Category Archives: Arts

Roses Are Red. Violets Are Blue. We Need A Poet Laureate. How About You?

Move over, Robert Frost.

Take a hike, Maya Angelou.

Westport is looking for a real poet.

The Arts Advisory Committee is accepting applications for the position of town poet laureate.

The goal is to elevate poetry in our consciousness, and celebrate and continue Westport’s vibrant literary history.

Walt Whitman could not be our poet laureate. He did not live in Westport. Plus, he’s dead.

Our poet laureate will expand and promote our appreciation not just for poetry, but the spoken word and writing in general. He or she will advocate for poetry, literature and the arts, and contribute to our legacy through public reading and civic events.

The poet laureate will also “summon a spirit of celebration, reflection and healing,” and “utilize Westport’s natural and human resources to promote poetry in the community.”

Eligible candidates must be poets with a wide range of experience and knowledge; residents of Westport, at least 21 years old and willing to collaborate with the school district, library and cultural institutions. The position is for 2 years, and is unpaid.

For more information, click here. To apply, click here. The deadline is May 31.

Remembering Beau James

Beau James — member of a noted Westport family; an avid Downshifter; house manager of the Westport Country Playhouse and a longtime area resident — died April 10 at his Weston home after a brave battle with cancer. He was 75.

Born Hal Wells James in New York City on December 22, 1943, he was later called Beau James, the nickname given to colorful New York mayor Jimmy Walker. It stuck.

Beau was the middle child of Hal and Florence James of Wilton Road, who moved to Westport in 1948.

Beau James, Staples High School Class of 1961.

He graduated from Staples High School in 1961. His activities included the 4-H Club, raising bantam chickens and pigeons, and cars. He loved the  Downshifters, a club devoted to building hot rods and driving safety.

He was also a member of the Staples football team, Staples Players and the Hi-Y Club.

He and a group of friends — the Jolly Jazz-Beaus — frequented the Apollo Theater in Harlem for rhythm ‘n’ blues as often as possible.

Beau spent a gap year before college taking Advanced Placement courses at Staples and working at Kerrigan’s Auto Body Shop.

At Lake Forest College Beau majored in art history and arts management. He was managing director for the Ravinia Festival outside of Chicago, and later became house manager for the Westport Country Playhouse.

He worked as an assistant to his father Hal, co-producer of the original Tony Award-winning musical Man of La Mancha. Beau produced the melodrama The Drunkard off Broadway. He enjoyed a long membership in The Players Club in New York, founded by noted 19th-century Shakespearean actor Edwin Booth.

Beau (center) with his brother Michael, mother  Florence, sister Melody and father Hal.

Beau was enrolled in the first masters program for theater/arts administration at NYU when he was drafted during the Vietnam War. Upon return he married Jane. They moved to Vermont and had 2 daughters. He returned to his childhood love of farming.

In 1978 he moved to New York and entered the toy industry. He was vice president of sales and marketing at International Playthings, a New Jersey distributor of prestigious European toy brands. He later married Caren, and had 2 more children.

Beau’s illustrious career in the toy business spanned 40 years. From 2016 until his death he was managing director of KidSource, a Maryland distribution company offering high-quality European products to specialty retailers in North America.

Beau James

He also distributed Sasha dolls, and worked at Madame Alexander, Goetz (the original manufacturing company of the American Girl doll), and Corolle.

Throughout his career Beau was a proponent of the power of play and the value of the partnership between manufacturers and specialty retailers in bringing high-quality, well-designed and developmentally appropriate playthings to children everywhere.

Shortly before his death, Beau was presented with the 2019 Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Specialty Toy Retailing Association.

In addition to his father, Beau was mentored by Levon West (one of America’s foremost artists of etching), aka Ivan Dmitri, a pioneer in color photography, and the recognition of photography as an art medium. Beau often credited West with teaching him the importance of presentation and details.

Beau was the consummate host.  Having grown up in a home that always welcomed friends and made room for more, Beau hosted business and family gatherings, as well as many Staples alumni reunions for the classes of 1961, 1962 (his post-grad year), and his brother’s class of 1960.

Beau was renowned for his warmth, hospitality, wit, generosity of spirit, and an ability to listen and forge abiding friendship. He loved people, travel (especially France), museums, theater, architecture and opera.

Beau is survived by his children Jessica and her husband Chris Davenport, and their children of Aspen, Colorado; Ashley James of Brooklyn, and her children; Brooke and Travis James,  both of New York City; his brother Michael of Chicago; his sister Melody of Westport, and numerous nieces and nephews.

