Category Archives: Library

Unsung Hero #44

When the 7th annual Maker Faire takes over Westport this Saturday (April 21), there will be something for everyone.

A record 12,000+ attendees — tech lovers, crafters, educators, tinkerers, hobbyists, engineers, science geeks, artists, authors, students and exhibitors — will share what they’ve made, see what others have created, teach, learn, be inspired, and inspire others.

And have tons of fun.

It’s a massive undertaking. Planning began the moment last year’s Maker Faire — which drew “only” 10,500 people — ended.

Hundreds of volunteers make it happen. But none of it would be possible without Mark Mathias.

Mark Mathias

Westport’s event– part of a worldwide movement (and of all 772 Maker Faires in 44 countries, among the top 5% in attendance) — was his brainchild.

In September 2011, his kids were fascinated by the New York Maker Faire.

Seven months later — thanks to Mathias’ work with the Westport Library, Sunrise Rotary and Downtown Merchants Association — we had our own “Mini Maker Faire.”

The “mini” is long gone. Now — with activities spread across the Library, Jesup Green, Taylor parking lot, Bedford Square, Town Hall and Veterans Green — it’s as maxi as it gets.

But the Maker Faire is not Mathias’ only local contribution. He’s in his 15th year on the Board of Education; is an active member of Saugatuck Congregational Church (with a particular interest in their mission trips), and when his daughter Nicole was at Staples High School, he was an avid supporter of the music department.

Mathias — whose professional background is in IT — is president of Remarkable Steam. The non-profit promotes innovation and creativity in the areas of STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math).

This is Mark Mathias’ busiest time of year. Hopefully, he’ll take a few moments out of his hectic day to accept our thanks, as this week’s Unsung Hero.

Robots galore at last year’s Maker Faire.

(For more information on Westport’s Maker Faire, click here. To nominate an Unsung Hero, email dwoog@optonline.net)

Egg-citing News For Hard-Boiled Cooks

It’s almost Easter. Time to buy the chocolate, bake the ham, boil the eggs.

Bonnie Tyler and Sheila Torgan can’t help with the first 2 tasks. But if making easy-to-peel eggs makes your blood boil, they hop to your rescue.

The women are the brains behind the Negg. It’s “the world’s greatest egg peeler.”

That’s not me or an infomercial talking. The Negg has been praised by the New York Times and the “Today Show” — along with egg-makers everywhere.

And it was hatched right here in Westport.

Sheila Torgan and Bonnie Tyler.

Bonnie and Sheila are longtime business partners. Past projects include web design.

That’s cool. But solving one of life’s most difficult puzzles — how to make an easy-to-peel egg — can be life-changing.

The women had a great idea: Put an egg in a peeler with water, then shake it so the peel comes off. Easy as pie.

But they had to create a model. Peeling an egg is hardly high-tech. Still, Bonnie and Sheila needed a technological tool.

They found it at the Westport Library.

The Maker Space — with its computers and 3D printer — is the perfect place to turn concepts into reality.

The Negg!

Library manager of experiential learning Alex Giannini guided the women through many prototypes. Finally, they found one that worked.

From there they produced a patent-pending mold.

Since then, they’ve sold over a quarter of a million Neggs. They’re available through Amazon, HSN, Wayfair, other outlets — and of course on their website.

Sheila and Bonnie may be the hard-boiled egg queens of the world. But they haven’t forgotten their roots.

They’ve given back to the Westport Library by speaking on a crowd-sourcing panel. They hoped to inspire other entrepreneurs to fulfill their dream.

All you need is an idea.

Though a Westport Library 3D printer certainly helps.

(For more information on the Negg, click here. Hat tips: Betsy Pollak and Deirdre Foote.)

Nile Rodgers’ Journey: From Disco To Abbey Road

Nile Rodgers seems to have done it all.

The 65-year-old Westporter/musician/ producer/ composer/arranger  has performed or produced for everyone from Sister Sledge (“We Are Family”) to Duran Duran, David Bowie, Madonna and Britney Spears.

He’s earned Grammys for Record of the Year and Album of the Year (for Daft Punk’s “Random Access Memories”).

Those of us a bit older remember his guitar work with Chic (“Le Freak”).  Nearly 40 years later, he played at President Obama’s final White House party. It lasted until 6 a.m.

Nile Rodgers has even been honored as the Westport Library’s “Booked for the Evening” star.

