Category Archives: Library

8 Years After Fire, Saugatuck Church Organ Is Ready To Resound

In 2011, a fire just before Thanksgiving nearly destroyed Saugatuck Congregational Church.

A spectacular effort by firefighters — and firewalls — prevented complete destruction of the historic building. But the sanctuary was ruined.

The music department was devastated too. They lost 5 pianos, choir robes, a 100-year-old music library with thousands of sheets of music, and a pipe organ.

Firefighters from several towns battled to save the Saugatuck Congregational Church.

It took years for the church to rebuild. The organ was insured; monies helped rebuild the sanctuary.

Meanwhile, a committee sought designs and quotes from top-notch organ builders around the world. The Klais Orgelbau was chosen for its warmth of tone, design of the case, and the family feel of its company.

Installation began this summer. Finally — nearly 8 years after the fire — the new organ is ready.

The Saugatuck Church organ.

On Sunday, October 13 (2 p.m.), Saugatuck Church celebrates with a special concert.

The performers were all chosen for the compassion they showed after the fire.

James Boratko and his church in West Hartford reached out immediately. They loaned hymnals, anthems and choir robes. “Having parishioners singing from hymnals together” — even at other sites — “helped mold us as a community,” says Saugatuck’s director of music Heather Hamilton.

Rev. Ed Thompson

Ed Thompson at the Unitarian Church also called quickly, offering music, support, and a place to rehearse every week for 2 years. “We felt welcome, and loved being there as a group,” says Hamilton. (She took her first organ lessons from Thompson, and considers him a mentor.)

Craig Scott Symons gave Hamilton a keyboard. That helped her work remotely, and with the choir when they worshiped in different places.

Christ & Holy Trinity Episcopal Church — a few yards across Myrtle Avenue from Saugatuck Church — offered the use of Branson Hall for the townwide Thanksgiving feast, just a few days after the blaze. Congregants worshiped in Christ & Holy Trinity’s Seabury Center many Sundays and Christmas Eves, while their own building was rebuilt. Temple Israel opened its arms to the congregation, providing worship space for over 2 years.

Saugatuck Church invites everyone to the October 13 concert. After all, Hamilton notes, contributions for the new organ came from throughout Westport and beyond — not just parishioners.

In that spirit, the church is eager to share its organ with others. Several concerts are already planned. And the American Guild of Organists looks forward to sharing their music and master classes on it.

(The October 13 concert starts at 2 p.m., and is free. A reception follows at 3 p.m. The event is co-sponsored by the Westport Library.)

Library Fundraiser Really Mixes It Up

The Westport Library rocks!

That’s true literally — who can forget the concerts that followed Booked for the Evening events with Patti Smith and Nile Rodgers?

It’s true figuratively too. The transformed library — with its wide-open spaces, versatile stage and state-of-the-art video screen — is a fantastic venue for a dance party.

Which is exactly what happens on Saturday, October 12.

The Forum is the site of the 1st-ever Mix-It-Up Tour fundraiser. Waza — a great cover band fronted by Westporter Marty Jaramillo — will make it seem like rock legends are right there in the house library.

American Idol finalist Drew Angus — a 2007 Staples High School grad — and DJ Mo share the bill too.

A rock ‘n’ roll-inspired silent auction features works by artists Irene Penny, Stephen Goldstein, Kerry Heftman and Mark Rich.

Cocktails and bites are courtesy of Marcia Selden Catering.

When the library’s Transformation Project was underway, director Bill Harmer promised the new, versatile space would be used in creative ways no one had yet imagined.

The Mix-It-Up Tour dance party is one of those crazy-but-cool concepts that very few libraries would even think about.

In Westport, it’s just one more reason our library rocks.

(Click here for tickets, and more information.)

Pic Of The Day #892

New lower entrance to the Westport Library (Photo/Lynn Untermeyer Miller)

Facing Up To A Swastika: Jesup Green Event Set For Today

Longtime Westport activist Darcy Hicks writes:

Tonight at 5 p.m., on Jesup Green, we will come together to define who we are as a community, in a struggling country.

