Category Archives: Library

Library Flexes Its Transformation

The Westport Library’s renovation project involves much more than a facelift.

It’s a Transformation — they capitalize the word — in which every interior space is reimagined and redesigned to respond to the ever-changing needs of 21st-century users.

One of the elements of the new facility is “flexibility.”

So — in the midst of the 18-month effort — officials are sponsoring “Flex.” The 5-day series of innovative programs offers a tantalizing taste of  just how flexible and creative the new library will be.

The Westport Library’s Transformation Project includes a “forum” on the main floor. As construction proceeds, that same Great Hall will be the site of several “Flex” events.

“Flex” brings together art, cinema, music, dance, food, authors and more. Some events are free; others are fundraisers to support the library.

All are worth checking out.

“Flex” begins on Wednesday, March 21 (12-3 p.m.). Jane Green — Westport’s own multi-million-selling author — hosts a celebrity lunch. Sam Kass — former Obama White House chef, senior policy advisor for nutrition, and Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move!” campaign executive director — will deliver a keynote address, and sign copies of his “Eat a Little Better” book. James Beard Award winner Elissa Altman emcees. (Tickets: $150)

That night (Wednesday, March 21, 7 p.m.), the Friedman Gallery in Bedford Square) is the site for Moth-style storytelling about rock ‘n’ roll. With Michael Friedman’s stunning photos as a backdrop, local residents Mark Naftalin, Crispin Cioe, Roger Kaufman, Wendy May, Bari Alyse Rudin, Cassie St. Onge, Rusty Ford and others will talk about their amazing experiences in the music world. Full disclosure: I’m emceeing, and will toss in a tale or two myself. (Tickets: $50)

Michael Friedman in his pop-up gallery. His photo shows Levon Helm, drummer for The Band.

Four events are planned for Thursday, March 22. At 9 and 10 a.m., the Great Hall is the site of 2 dance-a-thon classes led by Jose Ozuna, an actor, dancer and Ailey Extension instructor. Prizes will be supplied by Athleta, Soleil Toile and Faces Beautiful. (Free)

At 1 and 3 p.m., the Great Hall transforms into a theater. Matinee movies feature Westport’s own Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward. (Tickets $25)

The Great Hall changes again, for a 7 p.m. food lovers’ Q-and-A with internationally known food writer Ruth Reichl, and a celebrity panel including local chef/restaurateur Bill Taibe, sustainability expert Annie Farrell and “entertainologist” Lulu Powers. (Tickets: $75)

The day ends at the Whelk, with a 9 p.m. dinner with Reichl and guests. (Tickets: $500)

Bill Taibe serves up octopus and squid at The Whelk. He’ll be joined by Ruth Reichl as part of the Westport Library’s “Flex” programming.

Friday, March 23 is “unplugged” — a day of relaxing with author readings and live music in the Great Hall. Area writers include Alisyn Camerota, Fiona Davis, Nina Sankovitch, Lynne Constantine, Catherine Onyemelukwe, Carole Schweid and Suzanne Krauss. Among the local musicians (3:15 to 8 p.m.): Brian Dolzani, Twice Around, the Mike Cusato Band, Ethan Walmark, and Suzy Bessett and Rob Morton. (Suggested donation: $25)

The Great Hall transforms yet again on Saturday, March 24. This time it’s a performance and party space. A gala evening of food, dancing and fun stars Chevy Chevis and her band, honoring local treasure Eartha Kitt. After dinner (7 to 9 p.m.) things heat up with a dance party (9 p.m. to 1 a.m.) featuring live music, a noted mixologist and a dessert extravaganza. (Tickets: $500 entire evening, $250 dance party only)

“Flex” ends on Sunday, March 25 with a family day (10 a.m. to 5 p.m.): arts and crafts, face painting, magic and more. Tech guru and Westport resident David Pogue kicks off the event, which includes story times with local authors Victoria Kann (“Pinkalicious”), Joshua Prince (“I Saw an Ant on the Railroad Tracks”), Tommy Greenwald and Lauren Tarshis, plus illustrator Tim Fite. Participants can also write a love letter to the library, with artist/storyteller Diego Romero and the Typing Machine. (Free)

David Pogue brings his creative mind to the Westport Library’s “Flex” family event.

“Flex: is curated by Westport Library creative director Moshe Aelyon. He’s a noted event planner and design expert.

Moshe is very talented.

And — like the event he has planned, at the library he serves — extremely flexible.

(For more information, and to purchase tickets, click here.)

Pic Of The Day #304

View from the library (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

100 Years After The “Great War,” Remembering Great Artists Who Served

The page has turned on this year’s WestportREADS.  

This year’s program — in which the entire town is encouraged to read the same book, then participate in discussions, lectures, videos and more — focused on “Regeneration.” Pat Barker’s historical fiction features a British officer who refuses to continue serving during the “senseless slaughter” of World War I.