But now he’s got a new gig: chief creative advisor at Abbey Road.

The legendary artist joins the most legendary studio on the planet. He’ll record rock and pop stars, while also mentoring up-and-coming performers.

Rodgers — who told the BBC he dreamed of working at Abbey Road ever since he heard “I Want to Hold Your Hand” — says that every day at work, he sees people recreating the road-crossing made famous on the Beatles’ eponymous album.

But, he adds, the studio remains cutting-edge. “I’m an audio fanatic. I want my new stuff to sound amazing.”

He’s already worked with Bruno Mars there.

It really must be “Something” to watch the 2 stars “Come Together.”

(For more details on Nile Rodgers’ new project, click here. Hat tip: Alan Hodge.)

Nile Rodgers outside Abbey Road Studios. (Photo/Jill Furmanovsky for BBC)

Pic Of The Day #340

The Westport Library’s Transformation project continues (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

Photo Challenge #168

In 1906, Westport got a library.

It was a gift from Morris Jesup. A successful businessman, whose money came from selling railroad supplies, he endowed the building on on the Post Road (then called State Street), near Main Street.

The cornerstone was laid in 1906. Michael Calise, Daine Silfen, Matt Murray. Michael Brennecke, Stephanie Ehrman, Rosalie Kaye, Lawrence Zlatin, Janice Strizever, Robert Mitchell, Bobbie Herman, Eva Lopez Reyman, Jonathan McClure, Seth Goltzer and Dede Fitch all recognized Lynn U. Miller’s image. To see last week’s photo challenge, click here.

The library grew, expanded west, then took over the 2nd floor. In 1986 it had outgrown its original home, and moved across the street, past Jesup Road and up the hill, to landfill that had once been the town dump.

The old library is home now to (among others) HSBC Bank, Starbucks and Freshii.

Today, the library is in the midst of another transformation. But none of it would have been possible without Jesup’s philanthropy.

The Westport Library was not Jesup’s only gift. He was a major benefactor of the American Museum of Natural History. He also commissioned a 5-year anthropological expedition to Alaska and Siberia. The northernmost piece of land in the world, at the tip of Greenland, is named Cape Morris Jesup.

In 1908 — just before he died — he donated his old home as a parsonage for the Saugatuck Congregational Church.

This week’s photo challenge comes from Molly Alger. If you know where in Westport you’d find this Stonehenge-like formation, click “Comments” below.

(Photo/Molly Alger)

Westport Rocks! The Greatest Stories Ever Told

If you don’t know Westport’s musical history — concerts at Staples High School by the Doors, Cream, Yardbirds, Rascals, Animals and many more; the Remains, perhaps the greatest band in history never to hit the big time; REO Speedwagon’s 157 Riverside Avenue — you must be living under a rock (ho ho).*

But hey hey, my my. Rock and roll can never die.

So mark next Wednesday, March 21 (7 p.m.) on your calendar. Michael Friedman’s Gallery in Bedford Square is the site for one of Westport’s liveliest musical events ever.  

The owner’s stunning photographs of everyone from Janis Joplin and Mick Jagger to the Band and Johnny Winter (another former Westporter) serves as a backdrop for a Moth-style session about rock ‘n’ roll.

Among the storytellers:

Former Paul Butterfield Blues Band organist, and Rock & Roll Hall of Fame member Mark Naftalin.

Mark Naftalin: A keyboardist, recording artist, composer and record producer, he and his fellow Paul Butterfield Blues Band members are in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

Crispin Cioe:  A sax player and songwriter, he’s played and recorded with James Brown, the Stones, Solomon Burke, Tom Waits, Ray Charles and the Ohio Players.

Roger Kaufman: A noted local performer with the Old School Revue, Roger worked last year with the Smithsonian Museum to archive, preserve and pay tribute to Steve Cropper, the legendary Stax guitarist who played on classic songs like “Knock on Wood,” “Midnight Hour” and “Dock of the Bay.” Soon, he’ll archive materials with Weston’s own Jose Feliciano.

Rob Fraboni: A producer and audio who worked with Bob Dylan, the Band, Eric Clapton and the Stones — and who as vice president of Island Records oversaw the remastering of the entire Bob Marley catalog. Keith Richards called him “a genius.”

David Bennett Cohen, with Country Joe and the Fish.