Anti-Semitic incidents have been increasing in America at an alarming rate. The Anti-Defamation League says that in 2017, anti-Semitic incidents jumped 57% over the previous year, and 2018 showed the third-highest rate of incidents on record. This year is faring no better.

Westport — as we know from last week — is not immune.

The discovery of a swastika, carved into a bathroom wall, has challenged our community. The question is how we deal with that challenge.

We need to focus not on “who?” but “how?” How did the plague of hatred in this struggling nation manage to puncture our town? Whether the perpetrator was a white nationalist (unlikely), or looking for attention (more likely), the ball is in our court.

And all Westporters are on that court, whether we want to be there or not. Our response matters.

According to Steve Ginsburg, director of ADL Connecticut — and a Westport resident — “The measure of that school, or that community, is not what happened there, but how they respond to it, and what they did to try to prepare people and prevent it from happening.”

True to that statement, Westport schools have handled the incident swiftly and expertly, with the collaboration of the Westport Police, the ADL, and the support of our elected officials.

Education is always the key. But education should not be limited to school grounds and school hours.

How much do you know about your child’s understanding of the symbol of a swastika? How do they feel when they see one? Afraid? Numb? And are there other forms of intolerance — to race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity — occurring in our kids’ lives? How can we help?

Tonight at 5 on Jesup Green, we come together as a community to learn from those who know how to begin answering these questions.

By this effort — not the hate crime — we will be measured.

(Speakers include Ginsburg; Lauren Francese, K-6 social coordinator, Westport Public Schools; Rev. John Morehouse, Unitarian Church of Westport, and Conor Pfeifer, Triangle Community Center. For more information, click here.)

Westport: The Write Place

The statistics are in: 18 iconic Westport locations. Six library spots. Six pick-your-own-spots. All told, 250 “writes” during last month’s Write Here project.

Jan Bassin

Led by Jan Bassin — Senior Center coordinator of writing programs, and the Westport Library’s Maker-in-Residence — each hour-long session began with a brief introduction. After a prompt, Westporters of all ages, abilities and backgrounds began writing. At the end, volunteers shared their creations.

The proudest — or bravest — uploaded their writing to a dedicated website.

But those dry facts don’t come close to telling the whole “story.”

Like many participants, Bassin knew some of the writing locations well. In her case it was the Senior Center, Westport Country Playhouse, Compo Beach, Wakeman Town Farm, Levitt Pavilion and Farmers’ Market.

Others she hadn’t visited or thought about in years: Earthplace, Rolnick Observatory, Westport Historical Society.

She’d been to Toquet Hall only once; the Westport Weston Family YMCA and Ned Dimes Marina never. She had no idea where to find the police station entrance.

Writing at Earthplace …

Jan was excited to “discover” those new places. But just as intriguing was the chance to look at familiar places with new eyes: the Town Hall lobby, for example, and train station.

She realized too that classrooms at fire and police headquarters, picnic tables at Longshore and chairs under a tree at the Farmers’ Market were as exciting as the more “sparkly” venues.

Each site brought new revelations. Jan and her group sat spellbound as Nick Marsan described his circuitous, unexpected route to becoming a firefighter; Sue Pfister spoke of shifting her focus from business to social work, then finding a population where she could help; Lori Cochran-Dougall shared her passion for sustainability; Carleigh Welsh offered her heartfelt philosophy about the importance of the arts, and Shannon Calvert showed photos of the universe taken at the observatory.

… the Westport Country Playhouse …

Each visit, Jan says, “felt like a private and special writing party.” Everyone at every site treated the writers as special guests.

At the end of each talk, she guided the group into “feeling” the place they were in. The writing that followed was “amazing.”

It was “beautiful, connected and gorgeous” — even from people who insisted, “I don’t write.”

When she designed the month, Jan did not expect to be as moved as she was, every single day. “People’s voices and stories still play in my head,” she says with awe.

… and the Westport Farmers’ Market.

The project was as much about “place” as about words. “We can’t actually think of ourselves at any point in our lives without remembering where we were,” she notes.

“By writing together in a series of places in our town, we ask: What makes a community?”