A memorial celebration of Beau James’ life will be held this Sunday (May 5, 12:30 p.m.) at the Jane Hotel Ballroom in New York City. For further information, email BrookeLJames@gmail.com. The family requests that no flowers be sent to the service.

Westport: A “Best Community For Music Education”

The Westport Public Schools’ music department doesn’t toot its own horn.

So I will.

We’ve just been named one of the country’s Best Communities for Music Education. The award recognizes a town and school district’s “outstanding commitment to music education.”

And — drum roll, please! — this is the 7th straight year we’ve won it.

To qualify for the Best Communities designation — presented by the NAMM Foundation, which supports research, philanthropy and public service programs in the area of music education — school officials answered detailed questions about funding, graduation requirements, music class participation, instruction time, facilities, support for the music program, and community music-making programs.

Well played, Westport!

Encore! If you’ve never seen a Westport Schools’ Pops Concert at the Levitt Pavilion — or even if you have — click below. This year’s show is Friday, June 7. Tickets will be available soon.

Beechwood Arts Celebrates Mentors

In 2014, recenet Staples High School graduate Noah Johnson bonded quickly with Carnegie Mellon University roommate Scott Krulcik, a brilliant tech engineer.

After college, Noah was hired by Accenture. Scott worked for Google. Both were in New York City, and remained close.

Scott Krulcik

Last December Scott died of a rare, previously undiagnosed congenital heart condition. His service was filled with stories of how he had helped, encouraged and mentored many people to do more than they thought they could.

He had mentored those younger — and older — than himself. Most were on completely different life paths. He accomplished much in his short 22 years — for himself, and so many others.

Scott’s life and death gave Noah’s parents — Frederic Chiu and Jeanine Esposito — an idea. They want to encourage people to become mentors.

Frederic and Jeanine have the perfect platform to make their plan a reality. They’re the founders and hosts of Beechwood. The series — named for their their 1806 renovated farmhouse on Weston Road — brings artists, musicians and other creative types together in unique and compelling ways.

Karl Schulz

“Beechwood Arts Celebrates Mentorship” is set for this Sunday (May 5, 3 to 6 p.m.). The salon features a special pairing: noted jazz and gospel composer/ pianist/singer/ teacher/choir director Chris  Coogan, and 14-year-old jazz pianist prodigy Karl Schulz.

Scott’s mother, father and sister are coming from upstate New York and California, to join Frederic, Jeanine and scores of others at the event.

The Beechwood Arts theme for this season is “Journeys.” It will be explored — via music, visual art, sculpture, performance, film and culinary arts — in all its forms, real and metaphorical. Click here for more information, and tickets.

Going forward, Frederic and Jeanine will provide seats to all events for 1 mentor, and 1 mentee. Email contact@beechwoodarts.org for nominations.

In honor of the mentorship celebration, Frederic and Jeanine offer these thoughts — from Scott — on what all humans should strive for, to help others:

  • Share your knowledge to help others achieve their dreams.
  • Encourage them that they can do it.
  • Celebrate them and have joy for their accomplishments.
  • Make time. Help others, in spite of your busy schedule.
  • Make things — and share what you make.
  • Give out smiles generously. You can always make more!
  • Say thank you, for all things big and small.
  • Value and honor friends and family. Show up.
  • Be accepting. Be generous. Be humble.
  • Accept the challenge — and do your best.

Beechwood House — with its magnificent copper beech tree — is the site of fascinating salons.

At The Arts Center: Facing Micro-Aggressions, Head On

In March, the Westport Arts Center opened a new exhibition with an old idea.

“Tête-à-Tête: Reinventing the Conversation Bench” is based on the old Victorian “courting bench.” Its S-shape allows couples to hold intimate conversations without touching. Twenty-eight reimagined contemporary designs and prototypes are on display through May 25.

One of the many tete-a-tete benches at the Westport Arts Center exhibition.

In April, TEAM Westport announced the winners of its annual student essay contest. The topic was micro-aggressions.

Those 2 seemingly unrelated events come together next Wednesday (May 1, 6 to 7:30 p.m.).

The WAC gallery’s tête-à-tête benches are the perfect setting for dialogues on micro-aggressions.

Staples High School students Chet Ellis, Angela Ji, Daniel Boccardo and Olivia Sarno — the 4 TEAM Westport contest winners — will read short pieces from their essays.

(From left): TEAM Westport chair Harold Bailey, with essay contest winners Chet Ellis, Angela Ji, Daniel Boccardo and Olivia Sarno.

