Category Archives: People

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.

Minstrel History Comes To Levitt

As chair of TEAM Westport — our multicultural commission — Harold Bailey thinks a lot about how our town addresses race.

The topic is everywhere nationally, from politics and policing to religion and sports. Some discussions are superficial; others, quite nuanced.

Westport is not the most racially diverse place on the planet. But we are tied inextricably to the national conversation.

The recent “Remembered…” exhibition at the Westport Historical Society revealed — with stark photos, words and artificats — that kidnapped, enslaved Africans were critical to the founding and growth of this place.

Bailey says that Our Native Daughters do something similar on a national scale, for American music. Conceived by 4 gifted women, and spurred by a MacArthur “genius grant,” the group reclaims minstrel music of the 1800s from the tropes generated by whites wearing blackface. The quartet redefines that music, through its African-American roots.

In the process, Bailey says, “they vividly portray the ways in which the enduring storytelling and bonds from black women have been the bedrock of the African-American family, from antebellum America to the present.”

Our Native Daughters

That’s powerful stuff. This Tuesday (July 23, 7:30 p.m.), Westport gets a chance to see and hear it in an intimate setting.

Our Native Daughters perform a special, ticketed concert at the Levitt Pavilion. TEAM Westport and the WHS co-sponsor the event.

We’re in great company. The next day, the group performs at The Smithsonian Museum of African American History & Culture in Washington, DC. On Sunday they’ll be at the Newport Folk Festival.

The Levitt date actually launches Our Native Daughters’ tour. A crew from the Smithsonian Channel will be on hand to film this show.

NPR says Leyla McCalla’s delivery is “characterized by willowy sereneness and subtly jazzy phrasing,” Allison Russell’s by “feathery, softhearted trills and curlicues,” Amythyst Kiah’s by “flintily soulful resonance,” and Rhiannon Giddens’ by “lithe expressiveness and regal bearing.”

Banjos are key. But all 4 women play several instruments.

The Levitt is well known for the variety and quality of its programming. Rock, blues, military bands, kids’ music, comedians — in over 40 years, audiences have seen it all.

Seldom however has there been a concert with historical significance, one that can promote reflection and dialogue at such a fraught time in our nation’s history.

The Levitt is a relaxing, wonderful place of summer entertainment. On Tuesday, Our Native Daughters’ artful, eye- and ear-opening music takes us to a new place.

(Click here for tickets and more information.)

Newest Menu Item: Valet Parking

Bartaco, OKO and the newly opened Meatball Shop are 3 very different restaurants.

But they share 2 things: popularity and parking.

The Mexican, Japanese and Italian-American spots are packed, for lunch and dinner. The National Hall and nearby parking lots are often full — especially during the day, when spots are reserved for employees of nearby offices.

There’s a parking deck across the street. But for various reasons — some people don’t like driving up the narrow ramp; crossing Wilton Road can be dicey; others may not even know it’s there — that option is underutilized.

The other day, representatives of the 3 restaurants sat together. Instantly, they agreed on a solution: valet parking.

The old Vigilant Firehouse on Wilton Road is now OKO restaurant. The Meatball Shop is behind is on the right; Bartaco is behind on the left. (Photo/Dan Woog)

Working together — and with the blessing of the new owner of the entire complex — they hired We Park, a Wilton-based firm.

Just as quickly, the service began. Valet parking is available 7 days a week, for lunch and dinner.

You don’t have to tell the valet what restaurant you’re going to. In fact, you don’t have to eat at all. The service is there if you just want to stroll along the boardwalk, admiring the river and lights.

A beautiful boardwalk connects OKO, The Meatball Shop and Bartaco. (Photo by Anne Hardy)

“We’re all in this together,” says Brian Lewis, owner of OKO. “We want everyone who comes here to feel our hospitality. We all have the same goals: to take care of our guests. Whatever brings people here is good for all of us.”

