Category Archives: Library

Clinton And Trump Debate In Westport!

The 2016 presidential campaign is one of the most polarizing in American political history.

Whether you’re with her, him or none of the above, passions run high.

So when the League of Women Voters — a non-partisan organization — was searching for a safe space where Westporters could watch Monday’s debate, they chose the most (small-d) democratic place they could find: the Westport Library.

The event will be as welcoming as possible. It begins at 8 p.m. with light refreshments, courtesy of the Library Café and LWV.

Local author and former NBC and Fox News journalist/media critic Eric Burns will provide an introduction before the 9 p.m. debate. At 10:30, Burns will moderate a public discussion about what was heard (or not).

I’m not a betting man. But I have followed this presidential race/train wreck quite closely.

So I bet that if you go to the library on Monday, whatever you hear afterward will be a lot more insightful than much of what passes for the “debate” itself.

clinton-and-trump-debate

Larry Aasen Buttons Up

In 1928, Larry Aasen’s father returned home to North Dakota from the national Democratic convention. He brought his young son an Al Smith pencil.

The souvenir is long gone. But Aasen — in his 90s, and a longtime Westporter who with his fellow politcally activist wife Martha has attended “many” national and state conventions — amassed over 2,000 other buttons, posters and assorted mementos.

Aasen mounted some in wooden frames. He donates others — worth at least $15 each to collectors — to local non-profits, to sell at silent auctions. They raise $100 to $150, he says.

Though Aasen is an avid Democrat — and his collection skews that way — his collection is non-partisan. His Republican memorabilia dates back to Wendell Willkie. He trades for some of them. Others come from his many GOP friends.

jfk-posterStarting tomorrow (Wednesday, September 21), his favorites will be on view at the Westport Library’s lower-level Riverwalk display case. They include a Woodrow Wilson button, and posters for FDR and JFK. The exhibit runs through (of course) Election Day.

An opening reception is set for Thursday, September 29 (6 p.m., McManus Room).

Aasen will be there. He’ll tell stories about his buttons — and his political life.

Like this one. In the 1950s, he was in Kansas City on business. He found out where Harry Truman often parked, to walk to his office. Sure enough, early in the morning, the former president drove through heavy snow, got out and prepared to walk.

There were no Secret Service agents around. Aasen asked if he could walk too.

Martha and Larry Aasen.

Martha and Larry Aasen.

They talked about politics, including Aasen’s native North Dakota and Martha’s Mississippi.

Somehow the discussion turned to the disputed presidential election of 1876. As Truman recounted how — 80 years earlier — Rutherford B. Hayes beat out Samuel Tilden, Aasen says, “he really got worked up.”

There’s no question who Aasen is voting for this Election Day. He’s met Hillary Clinton many times, he says, going back at least 20 years.

“People don’t realize how many times she’s been in Westport for fundraising,” Aasen says.

At the opening reception next week, maybe he’ll pair his “I’m With Her” button with one that says “We Want Willkie.”

wendell-willkie-button

Friday Flashback #7

Earlier this week, I wrote about the exciting transformation plan for the Westport Library. If all goes well, the newest iteration of the library will be finished in 2019.

The Jesup Green building opened in 1986 (on the site of the former town landfill). A bit more than a decade later, it underwent its first renovation.

Westporters of a certain age think they remember the original library. Most of the stacks — and the famous art collection, and children’s section — were housed in the sterile Parker Harder building that now includes Starbucks, Freshii and HSBC Bank:

library-old

But the real first library — built in 1908, called the Jesup Library in honor of its benefactor Morris Jesup, and then in the 1950s incorporated as part of the “new” library — was located just east of that building. It sat on the corner of the Post Road and Main Street:

library-original

But our Friday Flashback digs even deeper than that.

Here’s what that 1908 “Jesup Library” replaced:

(Photo/Seth Schachter)

(Photo/Seth Schachter via Bill Scheffler)

This view looks west, at the corner of the Post Road (left) and Main Street (right). You can see the outlines of the buildings that are there today, lining the left side of Main Street.

If you’ve got any Westport Library memories, we’d love to hear them. Click “Comments” below.

Library’s Transformational Plan Rolls On

Quietly — but energetically, and with great excitement — an entirely new library is taking shape downtown.