David Bennett Cohen: The original keyboardist, and also a guitar player, for Country Joe and the Fish.

Wendy May: She’s spent the last 20 years performing with Charlie Daniels, Kenny Chesney, Mark Chestnut, Willie Nelson, Hank Williams Jr., Marty Haggard and many others.

Dick Wingate: In a long career with labels like Arista, PolyGram, Epic and Columbia Records, he worked closely with Bruce Springsteen, Elvis Costello, Aimee Mann, Peter Tosh and Pink Floy, among others.

Michael Friedman: In addition to photography, he worked as a publicist with the Mamas and the Papas, Bee Gees, Herman’s Hermits and Glen Campbell, and was an artist manager for Dylan, the Band, Janis Joplin, Gordon Lightfoot, Todd Rundgren, Kris Kristofferson and Rita Coolidge.

Rusty Ford: He co-founded Lothar & the Hand People, the psychedelic band that was the first to use a theremin and Moog synthesizer in live performances. He also played bass with the Beach Boys.

Lothar and the Hand People

Also on the bill: Bari Rudin and Caissie St. Onge, comedy writers who have worked with David Letterman, Phil Donohue, “Saturday Night Live,” Rosie O’Donnell and Joan Rivers.

Incredibly, every storyteller is a local resident. This area remains rich in rock history. We don’t have to ship in stars. They’re right here, living as our neighbors and friends.

They’ll each speak for about 8 minutes. Every one though has a lifetime of stories to tell.

* Let’s not forget the Hall & Oates “concert” too.

(Tickets for “Rock & Roll Stories” include food, beer, wine and an auction. It’s part of the Westport Library’s week-long “Flex” series, which features a celebrity lunch with Sam Kass and Jane Green, a conversation with Ruth Reichl, movies, a dance-a-thon, a family day, gala party and much more. Click here for information and tickets.)

Pic Of The Day #328

The Westport Library held its annual winter book sale this weekend. This was the calm before the crowds. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

Lambdin Mural Hangs In New Home

For nearly 50 years, a spectacular mural hung just inside the main entrance to Saugatuck Elementary School, on Bridge Street.

Created by Westport artist Robert Lambdin as a WPA project, “Pageant of Juvenile Literature” greeted every visitor to the school. (It was also stared at by generations of mischief-makers, as they waited for meetings with the principal.)

Lambdin is well known for other murals, including a pair called “Saugatuck in the 19th Century” (one originally in a Saugatuck bank, now at Town Hall; the other at Westport Bank & Trust, preserved by the current tenant Patagonia), and “Spirit of Adventure,” which hangs over the entrance to the Town Hall auditorium.

But, says town arts curator Kathie Motes Bennewitz, “Pageant” was Lambdin’s masterpiece. Its complexity, and the wide variety of characters he painted, “touch everyone who sees it,” she says. “People just get pulled into it.”

The left side of the 7-foot high, 20-foot high mural depicts an array of classic fictional characters: Minerva, Huck Finn, Alice in Wonderland, Winnie the Pooh, Don Quixote, Robin Hood, Robinson Crusoe.

A closeup of the Robert Lambdin mural… (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

Lambdin included himself too — as Long John Silver.

One of his models was Janet Aley, who now — near 90 — still lives in Westport. Another model was Howard Brubaker — great-grandfather of Westporter Brian Crane — who went on to become editor of Colliers.

The right side of the mural portrays great historical figures, like Leif Erikson, Joan of Arc, Pocahontas, George Washington, Clara Barton, Davey Crockett and Abraham Lincoln.

… and the right side.

The middle section shows the history of writing, from ancient Egypt to a quill pen, then a typewriter.

When Saugatuck Elementary School closed in 1984 — due to declining enrollment —  the Bridge Street building was unmaintained. Weather and vandals took their tolls.

In 1992, the town decided to convert the old Saugatuck El to senior housing. The murals were slated for demolition.

But a group of art-lovers — including Mollie Donovan, Eve Potts and Judy Gault Sterling — set out to save the work. Within a month they raised $40,000. That was enough to remove the mural, conserve it, and reinstall it at its new home: The Westport Library.

For nearly 25 years, the Robert Lambdin mural hung above the Westport Library’s Great Hall. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

Opened just 6 years earlier, the library was an inspired choice. Hanging above the Great Hall, the mural — with its representations of literature and history — was visible to all.