The answer, it turns out, is write right here.

(Click here to read the writing posted to the Write Here website.)

Pic Of The Day #857

Checking to see if “Bambi” is available at the library …(Photo/Mark Potts)

… and visiting their “deer departed.” (Photo/Justin Cheng)

R.L. Stine To Star At Saugatuck StoryFest

When Alex Giannini told his mother that R.L. Stine was coming to Westport — he’s the keynote speaker for the Westport Library’s Saugatuck StoryFest next month — she said, “That’s all you read as a kid.”

“I know,” the library’s manager of experiential learning said. “He’s one of the main reasons I read the authors I read today.”

R.L. Stine (Photo/Dan Nelken)

Alex is not alone. Nearly every American under the age of 45 or so was weaned on Stine’s works: the dozens of “Goosebumps” books — and many other fiction/horror/ thriller works — by the man called “the Stephen King of children’s literature. He has sold more than 400 million copies worldwide.

On Saturday, September 28, his many fans of all ages get a chance to see him in the flesh. Stine will speak for half an hour in the Forum, answer questions, and autograph copies of his latest book, “Slappy World.”

Stine’s appearance was confirmed only recently. Library officials learned he was coming the morning their Saugatuck StoryFest brochure was going to press.

He joins an impressive list of authors and others appearing at the 2nd annual event. Co-sponsored by the Westport Public Schools, it’s an innovative, immersive 3-day experience, celebrating a wide variety of genres and interests.

Last year’s celebration of writing and stories drew more than 3,000 people, from around the tri-state region. This year’s event — held entirely at the newly transformed Library — builds on that foundation.

The theme for Thursday, September 26 is “Beyond Our Earth.” The StoryFest starts with a 6 p.m. “Gravity” show by new media artist Balam Soto. Using the Forum’s video wall, he’ll help participants “move planets” and “shape the fabric of space-time” with their fingertips.

He’s followed by Ray Bradbury’s biographer, Sam Weller, and Kate Howells, the author of “Space is Cool as Fuck,” who takes audiences on an interplanetary adventure far beyond our galaxy. The library can’t say it quite this way, but it will be exactly what the title promises.

Friday, September 27 — the only day of the 3 that is not free — features Mallory O’Meara (author of “The Lady from the Black Lagoon”), Broadway’s Rob Rokicki (“The Lightning Thief”), illustrator Dave O’Neill and the cast of Broadway performers for Rokicki’s “Monstersongs,” a rock musical song cycle celebrating literary monsters.

Joining Stine on Saturday, September 28 for a full day of panels and book signings are Tiffany Jackson, L.L. McKinney, Stoker Award winners Gwendolyn Kiste and Paul Tremblay, Hugo Award winner Seanan McGuire, horror editor Ellen Datlow, bestselling thriller writers Lynne Constantine and Wendy Walker, and more.

Saugatuck StoryFest promises to be an entertaining, fun, family-friendly 3-day celebration.

It’s enough to give you goosebumps.

(For more information on Saugatuck StoryFest — including panels and times — click here.)

Friday Flashback #154

The opening of the transformed Westport Library brought back memories of the original — and reminders, once again, that it was built on what was once the “town dump.”

Alert — and historic minded — “06880” reader Fred Cantor found a fascinating aerial photo, published by the Town Crier in 1965

(Photo/Robert Lentini)

Back then, the library was located in the building at the lower left of the photo. Today it’s the site of Starbucks, Freshii and other tenants.

Across the Post Road — at the foot of what we now call the Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Bridge — is a block of shops and apartments that burned in the late 1960s or early ’70s. Today it’s South Moon Under, and other stores.

But the most fascinating part of the photo is seen beyond Jesup Green and the Taylor Place parking lot. There — in the center of town — sat the Rogers Little League baseball diamond. The dugouts are about where the upper entrance to the library lot is today. (Why is it so bumpy now? Landfill.)

Unfortunately, the photo does not show what lies beyond left and center field. That was the town dump.

It smelled. It attracted seagulls. It was not uncommon for the birds to swoop near unsuspecting outfielders, attempting to catch flies (the baseball variety).