It’s got the same footprint, at the same wonderful riverside location. But that’s the only part that Westporters might recognize.

Bill Harmer

Bill Harmer

Since arriving as executive director 14 months ago, Bill Harmer has been speaking with patrons, staff members and town officials. He learned that the 30-year-old facility is no longer state-of-the-art. Even worse, it’s ill-equipped to offer what 21st-century users want and need.

“It’s hard to believe that even though it was built in 1986 — the year I graduated high school — the library did not focus on human interaction,” Harmer says. “The physical layout is very static and fixed.”

The Westport Library offers more than 1,700 programs a year. But there is only one real function area — the McManus Room — and with 140 seats, it’s sometimes too small.

The Maker Space is a huge success, but noise often disturbs folks looking for quiet contemplation or study.

The building lacks electrical outlets — a must in today’s wired world — and the HVAC, plumbing, elevators are failing.

A previous plan would have involved a major renovation of the entire structure. The new design will address all the challenges, creatively repurpose the building — and keep it open during the 2-year renovation.

Best of all: It’s just half the cost of that earlier proposal.

The new library design flips the current building upside down -- figuratively speaking, of course.

The new library design flips the current building upside down — figuratively speaking, of course.

Harmer’s eyes light up as he describes the new design. “We’re going to flip the library upside down,” he says.

Not literally, of course. But it might as well seem that way.

The books that now fill the main floor will be moved down to the river level. In their place, Harmer envisions a new, flexible, people-dominated Great Hall that includes an intriguing “Forum.”

Blowing out all the walls downstairs opens up 10,000 square feet of flexible space. That’s enough space for most of the books. New windows, natural light — and a new entrance — will connect people much more closely to the river right outside.

The new lower level will take great advantage of the riverside views -- and will contain most of the volumes now located one floor above.

The new lower level will take great advantage of the riverside views — and will contain most of the volumes now located one floor above.

Removing the book stacks opens up enormous room on the main level. The new plan takes full advantage — with the added advantage of flexibility.

The large “program space” accommodates up to 400 people — and includes a Times Square-like tiered grandstand, plus an LED screen behind the stage.

One configuration of the "Forum," with grandstand...

One configuration of the “Forum,” with grandstand…

Everything in the area is on wheels, for easy movement. That makes the newest addition to Westport’s public space also the most flexible.

A “new” 130-seat McManus Room, a green room for presenters, several small- and medium-sized conference rooms, 7 small study rooms, an AV media lab, acoustic tiles and improved lighting are also planned for the main floor.

The very popular MakerSpace, meanwhile, will be relocated — and becomes mobile. It can be moved anywhere in the library (as needed) from its new corner spot.

Next to it is a “hacking space.” A laser cutter, lathes and other machinery will allow users to actually machine ideas they create in the MakerSpace.

A separate entrance to that area allows it to be used 24/7. Harmer envisions this as an “incubation space” for makers, authors, or any needing after-hours access to computers, printers and other technology. He’s not aware of any library anywhere that offers anything like this.

Oh, yes: There are plenty of electrical outlets everywhere.

...and another.

…and another.

Harmer says that the “Forum” area is perfect for “work, study, play, learning, enhancing skills and incubating idea.”

But that’s only part of what’s planned for the main level. The other side — “the Hub” — features a curated collection of popular books, Blu-rays and the like.

A new entrance — fronting Jesup Green — will bring users directly into the main level, adding to what Harmer calls the “energy” of the Forum.

A new Jesup Green entrance (with a handicap accessible ramp) will "activate" that area. It will also tie in with the parking spaces currently near the police station.

A new Jesup Green entrance (with a handicap accessible ramp) will “activate” that area. It will also tie in with the parking spaces currently near the police station.

The large reading room in the northwest corner remains, but with more flexibility to accommodate 90 people for programs. The smaller reading rooms will be renovated too — and their river views enhanced.

But wait! There’s more!

The cafe will expand threefold. An outdoor terrace, and after-hours entrance, will add to its appeal.

On the upper floor, the narrow balcony will be expanded by 5 feet. That allows up to 40 people to perch, looking out on the energy of the Great Hall.

Expanding the 2nd floor balcony will allow users to "perch" over the Great Hall.

Expanding the 2nd floor balcony will allow users to “perch” over the Great Hall.