He says that — like the other owners — he appreciates (and dines at) the nearby restaurants.

The owners appreciate too the receptiveness of the new National Hall owners. They’ve already repainted the lines in the parking lot, and added directional signs.

Coming soon: More signs for the valet service.

Though probably not in Spanish, Japanese or Italian.

Justin Paul: It’s Showtime!

You’ve enjoyed Justin Paul’s music in Dear Evan Hansen, La La Land and The Greatest Showman.

Soon, you may see and hear it on Showtime.

The cable network just signed the 2002 Staples High School graduate and his songwriting partner, Benj Pasek, to contribute music to an as-yet-untitled musical drama.

This is no fingers-crossed concept. Executive producers include Alicia Keys, Marc Platt, Kyle Jarrow (The SpongeBob Musical), R.J. Cutler (Nashville) and Adam Siegel (Grease: Live).

Justin Paul, enjoying life. (Photo/Dan Woog)

The drama tell an emotionally complex family story, weaving between modern-day and 1959 Detroit. The plot involves a mystery uncovered by a young musician who moves back to her childhood home.

“We have always been intrigued by the prospect of doing a Showtime musical series, but only if the songs could add to the depth and complexity of a great character drama. Nobody does that better than Pasek and Paul and Marc Platt, ” says Showtime Entertainment president Gary Levine.

Pasek and Paul have already won Grammy, Oscar and Tony awards. Is an Emmy next?

Stay tuned.

(Click here for the full Hollywood Reporter story.)

A Bridge To Somewhere

The other evening, KMS Partners threw a fundraiser for Food Rescue US.

Food trucks and a band filled the site of the former Save the Children building, on Wilton Road. Next to the real estate firm’s new headquarters, it’s the future site of an architecturally intriguing 12-unit condo complex.

As I sat next to the Saugatuck River — the sun setting, and downtown beckoning just across the way — I thought, “It’s so close. Wouldn’t it be nice to walk there?”

Parker Harding Plaza, from the west bank of the Saugatuck River. (Photo/Dan Woog)

I could have used the Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Bridge, of course. But the Post Road span is not pedestrian friendly. And it deposits you at the dicey, traffic-filled intersection with Parker Harding Plaza.

Once upon a time, there was discussion of fora pedestrian-only bridge. It was part of David Waldman’s plan to develop that Save the Children site.

Working with Roger Ferris + Partners architects, he wanted to move the house — at that point, a former yarn shop — at Wilton Road/Post Road West — to the Save the Children property. That would provide room for a turning lane at one of the state’s worst intersections.

As part of the plan, Waldman offered $100,000 toward the engineering and design of a pedestrian-only pontoon bridge.

The town rejected the idea. The developer reworked certain aspects of his design. The office portion has now been built. The condos are next.

But the landing area on the Wilton Road side is still available. A bridge could still be built, providing relaxing access from another point between the river’s west bank, and downtown. It could connect to Gorham Island, or perhaps the walkway near Rye Ridge Deli.

The walkway near Rye Ridge Deli could be one end of a pedestrian bridge across the Saugatuck River.

It’s not a novel concept. The Westport Arts Center once proposed a bridge from its then-headquarters on Riverside Avenue, to the library and Levitt Pavilion on the other side.

There are great spots to eat and shop on both sides of the river. But Westporters and visitors tend to think of them as 2 separate places.

A pedestrian bridge between Wilton Road and Parker Harding would probably cost $500,000 to $1 million.

Is the idea worth pursuing? If not, what’s another way to tie the energy and attractions of the quickly growing west bank to the close-but-sometimes-seems-so-far “downtown”?

What do you think? Click “Comments” below. We want your thoughts!

Menu Moments: What To Eat At The Duck

Everyone loves the Black Duck. But admit it: With its wings, stuffed burgers, fried shrimp, po’ boys, onion rings and beers, it’s no one’s first choice when someone says, “Let’s eat healthy!”