Former Staples principal and Westport Arts Advisory Council member John Dodig, and Westport’s Human Services director Elaine Daignault, will moderate the tête-à-tête discussions that follow.

It’s doubtful attendees will find solutions to this contemporary problem.

But as they sit facing each other on the WAC benches, they’ll have a unique way of looking at it — both metaphorically, and for real.

(Space is limited. Please RSVP by calling 203-222-7070.)

Pic Of The Day #738

Matthew Levine is in his 30th year painting Compo Beach and surrounding scenes (Photo/Patricia McMahon)

Fashion Show Features Rachel’s Rags

Rachel Doran’s death last summer — following a rare reaction to common medications — devastated many Westporters.

Her former classmates at Staples High School — where she had been a National Merit Commended Scholar, talented Players costume designer, and founder of her own pajama company — mourned the rising Cornell University senior.

So did Ellen Gang. Her design studio and camp offer after-school and summer classes in fashion and related skills for children, teenagers and young adults. For years, Rachel was a student there. She was a camp assistant. And she exhibited in Ellen’s annual fashion show.

Rachel Doran (left) shows off her portfolio.

So it’s fitting that this year’s event — set for Saturday, May 18 — will honor Rachel.

Even better: It’s a fundraiser for Rach’s Hope. That’s the charitable organization the Doran family set up, to assist families weather the storm when a child is critically ill.

There’s more: This year’s show will highlight Rachel’s creativity, by showcasing a collection of “Rach’s Rags.” That’s the pajama pant business she began when she was just 11. True to her character, she gave part of her earnings to charity.

But Ellen needs some of those creations to show off. She asks anyone who has Rachel’s Rags PJs can lend them to the show.

They’ll be returned — lovingly — afterward.

Just the way Rachel lived her life.

(If you have Rachel’s Rags PJs to lend, email ellensgang@gmail.com. To support the May 18 “Walk the Runway for Rach’s Hope” fashion show at 4 Sunnyside Lane in Westport, click here.)

Pop-Up Gallery And Studio Tour: Artists Collective’s Inspiring Draws

It’s been a great year for the Artists Collective of Westport.

The dynamic group of more than 150 men and women — from internationally known to emerging, working in a wide range of mediums — partnered with several local organizations, including the Westport Country Playhouse.

They meet monthly to plan public events, exhibitions and stimulating experiences. They also tutor, volunteer, and curate art-related activities.

Now they’re gearing up for 2 of their biggest events of the year.

This Sunday (April 28, 2 to 4 p.m., 47 Main Street), a pop-up Preview Gallery highlights art from 45 artists (plus drinks, refreshments and music). The show remains open all next week.

Exhibitors include 10 artists who then welcome folks to the Collective’s Studio Tour (Saturday, May 4, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.): Charles Douthat, Árpád Krizsán, Judith Lambertson, Julie Leff, Steve Parton, Guy Phillips, Katherine Ross, Anthony Santamauro, Marlene Siff and Cindy Wagner.

Guy Phillip opens his studio to guests on the Artists Collective tour …

The tour is a special (and self-guided) treat through Westport, Weston, Fairfield and Norwalk. The Collective’s artists range from contemporary to traditional; their studios vary from light-filled lofts to backyard cottages to basement caves.

Each artist followed a different career path. But all make fantastic art. And all look forward to showing off their work, and the space in which they create it.

Tickets to the Studio Tour include a brunch at Tavern on Main (Saturday, May 4, 10 a.m. to noon).

… as does Julie Leff …

The Artists Collective of Westport thrives on the concept of artists helping artists. So it’s natural that this year’s Studio Tour benefits in part Neighborhood Studios of Fairfield County, the Bridgeport-based non-profit that helps youngsters gain confidence in their own ideas and creativity.

A collective is a powerful idea. With its pop-up gallery and Studio Tour, the Artists Collective highlights the power of art in Westport.

(For more information, click here. Studio Tour tickets are $35, $20 for designers, free for children 13 and under, and available online — click here. Tickets at the door are $40, $25 for designers. This Sunday’s pop-up gallery preview at 47 Main Street is free.)

… and Marlene Siff.

“Spirit Animal” Art At Powell Place

Art lifts. Art energizes. Art inspires.

So does the Drew Friedman Community Arts Center. The non-profit — funded by a $500,000 bequest from the late downtown landlord and Cobb’s Mill Inn owner — has quietly but strongly impacted the lives of young Westporters. Led by passionate volunteer artists, these boys and girls create their own art — right where they live.