The novel inspired Kathie Motes Bennewitz to do some digging.

The town arts curator knew that when “The Great War” began, Westport was already a thriving arts colony. 

What, she wondered, was the connection between local artists and World War I? Kathie writes:

Over 220 Westport men fought in the US armed forces. Many were “doughboys,” a nickname given to soldiers in the American Expeditionary Forces.

We know from wartime draft records the names of many artists who lived here in 1917, as every man ages 18-45 was required to register. Among the residents were Karl Anderson, Edmund M. Ashe, E. F. Boyd, Robert Leftwitch Dogde, Arthur Dove, Ernest Fuhr, Ossip Linde, Lawrence Mazzanovich, Henry Raleigh, Clive Weed and George Hand Wright.

While Ashe, Mazzanovich and Dodge registered as national guardsmen with the Connecticut Militia, many others were too old to do so. So they used their talents to serve the home front in other ways.

Editorial cartoonist Clive Weed, a summer resident since 1910, made spirited illustrations on wartime events, like this one: “He Might Be YOUR Boy,” for the Philadelphia Public Ledger.

George Hand Wright drew similar illustrations.

Other Westporters — including Ashe, Boyd, Fuhr, Raleigh and Wright — created graphic posters to recruit servicemen and nurses, or urge citizens to purchase Liberty Bonds to finance the war. One example is Ashe’s “Lend the Way They Fight” (below), which shows an American infantryman hurling a hand grenade at German soldiers in a trench on the western front of France.

Hundreds of posters like this were made, raising $21.5 billion for the war effort. Here’s one from Raleigh:

In August 1918 — only months before the war ended — Anderson joined creative and patriotic forces with his Westport neighbors Mazzanovich and Linde to paint a billboard advertising war stamps, in downtown Bridgeport. The trio were filmed in action by the government for a newsreel, which was shown in movie houses nationwide.

When the war ended, younger artists flocked to Westport.

Kerr Eby, James Daugherty, and Ralph Boyer and his future wife Rebecca A. Hunt had each served as camoufleurs. They painted camouflage — a novel and demanding job.

Eby — assigned to the Camouflage Division of the US. Army 40th Engineers, Artillery Brigade in France — had it the hardest. Working on the front, he produced camouflage for artillery and troops. He also made drawings of the horrific images he witnessed on the battlefield.

Boyer and his art school friend Daugherty were both assigned to Baltimore for another important job: to execute “dazzle” painting designed to protect Navy vessels from enemy site and fire.

This new art involved painting abstract murals on ships that would soon be loaded with troops and ammunition. Swinging from a bosun’s seat, the artist la­id the design on the side. A gang of painters followed rapidly behind, cutting in the geometric pattern with precision.

USS Leviathan in “dazzle” camouflage, 1918.

“The result was supposed to confuse and befuddle the German submarine gunner,” Daughtery said. “It could hardly do less.”

Of course, Westport’s most enduring legacy of World War I is the Doughboy statue at Veterans Green, across from Town Hall. Bennewitz explains:

Sculptor J. Clinton Shepherd was another wartime camoufleur. He served in the Illinois National Reserve and Air Corps. When he moved to Westport in 1925, the town had voted to erect a monument to honor its soldiers and nurses, who had returned from the front, and memorialize the 7 who had died.

In 1928 Shepherd received the commission. He sensitively rendered a life-sized soldier “with a pensive expression to memorialize the personal side of that ‘war to end all wars.'”

Dedication of the Doughboy statue in 1930. It was located on the grass median dividing the Post Road, between what is now Torno Lumber and the former Bertucci’s restaurant. This view looks east. The statue was moved in the 1980s to its current location opposite Town Hall (below).

(Photo/Seth Schachter)

Board Of Ed Takes ALS Hot Pepper Challenge

The other day, Jim Marpe took the ALS Hot Pepper Challenge.

Last night — rising to the 1st selectman’s challenge — it was the Board of Education’s turn.

Superintendent of Schools Colleen Palmer and the 7 board members each ate a habanero or jalapeño — at the same time pledging money for research into the devastating disease. Challenging others to do so raises even more funds.

Westport has gotten involved thanks to the Haberstroh family. Department of Human Services program specialist Patty Haberstroh was diagnosed with ALS last fall.

Board members challenged an array of prominent Westporters, including Senior Center director Sue Pfister, library director Bill Harmer, the entire Board of Finance — and Grammy/Tony/Emmy-winning songwriter Justin Paul.

Check out the video below. (Spoiler alert: It does not include the money shot — what happened after the educators ate their peppers. Hopefully, a quorum remained to conduct business.)

(Click here for the Haberstrohs’ hot pepper challenge donation page.)

Veterans Reflect On War — And Peace

Westport is awash in war stories.