Around that time — perhaps a few years later — Westport artist Arthur Cady drew a series of Westport scenes.

(Illustration by Arthur Cady/courtesy of Jim Ezzes)

This one may have been a bit of artistic license. I don’t think the dump was quite that close to downtown.

But it sure was near to what is now Tiffany, nestling right behind on Taylor Place.

Exciting New Project Is “Write Here” In Westport

The Westport Library attracts plenty of writers.

And not just in the stacks, or for book talks.

It’s a wonderful place for anyone — published author, budding writer, wannabe — of any age to sit and create.

Choose your spot: the big tables in the Forum, one of the smaller community rooms, a bench on the Riverwalk.

There are other places in Westport to write, of course. The Senior Center and Westport Writers’ Workshop offer classes. The Saugatuck Story Lab is a welcoming space too.

Jan Bassin.

But Jan Bassin believes our town pulses with places that can inspire words. To jump-start those muses, she’s teamed up with the library to offer a month-long community writing project.

Every day during August, Bassin — Senior Center coordinator of writing programs, and the library’s Maker-in-Residence — will host an hour-long write-in.

Every day, it will be at a different spot.

The Playhouse. Compo Beach. The Farmers’ Market. The boardwalk at National Hall. Longshore. The train station.

You name it — if it’s in Westport you’ll find Bassin, and writers of every age and ability, all month long.

Each “Write Here” (get it?) session begins with a brief introduction from a representative of that location. Bassin will provide a prompt. Writers will then free-write: prose, poetry, first-person, creative, whatever. At the end, anyone who wants to can share their creations.

“The act of writing connects us to ourselves and our community,” Bassin says. “When you write somewhere, you feel connected to that spot.”

One example: At Wakeman Town Farm, the prompt might spur one person to write about her memories of growing up on a farm. Someone else might react to the sights and smells of WTF itself. A third person might be inspired to create a poem about animals.

Scenes like this could inspire some great writing.

The project kicks off this Thursday (August 1, 12 noon, Westport Library). I’ve been known to write a few stories about “06880,” so I’ll join Jan Bassin to talk briefly about writing in Westport.

Then we’ll turn it over to you all, for your own words.

Every “Write Here” session is free. You can come to as many or as few as you want. You can read your writing aloud, or keep it private.

“Write Here” will evolve, Bassin expects. She may create a website for writers who want their words to live on (by name, or anonymously).

You might even be inspired to submit a “Write Here” story to “06880.”

You know: this blog, right here.

(For more information about “Write Here: Westport,” click here.)

Hot Times For Arts Festival, Book Sale

Folks moved slower than usual. They drank more water.

But art and book lovers are hardy bunches. Artists and volunteers are too.

The 46th annual Fine Arts Festival took over Main Street today.  Painters, photographers, sculptors, printmakers, ceramicists and jewelry makers showed their creations.

Bands played music. Kids played with art materials. The Artists Collective of Westport sponsored an interactive — and very active — tent on Taylor Place.

Artists came from across the US. Westport was well represented too. Among the local exhibitors: Susan Lloyd …

… and Nancy Breakstone (who knows a thing or two about keeping cool):

The Fine Arts Festival continues today until 5 p.m. It’s on again tomorrow (Sunday, July 21), from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The predicted high is again 96 degrees. So do what this art aficionado did, and head downtown:

Meanwhile, a few yards away, crowds lined up before dawn. When Westport Library Book Sale volunteers opened the flaps at 9 a.m., 500 people waited.

They were not disappointed. The enormous tent held everything from fiction, history and cookbooks to Judaica, Cliff Notes and old magazines.

Inside — in the very well-air conditioned transformed library — buyers filled big bags with more books, CDs, DVDs and vinyl.

The big tent, as seen from the library steps. (All photos/Dan Woog)

The book sale continues today until 6 p.m. It’s on tomorrow (Sunday) from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday is half-price day (9 a.m. to 5 p.m.). On Tuesday everything is just $5 a bag (9 a.m. 1 p.m.).

It cools way down to 81 on Monday. That’s a welcome relief, after today.