and 21 — the 46th annual event will embrace artists you may not yet have heard about.

But with the Fine Arts Festival’s help, you certainly will.

Plenty of art — and art lovers — at Westport’s Fine Arts Festival.

The WDMA is partnering with the Drew Friedman Foundation and Silvermine Arts Center to highlight 3 young artists.

The Foundation — part of the bequest of the late downtown landlord, restaurateur and arts lover — will award one $3,000 prize, and two more of $1,000 each. Applicants are artists currently enrolled in MFA programs, or recent graduates of one.

The first prize winner in the Emerging Artists Program — chosen by a professional jury — will also be exhibited at Silvermine. The 97-year-old New Canaan organization encompasses an art school, educational programs, artists’ guild, permanent collection and 5 galleries.

This year’s Fine Arts Festival outreach also includes the Westport Library.

In recent years, the Festival coincided with the annual book sale on Jesup Green. Recognizing that the audiences for art and books often overlaps — and that the downtown venues are complementary too — both institutions have strengthened their ties.

Now — with the Library’s transformation project complete — the Fine Arts Festival will set up a tent on the riverwalk. The young artists’ work will be exhibited there on Friday night. There’s a reception in the library’s new café.

They’re invited too to the established artists’ Saturday night reception. Also honored there: several high school student artists, who will receive $5,000 Drew Friedman Foundation scholarships.

WDMA president Randy Herbertson and Silvermine board vice chair Robin Jaffee Frank are excited about the chance to encourage — and showcase — emerging artists.

Check out their work next month. In a few years, you can say “I knew them when.”

(For more information on the Fine Arts Festival, click here.)

Charlie Karp Tribute: A Levitt Concert For The Ages

The Levitt Pavilion has been the site of countless great concerts.

But in its over-40-year history, it’s never hosted — on one night — artists who have played with the Beatles, Doors, Michael Jackson, Sting, Elton John, Van Morrison, Stevie Wonder, David Bowie, Linda Ronstadt, The Band, Pete Seeger, Smokey Robinson, Rascals, Aerosmith, Buddy Miles, Billy Joel, James Taylor, Elvis Costello, James Brown, Jon Bon Jovi, Cheech & Chong, Michael Bolton, Barry Manilow, Herbie Hancock, Liza Minelli, Cher, Marvin Gaye, Chaka Khan, Mamas and the Papas, Paul Simon, Foreigner, Grand Funk Railroad, Eartha Kitt, Dave Brubeck, Whitney Houston, Roberta Flack, Lenny Kravitz, Chuck Mangione, Harry Chapin, Arlo Guthrie, Bee Gees, Edgar Winter, Grace Slick, Jefferson Starship, John Sebastian, Joe Cocker, Ted Nugent, Mötley Crue, Boz Scaggs, Amy Grant, Sinéad O’Connor, Vince Gill, Carole King, Orleans, Johnny Winter, Emmylou Harris, Chieftains, Lou Reed, Joan Jett, Larry Coryell, Rosanne Cash, Buckwheat Zydeco, Shawn Colvin, Julio Iglesias, Michael McDonald, Luther Vandross, Usher, Jean-Luc Ponty, Jose Féliciano, Herb Alpert, Bad Company, Paul Winter, Taj Mahal, Badfinger, Rick Derringer, Blue Oyster Cult, James Cotton, Bruce Hornsby, Spyro Gyra, Muddy Waters, Eric Weissberg, Wynton Marsalis, New York Philharmonic, London Symphony Orchestra, Boston Pops Orchestra, Vicki Sue Robinson, Aztec Two-Step and James Montgomery.

Just to name a few.

The key is: Nearly all of the musicians who played with those greats also played with Charlie Karp.

And on Saturday, July 6 (7 p.m., Levitt Pavilion) they’ll honor Charlie’s memory, rocking a sure-to-be memorable concert for the ages.

Charlie Karp, in his Buddy Miles days.

Charlie left Staples High School at 16 to play guitar with Buddy Miles. He hung and played with Jimi Hendrix and Keith Richards, and wrote songs for Joan Jett and Joe Perry, before returning home to earn a fanatic following with bands like Dirty Angels, White Chocolate, Slo Leak and the Name Droppers.

He simultaneously earned Emmys as a producer of music for sports networks, documentaries and feature films, and became a guitar teaching mentor to generations of aspiring young stars.

Charlie died in March, at 65. He had been diagnosed a few days earlier with liver cancer.

Nearly everyone who ever played with Charlie — and a few other big names who were influenced by him — will appear together on the Levitt stage. Over 70 strong, they’ll reimagine the rock and R&B Charlie recorded, played and loved so much.

The mammoth, not-to-be-missed show includes Barry Tashian. Seven years older than Charlie, he fronted the Remains. They opened for the Beatles on their final 1966 tour, and were — in the words of legendary critic Jon Landau — “how you told a stranger about rock ‘n’ roll.”

The Remains were a major influence on Charlie. He and good friend Brian Keane — now a Grammy-winning composer and producer — played their songs in a Coleytown Junior High band. Later, Charlie and Barry became friends.

The Remains’ Barry Tashian (left) and Vern Miller, while touring with the Beatles.

Barry has not played in Westport for several decades. He’s flying up from Nashville for this show.

The cast also includes Roger Ball of the Average White Band, Joe Bonadio of Sting, Michael Mugrage of Orleans, Motown recording artist Ada Dyer, Tim DeHuff and Roger Kaufman.

Of course, members of Charlie’s beloved bands from the ’60s through 2019 — guys like David Hull and Rick Castillo — will play too. The Fun Band, Slo Leak, White Chocolate, Dirty Angels and Name Droppers — it’s a trip down memory lane. And a reminder that great music never dies.

Charlie Karp (Photo/John Halpern)

Mandrake Root — a seminal Westport band — will reunite after 50 years. Tony Prior is coming from North Carolina to join in the jam.

The Reunion Band will be there too. Comprised entirely of Charlie’s classmates from Staples’ class of 1971 — all of them noted professional musicians — they were there with Charlie 2 years ago, for one of the Levitt’s best nights ever.

Charlie’s high school sweetheart, Debbie Sims, will introduce “I Still Love You Anyway.” Charlie wrote that song for her, on Buddy Miles’ iconic “Them Changes” album. It — and “Runaway Child,” which Charlie wrote with Buddy — will be performed by the popular local band, the 5 O’Clocks.

Joey Melotti will be there. The musical director for Michael Jackson and Michael Bolton had a huge Westport following with his 1980s band Sunsight.

Chris Coogan’s Good News Gospel Choir will round out the amazing evening.

Guitarist/producer/songwriter Danny Kortchmar can’t be there — he’s on tour with James Taylor and Carole King’s rhythm section. He sent a note to be read from the stage.

So did Keith Richards. He too is sorry he can’t attend. His band, the Rolling Stones, is out on tour.

Charlie Karp and Keith Richards. (Photo/Ray Flanigan)

Every musician is donating their time. Some turned down lucrative gigs to come.

Proceeds will benefit two organizations. The Charlie Karp Memorial Fund promotes promising area musicians, by offering studio time at the Carriage House in Stamford and Horizon in West Haven. The other beneficiary is the Levitt Pavilion.

That’s fitting. Charlie Karp played to adoring Levitt audiences many times.

On July 6, he’ll pack the place one more time.

(The Charlie Karp Tribute Concert is a ticketed event. Click here to purchase, and for more information.)