One element will not change: the children’s library. “We like it where it is,” Harmer says. “It anchors the library. The river views are spectacular. And it’s safe and secure there.”

Harmer and his board of trustees hoped to bring the new plan in for under $20 million. The current estimate is $19.5 million. They’ll ask the town to contribute $5 million — a figure that has been in the long-range capital budget for a while — while the other 75% will be raised by the library.

For the past few months, Harmer has been talking to elected officials, and current and prospective donors.

“Everyone loves the plan,” the director says. “If we raise $5 million privately by June, we’ll get it done. The momentum is here. We’re already well on our way.”

One thing won't change: the view of the Westport Library from across the Saugatuck River.

One thing won’t change: the footprint of the Westport Library.

The Planning and Zoning Commission and Architectural Review Board both gave preliminary approval in June. The Downtown Plan Implementation Committee approved it unanimously.

An initial meeting last week with the Board of Finance went well, Harmer says. He’ll ask for an appropriation in early November, following hoped-for final approval by the P&Z next month.

Contracts are already in place with an architect, construction manager and owner’s agent.

If all goes well — and so far it has — Harmer says there can be shovels in the ground next August. Construction would take 2 years. The library would remain open throughout — something that was also not possible in the previous plan.

Harmer calls this library proposal “creative, opportunistic, energetic and transformative.”

Exactly like the Westport Library itself.

Blues, Views, BBQ — And Tattoos

Once a year, white, suburban Westport turns into the blues capital of the world.

Also, the barbecue center of the universe.

Go figure.

It’s great publicity — and branding — for Westport. But it’s not a Westport crowd.

They come from across Connecticut. And Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and beyond.

They come for fantastic music. Great (and decidedly non-vegan) food.

And — for their kids — face painting, bounce houses and the chance to run around and around and around.

And come they do. Crowds formed long before the library parking lot and Levitt Pavilion opened at 11 a.m. They’ll be there today, too — smiling and enjoying the hell out of the day, just like everyone did yesterday.

Here’s what they saw and did:

I got there just as the barbecue contest was ending. This is all that was left.

I got there just as the barbecue contest was ending. This is all that was left.

But I was right on time for Anders Osborne, on the Levitt Pavilion mainstage.

But I was right on time for Anders Osborne, on the Levitt Pavilion mainstage.

This guy went from the BBQ contest to the music...

This guy went from the BBQ contest to the music…

...while this guy was getting all the attention.

…while this guy was getting all the attention.

If you didn't -- or couldn't -- buy a pass for the sold-out Levitt acts, there was plenty more music in the library parking lot tent.

If you didn’t — or couldn’t — buy a pass for the sold-out Levitt acts, there was lots more music in the library parking lot tent.

There was art -- like this from Dante Tilghman (left) -- for the adults...

There was art — like this from Dante Tilghman (left) — for the adults…

...face painting for kids like Zachary O'Dell...

…face painting for kids like Zachary O’Dell…

...while others found a way to hear the music for free. This group probably was from Westport.

…while others found a way to hear the music for free. This group probably WAS from Westport.

Westport Arts Center Offers A Bully Pulpit

Whether you’ve got a school-age kid or not, these days it’s tough to avoid hearing about bullying. Its causes, its effects, how to change it (or whether we’re overreacting) — bullying everywhere, from our schools and the media to the presidential campaign.

Soon, even the Westport Arts Center will tackle the topic.

WAC - More than WordsAn exhibition called “MORE Than Words” opens September 9. Utilizing artists, speakers, panels and films, it examines bullying within a broad cultural context. The exhibit focuses on courage, resilience and empowerment in the face of bullying, and considers how imbalances of social, physical and political power can marginalize others.

The WAC show includes artistic expressions of gender, racial, religious, geopolitical and age inequality, and includes cyber-bullying. The goal is to inspire dialogue and change.

Recognizing that the best responses to bullying are community-wide, the WAC has enlisted the help of important local organizations. They include the Westport Country Playhouse, Westport Library, SKATE/K2BK, Neighborhood Studios of Bridgeport, Anti-Defamation League and Norwalk’s LGBT Triangle Community Center.

Also involved: Athlete Ally and the National Charity League.

WAC exhibition - Jenny Holzer

Jenny Holzer’s piece in the “MORE Than Words” exhibition.