Yet that doesn’t mean you can’t join the gang at the barge. Today, dietician Heather Bauer offers tips on the best, healthiest dishes to order at the Saugatuck landmark.

Appetizers:

Small house salad (the best option for vegan/vegetarian); oil/vinegar dressing

The Duck’s raw bar (6 oysters or 6 littlenecks)

Shrimp cocktail

Lobster cocktail ($20, but delicious)

Steamers (skip the butter on the side)

The Black Duck’s littleneck steamed clams (go easy on the butter and beer!)

Fish entrees

Broiled salmon (ask for a veggie side, instead of rice or potatoes)

Large house salad with shrimp or salmon on top (the best dressing option is oil/vinegar)

Steamers (skip the butter on the side, or go light)

1 1/4-pound steamed lobster (skip the butter and potato if you can; depending on the market price, this may be a great deal — it comes with a house salad) 

Meat entrees

Large house salad with grilled chicken or flat iron steak (the best dressing option is oil/vinegar)

House hamburger (choose the English muffin, and make it “topless” — take the top off, and eat with a fork and knife; ask for extra lettuce and/or tomato, and a side of coleslaw instead of fries or tater tots)

Turkey burger (again, order it “topless”; eat with a fork and knife; ask for extra veggies)

Take the top off a burger. (And avoid the sour cream.)

Vegetarian options

Iceberg wedge (without the bacon and blue cheese; ask for oil/vinegar dressing instead)

Veggie Burger (order it “topless”; ask for extra veggies and avocado on the side)

Bonus dining tip from Heather

Snack or not before you go?

You might think that a snack before you go out is a good way to avoid overeating, but it’s not always true. Be honest with yourself. Think about the times you’ve done this. Did you actually eat less at the restaurant, or was your overall intake that much more? Sometimes your pre-meal snack can increase your appetite, and decrease your self-control.

A Westport favorite, for decades. (Photo/Chou Chou Merrill)

Grizzly David Stalling

Dave Stalling grew up in Westport. After graduating from Staples in 1979 and earning a forestry degree from Paul Smith’s College in the Adirondacks, he enlisted in the Marines. He served in an elite Force Recon unit, and attained the rank of sergeant.

Dave then received degrees in journalism and wildlife at the University of Montana. He has worked for the US Forest Service, National Wildlife Federation, Trout Unlimited and other conservation groups, and served 2 terms as president of the Montana Wildlife Federation.

Dave currently works as a writer, editor and activist (click here for his blog). He lives in Missoula with his son Cory. 

Dave Stalling and his son Cory.

Recently, Dave was interviewed about his passion for protecting wild places and grizzly bears. Among the podcast topics: how growing up in Westport helped shape his beliefs, values and life’s work. Here’s an excerpt:

My dad was a pretty interesting guy. He grew up during the Depression and did a lot of fishing and crabbing and hunting, mostly to help feed his family. He quit high school after Pearl Harbor, and joined the Marine Corps. He was in some horrendous battles; he fought on Iwo Jima, Saipan, Okinawa.

After the war, because he didn’t have a high school degree, he never really pursued his dreams. He actually wanted to get into wildlife and forestry and move to Montana, so I kind of lived my dad’s life. He was incredibly knowledgeable, self-taught about wildlife.

We did a lot of hiking, camping and backpacking. Growing up on Long Island Sound, in Westport, Connecticut, we spent a ton of time pursuing fish that migrate up and down the East Coast, called striped bass.

Dave Stalling cooks dinner. These are not striped bass.

We would fish for them mostly at night. We would go out there, and he’d take a kind of scientific approach to it all. He kept track over many years of what times of year, what the moon was, what tides were, and where he would catch these fish.

Maybe he would set up on the northeast corner of Cockenoe Island at a certain tide during a certain moon in October, and catch these big migratory bass that come through. We would catch them up to 40 or 50 pounds, but there’s been stripers netted in commercial fishing boats that were over 100 pounds. They’re big fish. And really good eating fish.