This year’s WestportREADS library book — “Regeneration” — shines a light on a British officer’s refusal to continue serving during the “senseless slaughter” of World War I.

On January 28, the Westport Historical Society opens an exhibit honoring Ed Vebell. Now 96, the longtime resident was a noted illustrator during World War II. He’s drawn and written about the military ever since.

World Wars I and II — and Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan — come together at the WHS on Sunday, February 4 (3 p.m.). “On the Front: Veterans Reflections” offers insights into how war affects people, communities — and the peacetime that follows.

A panel of veterans — from World War II on — will provide their thoughts. But, says WHS education and programs director Nicole Carpenter — the hope is for plenty of questions and interactivity.

Ed Vebell is one of Westport’s honored — and few remaining — World War II veterans. Last May, he was grand marshal of the Memorial Day ceremonies.

“Obviously, the Historical Society’s mission is to remember where we’ve been,” she says. “But veterans are an important part of America today. Every discussion we have — whether it’s about foreign policy, healthcare, whatever — involves veterans.”

This is a poignant time in history, she notes. “We’re losing World War II veterans every day. We need to hear their voices before they’re gone.”

She hopes people will ask provocative questions — leading to an “open, progressive discussion.”

That’s important. After all, it’s what every veteran in history fought to protect.

How Not To Be A Racist

Or, more specifically: “How to be an Anti-Racist.”

That’s the topic of tomorrow’s (Sunday, January 14) 12th annual Martin Luther King Day Celebration in Westport. Dr. Ibram X. Kendi — winner of the 2016 National Book Award for Nonfiction — keynotes the 3 p.m. event, at the Westport Country Playhouse.

He’ll be joined by Chris Coogan and the Good News Gospel Choir, along with the Weston High School Jazz Ensemble. Students from the Regional Center for the Arts will present a dance piece too.

Kendi’s book — “Stamped From the Beginning” — examined the history of racial ideas in the US.

Dr. Ibram X. Kendi

An assistant professor of African American history at American University, he’s spent his career studying racist and anti-racist ideas and movements. He speaks nationally on issues like #BlackLivesMatter, and social justice.

Kendi began his research assuming that the major adherents of racist ideas were hateful and ignorant, and that racist policies like slavery, Jim Crow and mass incarceration resulted directly from them.

But as he dug deeper, he realized that political, economic and cultural self-interest lie behind the creation of racist policies — which, in turn, lead to racist ideas that rationalize deep inequities in everything from wealth to health.

Kendi’s address is free, and open to the public. It will be followed by an audience Q-and-A session. He’ll also sign books, which are available for sale at the event. The Westport Weston Family YMCA will provide childcare and activities in the studio adjacent to the theater.

The MLK celebration is co-sponsored by the Westport Library, Westport Country Playhouse, TEAM Westport and the Westport/Weston Interfaith Council.

WestportREADS “Regeneration”

The Westport Library has kicked off its annual WestportREADS program. This year’s book is “Regeneration” — Pat Barker’s historical fiction about a British officer who refuses to continue serving during the “senseless slaughter” of World War I.

It’s a complex novel, exploring the effect of the war on identity, masculinity and social structure. There’s lots to dig into, and the library has created a number of events based on the book.

For example, next Saturday (January 13, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.) is Digitization Day. Area residents can bring World War I keepsakes — your grandfather’s photo album; a stack of letters found in your great-grandmother’s attic; anything else like medals, keepsakes or objects — to the library.

They’ll be scanned or photographed by library staff members, as both a permanent record and to help create a profile of the World War I-era person you want to remember.

On Sunday, January 28 (2 p.m., Saugatuck Congregational Church) the West Point Glee Club performs music from World War I. Some may be familiar (“Over There”). But much will not.

Other organizations are involved too. One of the most intriguing is a collaboration with the Westport Arts Center and Westport Arts Advisory Committee.

On Thursday, February 1 (7 p.m., Westport Arts Center), the 3 groups sponsor a poetry event.

The assassination of Archduke Ferdinand (shown here with his family) helped set in motion events that led to World War I. Poets are invited to consider history — and current events — for the upcoming Westport Arts Center project.

Adults and high school students are invited to submit poetry, on broad themes: your interpretation of history, our current times, or the challenges we all face. Poets selected will read their work publicly.

The event is part of the WAC’s current exhibition, Ward Shelley’s “What Keeps Mankind Alive.” It features paintings that reveal how we all create narratives and stories to explain the world around us.

The deadline for submissions is Sunday, January 21. Click here for more information.

And on Saturday, February 10 (4 p.m., Westport Town Hall) the library partners with the Westport Cinema Initiative for a screening of “Letters From Baghdad.” The documentary tells the story of Gertrude Bell, a British spy and explorer who helped shape the modern Middle East after World War I in ways that reverberate today. Click here for tickets.