Homes with Hope runs an after-school program for children and teenagers living in the organization’s Powell Place housing, and the surrounding neighborhood Saugatuck Avenue neighborhood.  It provides positive role models, academic support and enrichment, 4 days a week.

First, with the guidance of Miggs Burroughs, the Drew Friedman Center helped kids in the program create a mural of their self-portraits.

Recently, they embarked on their 2nd project. Each student chose a “spirit animal,” then created their own interpretation of that animal and its environment.

Hard at work on the mural.

Artist Katherine Ross and her daughter Rebecca worked with them to devise a layout and composition for the mural, then helped them realize their visions.

Art is a collaborative process.

The mural now hangs proudly in the Powell Place community room.

Artists young and old, and their mural. (Photo releases were not obtained for all young artists.)

This project — run by Lynn Abramson — is just the latest for the Drew Friedman Community Arts Center. They’ve already sponsored art classes at Project Return, in Randy Herbertson’s studio, and for developmentally disabled youngsters at CLASP Homes.

Art lifts, energizes and inspires. Thanks to Drew Friedman’s generosity, it’s also accessible now to every child, no matter where in Westport they live.

This young artist’s work began as a sketch.

Jane Green: “A Home Should Always Have Books”

The world knows Jane Green as a wonderful author. Her books have sold over 10 million copies, and been translated into more than 30 languages.

Westporters know Jane Green as our neighbor.

It’s in that role that we love a story from last week’s Washington Post Magazine. In a series of interviews, writers talked about what books meant to them — and to their homes.

Jane described her life with her husband Ian Warburg on Owenoke — and gave a great shout-out to her fantastic mobile library project, modeled on the Remarkable Book Shop.

She says: 

I’ve run out of space. Books are starting to get stacked up on the floor, underneath tables, underneath chairs, on top of tables. They’re everywhere. With no more room on the bookshelves, I’ve been eyeing this gorgeous French armoire that takes up an entire wall. That wall is just perfect for shelves and would make the room warmer. I know, however, that my husband really likes the armoire. He sees: storage, storage, storage. I see: books, books, books. We’ll see who wins.

For years, I couldn’t get rid of anything. I have had to learn to manage the flow. Paperbacks I tend not to keep unless I love them and know I’m going to reread them. Hardcovers are really hard for me to get rid of. They all signify a time in my life. They all have stories around the stories. I will sometimes just stand there and look at my books and remember.

Jane Green, at home in Westport. (Photo/Chris Sorensen for Washington Post)

The first place I go in someone’s house is their bookshelves. You can tell exactly who they are.

I used to do something that I now realize was a bit creepy. After my first book was published and very successful, I was looking for a flat in London. Almost every flat I went into had my book on the shelf. I’d take it down and sign it! Sometimes, I even personalized it: “To Julia, with love, Jane Green.” I’ve never heard from anyone, but if they ever come across that, they’ll likely freak out.

They all signify a time in my life. They all have stories around the stories. I will sometimes just stand there and look at my books and remember.
Last summer, I started a little mobile library called the Remarkable Bookcycle. For 35 years, there was a bright pink bookstore in my town called Remarkable Book Shop. We had this cargo tricycle just sitting in our garage. I paid a high school student to turn it into a mobile free library. We cycle it around the beach in summer. I lurk around the bookcycle; I love to watch what happens. What’s extraordinary is that everyone gathers around the bookcycle and has conversations. I’m now able to get rid of books much more easily knowing they’re going to a good home.

I think I like to be surrounded by books when I’m writing, but the truth is I don’t. I’m easily distracted. I’ve done my best writing at my local public library in one of those little cubbies with noise-canceling headphones. If I need to do some research, I just make a note for later. If I go to a book or online, the whole day could be gone. Writing takes focus, and books pull mine in a million directions.

I subscribe to Nancy Lancaster’s rule of decorating; she’s an American decorator who moved to England in the ’20s. She brought the English country-house style into the mainstream. Her rules were that a home should always have books, candles and flowers. I walk into so many houses today that have been decorated. They’re exquisite. I find them beautiful: two artfully placed objets, stunning coffee table books. For a minute, I think, “I wish my house looked like this.” But then I remember I don’t feel like taking off my shoes and curling up on the sofa in these homes. In fact, I sit there terrified I’m going to spill red wine. A home needs a bit of curated clutter, and that curated clutter has to include things that tell the story of your life, of what you love. For me, that’s books.

(To read the full Washington Post Magazine story, click here. Hat tip: Elisabeth K. Boas)