What really helped influence me was my father went far beyond just teaching me how to catch fish. He was very passionate about the wilds. He taught me about sandpipers, horseshoe crabs, jellyfish, sea robins, scallops, mussels, lobsters — everything that made up the world of the striped bass. He would tie it all together for me, and of course talk about the importance of keeping healthy estuaries and that sort of stuff.

Dave Stalling

At the same time, he would get really sad and tell me stories. He’d point out places where there’s now big giant mansions along the East Coast, big estates and golf courses. He told me how when he was a kid those were salt marshes and estuaries, where he used to fish and crab.

It had dramatically changed in front of his eyes — which I can relate to now because I’ve been in Montana for over 30 years, and see the same kind of stuff. When I first moved here, I had permission to hunt on this ranch just outside of Missoula. It’s now Wal-Mart, Costco and all that development.

Parts of Montana are still pristine.

He taught me to go beyond the fishing, and really appreciate what sustained these fish. I guess through that I developed a really strong connection to the environment, to the wilds.

There’s also a desire to protect it all. At the time striped bass were rapidly declining, because of PCBs and other chemical pollutants in their spawning grounds, like the Chesapeake Bay and Hudson Bay. So I learned a lot about that.

He traveled up and down the New England coast, attending meetings and fighting to protect the striped bass that meant so much to him.

I got a lot from him, obviously. He was a good man. He passed away 16 or 17 years ago. I miss him every day.

To hear the complete interview, click below.

Emily Stone: An Athlete With A GOAL

Emily Stone grew up in a family of athletes.

Her brothers Matt and Rob were Staples High School baseball stars; they now play at Georgetown and Holy Cross, respectively. Matt was starting catcher on Westport’s 2013 Little League World Series national finalist team.

Emily’s dad Rob scored one of the most famous goals in Staples soccer history: the dramatic game-winner in the 1982 state championship. Her mother Elise was a top swimmer at Harvard University, where she was also recruited for softball.

Emily — a rising Staples senior — is a top-level softball and volleyball player. (She also writes for the school newspaper Inklings, and is a member of the Random Acts of Kindness Club.)

Emily Stone, playing softball for Staples.

But while growing up here — playing sports, moving through Saugatuck Elementary and Bedford Middle Schools — she started to realize that most of the media coverage went to boys sports.

She thought things would get better at Staples. After all, school sports are covered by Title IX.

They did — a bit. But although the Board of Education funds boys and girls sports equally — in terms of coaches’ salaries, uniforms and basic equipment — Emily was frustrated that boys teams seemed to have much better-funded booster clubs than girls.

Private fundraising allows teams to augment Board of Ed. funding.

Emily asked her mother — who after years of serving on volunteer boards, knows a thing or two about fundraising — what, realistically, could be done.

As they talked, Emily came up with an idea: a booster club that would raise money for all girls sports in Westport.

This winter, Girls Offering Athletic Leadership — GOAL, for short — was born.

Its mission statement is clear: “helping level the playing field for local girls sports programs by fundraising for, and financing, underfunded teams.”

(From left) Emily and Elise Stone; GOAL board member Colleen Dougherty, and next generation ambassador Niamh Dougherty.

GOAL already has 501(c)(3) status. Its first fundraiser — an auction and raffle held at Emily’s home — was a great success.

The first grant recipient was announced there. GOAL will help pay expenses for the Connecticut Gators softball team to participate in the national tournament in Maryland. Without that help, some players and coaches could not go.

Emily has many fundraising ideas for the future. One is a “team player sponsorship”: a business would pledge, for example, a certain amount for every home run a certain softball player hits each season.

Also ahead: social media, and a website.

“I’m just a high school kid,” Emily says. “But I’m really passionate about this. I’m humbled and honored that so many people trust me, and believe in girls sports the way I do.”