For a full list of WestportREADS activities, click here.

First Night: Fun Family Tradition Endures

For the past 4 years, Jim Marpe has been a familiar presence at First Night. Westport’s 1st selectman sits happily at Saugatuck Elementary School, welcoming families to the fun, festive New Year’s Eve event.

As he begins his 2nd term, Marpe is not the only selectman volunteering at the turn-the-calendar celebration. Running mate Jen Tooker will belt out karaoke at Seabury Center on Church Lane.

Jim Marpe takes service to a new level. Every December 31, he volunteers at First Night.

Those are just 2 highlights of our 24th annual First Night. The family-friendly, alcohol-free festival has become an integral part of local life. This year it’s stronger than ever — even as other First Nights around the country have faded away.

Westport’s First Night survives because leaders like Marpe and Tooker — and plenty of area residents — value its small-town ambience, relaxed fun and wide range of activities.

Everyone loves the train guy.

No one knows what 2018 holds. But everyone can count on these December 31 activities:

  • Musical performances from Broadway, movies, jazz and the blues — including Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Mark Naftalin, award-winning pianist Chris Coogan, musical theater great Michele Grace and the School of Rock
  • A hypnotist
  • Train displays
  • Saugatuck School’s Kids Park, with indoor bounce houses, dancing, sing-alongs, balloon twisters, caricatures, a Magic Genie and ventriloquist
  • Horse-drawn carriage rides
  • Theater acts
  • Puppet shows
  • Vaudeville
  • A warming fire
  • Stargazing with the Westport Astronomical Society
  • Family Zumba classes
  • Psychic readings
  • Comedy
  • Magic
  • Fireworks by the river

John Videler’s drone captured 2016’s First Night fireworks over Westport.

Sites include Saugatuck Elementary School, Toquet Hall, the Westport Historical Society, Christ & Holy Trinity Church, Seabury Center, Jesup Green and more.

All performances are within walking distance. Free shuttles run from Jesup Green to Saugatuck Elementary.

First Night kicks off at 3:30 p.m., and runs through 10. Fireworks shoot off at 8 p.m.

All you need is a button. They’re $15 each (kids under 2 are free), available online or at Trader Joe’s, Westport Library, Westport Historical Society, and Westport and Weston Town Halls. They’re also for sale on First Night itself at Town Hall and all venues.

Get yours now. They’re going fast.

Just say Jim Marpe and Jen Tooker sent you.

(For more information, click here.)

Chris Lau’s 1,000th 3-D Print

Tons of people have tried out the Westport Library’s 3-D printer.

Some have made several prints. A few have gotten into the hundreds.

Last night, Chris Lau reached 1,000.

Staff members hosted a small celebration in the MakerSpace. The library’s Transformation Project has forced its relocation to the upper level balcony, from the Great Hall. But that did not stop Chris.

For a year, he’s printed small pieces on the MakerBot. His 1,000th piece was a bright green sneaker.

Alex Giannini — the library’s manager of experiential learning — encourages everyone to try to chase Chris’ record. To schedule a training session, email westportmakes@gmail.com

Chris Lau at work on the Westport Library’s 3-D printer.

 

And The Answer Is …

Today’s New York Times crossword puzzle starts easily.

1 Across:  “Home to Santa’s workshop.” 4 letters. Hmmm…”North Pole” doesn’t fit. So…just “Pole,” right?

Okay. 1 Down: “Affluent Connecticut town.” Also 4 letters.

Wow. I can’t think of any towns that start with “P.” Or even any 4-letter affluent Connecticut towns. Well, maybe Avon…

On to 5 Across, to the immediate right:  “Popular outdoor clothing brand, with ‘The.'” The only one I can think of is “North Face.” But there are only 4 squares. Leave that for later…

I’ll try the next one on the top line. 9 Across:  “Minnesota NHL team from 1967 to 1993.” That’s simple: “North Stars.” But wait — there are only 5 letters. So…just “Stars,” no?

Aha!

Every answer on the top is missing “North.”

Why would that be?

Oh yeah! Because they’re on the top line — in other words, the “North”!

So that must mean, um — the bottom line would be “South.”

Let’s check it out. 67 Across is “Country hosting the 2018 Winter Olympics.” I haven’t paid attention yet, but I’m guessing it’s not South Africa. What about…South Korea?

Yep — there are 5 squares. Bingo!

So back to the top — 1 Down. I’m betting every answer on the left side starts with “West.”

Which would make that “affluent Connecticut town” — the one with only 4 letters, starting with a “P” — “Westport”!

It’s a clever crossword. And I’ll be sure to thank Times puzzle editor Will Shortz for it personally, next February.

You know — when he makes his annual appearance at the Westport Library Crossword Competition!

Will Shortz at the Westport Library, last February.

(Hat tip: David Schwartz)