The exhibit was conceived by board member — and father of 2 young girls — Derek Goodman.

“We’ve all dealt with bullies,” he says. “At the same time, a number of well-known, influential artists have used their work to address it. We hope we’ve put together a platform to open dialogue, so that people in Westport feel comfortable discussing it.”

As the WAC partners with a variety of local organizations, he says, the town has an opportunity to take a leadership role in the battle against bullying.

“We’re not the experts,” he notes of the Westport Arts Center. “But we’re honored to put together a show for experts to help lead the conversation.”

(An opening reception is set for September 9, from 6-8 p.m. The exhibit runs through October 29. For more information on “MORE Than Words,” click here.)

Library Geeks Get Ready To Party

As a noted family and portrait photographer, Pam Einarsen knew that a key to great shots is asking subjects to bring objects they like.

So when the Westport Library asked the longtime resident to photograph its “What do you geek?” project, she figured folks would bring their favorite things: dogs, games, sports equipment.

Pam had no idea of the incredible range of things Westporters love.

We “geek” human biology, burgundy, Harry Potter, Greek Islands, Toquet Hall, astronomy, break dancing, coffee, archery, knitting, astronomy, the Green Bay Packers, folk music, dragons, baking, and sleeping.

And that’s only the relatively normal stuff.

Geek - sleeping

Pam’s long project is over. And now — 500+ photos later — the library is ready to celebrate.

On Tuesday, August 30 (5-6:30 p.m.), there’s a free, public “Geek Party.” Everyone who posed for Pam — and everyone who has seen her photos, or wants to — is invited to the Great Hall.

In addition to the geek photos, the event includes improv artists, interactive games and puzzles, and refreshments.

The geek project — designed to highlight the breadth of our community, and showcase the library’s many services — was an eye-opener for Pam too.

Her subjects ranged from babies to 90-somethings, and included every ethnicity. Pam was impressed with their diversity of interests — and their smiles as they posed with their favorite objects.

This word cloud shows some of the many different things that Westporters geek. The size of the word indicates its relative popularity.

This word cloud shows some of the many different things that Westporters geek. The size of the word indicates its relative popularity.

The Wakeman Town Farm folks brought a chicken. Someone from Earthplace came with an owl. A girl arrived with a beautiful chameleon.

“People looked so happy and proud,” Pam reports. “They were surrounded with things that were meaningful — not just their ‘work.'”

New York Times crossword puzzle editor, for example, did not geek word games. His passion is ping pong.

Some youngsters geeked dinosaurs — no surprise. But so did a 70-year-old man.

Geek - dinosaurs

Some of the portraits were poignant. A woman in her 80s brought teddy bears — including one her husband gave her more than 40 years ago.

Geek - teddy bears

Some were funny. Library communications director Marcia Logan geeks her dog — and her dog geeks tennis balls.

Geek - tennis balls

Pam enjoyed serving as project photographer. She was also the informal host. As subjects waiting for their shots, Pam noticed something interesting.

“Kids and people who could have been their grandparents started talking,” she says. “They showed each other what they’d brought, and shared stories. The interaction was fabulous.”

Westporters geek a lot of things. On August 30, we can all geek the same thing together: a party.

Library geek photo

(For more information on the August 30 geek party, click here.)


Click here for “06880+”: The easy way to publicize upcoming events, sell items, find or advertise your service, ask questions, etc. It’s the “06880” community bulletin board!

Westport Shows Her True Colors

Severe thunderstorms moved through Westport early this evening.

And then…

Rainbow - July 25, 2016 - David Waldman

(Photo/David Waldman)

(Photos/David Waldman)

(Photo/David Waldman)

(Photo/Robert Mitchell)

(Photo/Robert Mitchell)

Burying Hill Beach - July 25, 2016 - Jessica Isaacs

(Photo/Jessica Isaacs)

Finally, a bit later…

Compo Beach, looking west. (Photo/Andrew Colabella)

Compo Beach, looking west. (Photo/Andrew Colabella)

Joshua Bell Plays Westport — Again

Joshua Bell is the most famous violinist of our time. Wherever he plays — around the world — he attracts adoring, sold-out audiences.

Despite his grueling recording and performing schedule, Bell often finds time for Westport.