(For more information, email emstone1022@gmail.com)

Fine Arts Festival: Calling All Kids (And Adults)!

Westport’s Fine Arts Festival draws painters, photographers, sculptors — and art lovers — from around the country.

Plenty of residents browse stroll the stalls on Main Street.

But for a town that prides itself on its arts heritage, the number of local artists showing is limited.

This weekend (July 20 and 21, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.), we’ll get our fill.

Following last year’s successful pilot, the Artists Collective of Westport hosts 2 activity tents for kids and parents. Set up at at Brooks Corner, they’re a spot for kids to show off their creatives sides. Drawing, rock painting, origami — you name it, it’s there for children to do.

Action in last year’s Fine Arts Festival children’s tent.

New this year, the Collective will set up a giant Art Experience tent on Taylor Place, near Tiffany.

Over 20 Collective artists have volunteered. There will be several at a time, leading interactive projects and demonstrating techniques and media. Among them: clam shells, eggs, ceramics, murals, wire, camera-less photos, Band-Aids, folded paper, paint and more. Susan Fehlinger is the Collectivist in chair.

Westport Artists Collective co-founder Miggs Burroughs remembers when he was a boy. His father Bernie was president of the Westport Artists Club. Miggs, his brother Trace, and many other local kids grew up surrounded by art. Illustrators, cartoonists and painters seemed to be everywhere — always giving back to the community.

“I have a great sense of pride carrying out his legacy, in some small part, by helping the Collective keep the visual arts alive and lively for generations to come.”

Some of this art may be featured in the Experience Tent.

Miggs will be in the tent, at the 46th annual Fine Arts Festival. He and many others will be working with youngsters at  Brooks Corner too.

Odds are good they’ll inspire at least one young artist. In 2083 — at Westport’s 109th Festival — he or she may be giving back to the next generation, just like Miggs and his very talented colleagues will do this weekend.

(The Fine Arts Festival — and the Westport Artists’ Collective participation in it — is a partnership with the Westport Downtown Merchants Association. For more information on the Festival, click here.) 

Nyala: New World Champion

“Nyala” is back in the news. This time, it’s international.

Westporters of a certain age have heard of Nyala Farm. That’s the office complex tucked into rolling hills and meadows between I-95, the Sherwood Island Connector and Greens Farms Road.

It is not a cute, throwback name. Back in the day it was an actual, working dairy farm. In 1910, E.T. Bedford bought 52 acres in Greens Farms.

(Photo courtesy of Paul Ehrismann)

His son, Frederick T. Bedford, named the property in honor of the beautiful nyala (antelope) he’d seen on an African safari.

In 1970 Stauffer Chemical developed their world headquarters there. It was Westport’s first corporate office park. Today, Bridgewater — the world’s largest hedge fund — is a major tenant.

But this morning’s Nyala news is nautical.

Nyala is the name of a racing vessel. Yesterday, it won the 12 Metre World Vintage Division Championship, off Newport, Rhode Island.

The International Twelve Metre Association event drew 21 boats from 6 countries. That’s the largest fleet ever gathered in North America.

Nyala, in action.

The name is no coincidence. The Nyala sailboat was commissioned by F.T. Bedford, president of the Standard Oil Corporation. She was given as a wedding present to his daughter Lucy and her new husband, Briggs Cunningham.

(He is credited with inventing the “Cunningham hole,” still used today to provide luff tension in a mainsail.)

After restoration in 1996, Nyala attended the 2001 Jubilee regatta in Cowes, off the UK. She won the 12-Metre Worlds in Barcelona in 2014.

Nyala had already secured the 2019 championship, before yesterday’s final day of racing.

She didn’t have to sail. But Patrizio Bertelli took her out anyway. Nyala posted her 8th victory in 9 races.

Next up: This weekend’s New York Yacht Club 175th Anniversary Regatta.

Bridgewater may want to send a cheering section.