Plus, back in the day Lambdin had actually been a Westport Library trustee.

More than a quarter century later though, the library is in the midst of its own renovation. A suitable spot could not be found, during or after the project.

Bennewitz and members of the Westport Public Art Collection searched for a large wall, with plenty of foot traffic. They — with architect Scott  Springer — found it, at Staples High School.

Which is how, the other day, the enormous mural was removed from the library, transported, and reassembled near the auditorium lobby. Hung proudly — and even closer to the public than at the library — “Pageant of Juvenile Adventure” will be seen by thousands of students every day, and folks of all ages at plays, concerts and other events.

Moving the mural was no easy task. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

Bennewitz praised many groups, for making the move possible. Town Hall, the Westport Library and Westport school system worked together, coordinating manpower and equipment. Support also came from the Westport Arts Advisory Committee and Friends of WestPAC.

The mural was installed during school vacation. Students have not yet seen it. But everyone who passed by during the installation was impressed.

That includes Staples custodian Jeff Allen. A former Saugatuck El student, he remembers the mural well. He’s proud to see it back up in the school where he now works.

Staples custodian Jeff Allen admires the artwork.

He and many others will be in attendance this Friday (March 2, 2:45 p.m.). A rededication ceremony will include brief speeches, appropriate music (“House at Pooh Corner”) — and students, teachers and others dressed in costumes. (First Selectman Jim Marpe will portray Abraham Lincoln.)

Anyone who remembers the Lambdin mural from its original location at Saugatuck Elementary School is particularly welcome.

Of course, everyone who loves art, literature and history is encouraged to be there too.

BONUS FUN FACT: Robert Lambdin was not the only Westport WPA artist. During the 1930s, 17 local artists produced 34 artworks, and 120 photos.

Robert Lambdin’s “Pageant of Juvenile Adventure,” in its new home.

Friday Flashback #80

The other day, “06880” celebrated the end of WestportREADS — this year’s book explored World War I — and the 100th anniversary of the “Great War” armistice with a story on military contributions of Westport artists a century ago.

This photo did not make it into the story. But it provides a fascinating peek into a local link between two wars that, today, we think of as completely distinct from each other.

As the caption notes, the photo above shows “soldiers, sailors and veterans from World War I and the Civil War.” They posed together on “Welcome Home Day.”

Three Westport Civil War veterans were there: James H. Sowle, Christopher Tripp and Edwin Davis. Sowle — in the 2nd full row, 2nd from right — presented medals to the newest veterans.

Three things strike me as noteworthy.

First, for a small town, the number of men serving seems remarkable.

Second, though Westport was still a small town in 1918, much had changed in the more than half century since the War Between the States.

Third, 50 years after this photo was taken, American would have fought — and helped win — World War II. We fought to a standstill in Korea. And then got mired in Vietnam.

There would be no more “Welcome Home Day” ceremonies then.

(Hat tip: Kathie Motes Bennewitz)

“I Am …” The Westport Library Photo Campaign. Are You?

In the summer of 2016, over 500 people had their “geek moment” at the Westport Library.

Talented family and portrait photographer Pam Einarsen snapped them, as they held or wore objects identifying their particular passions. The “I Geek…” project portrayed an astonishing array of talents and interests, all of which the library encourages and helps us fulfill.

Among our geeks: 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.

It all ended with a big party. The Great Hall was filled with food, entertainment — and Pam’s compelling portraits.

Now she’s at it again.

This time, when library users sit for their photos, they’re asked for 3 descriptors. Pam’s images, and those self-identifying phrases, are then shared on the library’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages.

David Pogue says “I am a dad. A showoff. A softie.” (Photo/Pam Einarsen)

It’s part of the library’s goal — in the midst of its Transformation project — for folks to imagine how the library can help them, in entirely new ways.

“What are you passionate about?” library director Bill Harmer says the “I Am…” campaign is asking.

“And how can we work together, with you and your passions, in this great new space?”

Mary Brown’s “I Am…” photo on Instagram. She says she is “an art historian, obsessed with music, and a Fireball Island master.” (Photo/Pam Einarsen)

The new library, Harmer adds, is “all about building community, and creating spaces where human beings can interact.”

More photo sessions will be scheduled soon. Check the library website for details.

Hey — it’s me! To find out my 3 descriptors, you’ll have to wait until the library posts this on social media. (Photo/Pam Einarsen)