Joshua Bell

Joshua Bell

In 2012 Bell helped launch Beechwood Arts and Innovation, the Westport non-profit known for its creative, eclectic Arts Immersion Salons. Music, art, film, performance, food and technology — all come together in a stunning 1806 home owned by Frederic Chiu and Jeanine Esposito.

Bell — a longtime friend of Chiu, Beechwood’s co-founder and himself an internationally acclaimed pianist — kicked off the 1st year by donating an unforgettable concert of Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons.”

He was joined by Chiu, actor James Naughton of Weston, and 13-year-old theater student Rachel Rival. Afterwards, chef Raul Restrepo of the former River Café served an equally memorable dinner.

Several years earlier, Bell appeared with Chiu — with whom he has played for 35 years — at the sold-out Malloy lecture for the Westport Library. A few days later they performed at the Westport Country Playhouse with Audra McDonald, Glenn Close and Tony Bennett, honoring Westporter Joanne Woodward.

Jeanine Esposito, Frederic Chiu, Paul Newman and Joshua Bell, at an earlier appearance in Westport.

Jeanine Esposito, Frederic Chiu, Paul Newman and Joshua Bell, at an earlier appearance in Westport.

Next month, Bell returns to town. On Thursday, August 25 (8 p.m., United Methodist Church) — in the midst of his own vacation — he’ll give a “high 5” to Beechwood Arts & Innovation, for their 5th-year fundraiser. Chiu once again joins him on piano.

The event includes a VIP Meet-and-Greet, a conversation where they reminisce about their early days as aspiring musicians (with WQXR’s Elliot Forrest), and a celebration party at Beechwood Arts, across the street from the church.

Beechwood logoThough every seat at a fundraiser is important, Beechwood is reserving 40 seats for patrons to sponsor young music students from underserved communities. Local music non-profits Spread Music Now, Turnaround Arts, Intake, Neighborhood Studios and KEYS are helping fill those seats.

Students will sit close to the stage, and talk to Bell and Chiu during intermission. Their parents can share in the event — and all will leave with a CD.

“In our youth, both Joshua and I were deeply inspired seeing master musicians play live,” Chiu says. “Those experiences left impressions that lasted a lifetime.

“This inspires both of us to work with students. And it’s why at Beechwood we regularly include students alongside masters of their craft, in all of our events across music, art, film and performance.”

Bell and Chiu have been friends since meeting at music competitions in their native Indiana. They’ve toured together for nearly 40 years, in the U.S., Europe and South America.

Their friendship will be on display August 25. So will their world-class talents, their deep love of the arts, and their wonderful generosity to all.

(Tickets must be reserved in advance. For tickets or more information, click here or call 203-226-9462.)

On one visit to Westport, Joshua Bell played "Four Seasons." On tour with Frederic Chiu in Ecuador, Chiu stood on the winter side of the equator, and Bell on the summer side.

On one visit to Westport, Joshua Bell played “Four Seasons.” On tour with Frederic Chiu in Ecuador, Chiu stood on the winter side of the equator, and Bell on the summer side.

Get Your Art! Buy Some Books! Enjoy The Sun!

Downtown is hot this weekend — literally and figuratively.

Two annual events — the Arts Festival and Book Sale — are drawing large crowds. There’s something for everyone, of all ages — and plenty of surprises too.

Both run till 5 p.m. today. They’re on tomorrow too, from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. The book sale continues Monday and Tuesday.

But the good stuff goes fast.

Keith Richards was at the arts festival -- well, at least, his portrait was. The artist -- from the Catskills -- hopes the real Stone will roll by.

Keith Richards was at the arts festival — well, at least, his portrait was. The artist — from the Catskills — hopes the real Stone will roll by.

Breezes off the river helped cool this artist -- and her sculpture.

Breezes off the river helped cool this artist — and her sculpture.

Westport Library artist-in-residence Miggs Burroughs and Westport Arts Collective colleague Mina de Haas, at the library's arts festival booth.

The Westport Arts Collective had a booth too.

You can get anything you want at Alice's Restaurant -- and the Westport Library book sale.

You can get anything you want at Alice’s Restaurant — and the Westport Library book sale.

Tables sprawl throughout the Jesup Green tent, and inside the library itself.

Tables sprawl throughout the Jesup Green tent, and inside the library itself.

Why wait until you get home?

Why wait until you get home?