Tag Archives: Andrew Bentley

[OPINION] Eve Potts: Another Former WHS Board Member Speaks Out

Among the many longtime Westporters — and Westport Historical Society volunteers — who are saddened, distressed and/or outraged by the recent decision of the newly rechristened Westport Museum for History & Culture to remove the Sheffer name from the exhibition gallery to accommodate a new donation, it’s hard to find one with a deeper, stronger connection than Eve Potts.

She joined the WHS board in the 1970s. Here are her thoughts on the changes at the downtown institution, whose own history dates back to 1889.

Eve writes: 

This is a sad, sad story. The present Westport Museum for History & Culture embarked on making a transformational change without the benefit of any knowledge of its own history.

Mollie Donovan was, like many other Westporters, a longtime Historical Society volunteer with an interest in the arts.

Unfortunately a huge vacuum, left by the deaths of an incredible number of faithful, knowledgeable unpaid volunteers like Barbara Raymond, Katie Chase, Susan Wynkoop, Mollie Donovan, Barbara Van Orden and Maggie Fesko, enabled a strategic plan to be put into place that changed the focus of the Society and decommissioned the period rooms, to make way for “museum quality programs and exhibits.”

And now, the announcement that the Sheffer Gallery will be erased and replaced by a name that is totally unknown to most Westporters: the Offutt Gallery.

I have been on the board of the Westport Historical Society since the late 1970s, when we used the home across the street as our headquarters and looked longingly at handsome Wheeler House, then occupied by the elderly Mrs. Avery.

At the time, Betty Sheffer (Ann Sheffer’s mother) and Shirley Land curated the costume collection. They spent many hours conserving and documenting the vintage materials.

The Sheffers, from the very start, were totally supportive, and financially available to help achieve the goals of the Historical Society (as well as every other non-profit organization in Westport).

Ann has always had a world-view vision, and a hands-on ability to bring together diverse factions to reach the goals we all were striving to meet. For Ann, Bill and her family to be handled in such a thoughtless and cavalier fashion by the present board is simply not in the tradition of the stated mission of the Westport Historical Society.

When Mrs. Avery died, I went over to Town Hall to check out the Probate Court records. I discovered that the house had been left to Christ & Holy Trinity Episcopal Church.

Along with Eleanor Street, Joan Dickinson, Barbara Elmer, Bob Gault, Peggy Henkle, Mollie Donovan, Fran Thomas, Barbara Van Orden and a group of other active unpaid volunteers, we worked with the church to put together a plan to purchase the house.

Our goal was $300,000. Through massive fundraising events — and the support of Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, and the combined fundraising efforts of Jo Fuchs, Connie Anstett and many willing volunteers — we managed to come up with the funds, as well as the expertise to refurbish the house to its Victorian era splendor.

Wheeler House, on Avery Place.

In 1987 I wrote the book, “Westport…A Special Place,” with Howard Munce as its graphic designer. All of our efforts and expenses were totally without charge to the Society. In addition, we contributed all funds (well over $100,000) from that effort to the WHS, to support future publications to benefit the Society.

Those funds have supported the publication of a whole string of other important historical publications and videos. [NOTE: The Eve Potts Book Fund supported publication of my own book, “Staples High School: 120 Years of A+ Education.” — Dan Woog]

In 2014, with incredible support from then-president Dorothy Curran and the board, we mounted a very successful exhibit. “Cover Story” (in the Sheffer Gallery!) was admired by Fiona and  Andrew Bentley, along with thousands of visitors.

So intrigued were Andrew and Fiona with the artistic New Yorker history of Westport that Andrew got in touch with me. We collaborated on a book about the New Yorker covers.

The cover of Eve Potts and Andrew Bentley’s book.

Thanks to the vision of Ed Gerber, who was president at the time, the book — “The New Yorker in Westport” — was published without cost to the WHS, with funds from the Bentleys and from the Potts Book Fund.

All funds raised from the sale of that publication have gone directly to the Society’s regular yearly budget. They were desperately needed at that time for necessary repairs, including a roof, new furnace and lighting system. The book continues to sell well, and funds continue to go to the WHS annual budget.

It is pitiful to see how all the hard work of so many dedicated Westport volunteers over so many years has been totally disregarded in a determined effort to erase the past by the unwitting actions of the present Westport Museum hierarchy.

Minimalist Poolhouse Packs Maximum Punch

Beachside Avenue’s most famous sculpture — Claes Oldenburg’s 19-foot, 10,000-pound typewriter eraser — is gone. Its new home is the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach, Florida.

Nearby, a new project looks like a new sculpture.

It’s not. It’s a poolhouse.

And you’re not even supposed to really see it.

This month Architecture Digest explores the structure, on the sloping lawn of Andrew Bentley and Fiona Garland’s home.

A broad view of the poolhouse. (Photo/Paul Rivera for Architectural Digest)

Designed by Roger Ferris, and “magnificently minimalist in form,” the poolhouse is built underneath “a verdant berm….Save for the skylight that runs the length of its green roof, the building is hardly visible as you approach it.”

But it certainly is something.

“Elegant concrete walls bookend a 75-foot long pool (and) a generous living-dining room with a Grayson Perry tapestry….While the northern side of the floor plan, tucked into the earth, contains the kitchen, bath, and changing areas, the south-facing window wall offers breathtaking views of the Long Island Sound.”

The pool is framed by window walls, Douglas fir paneling, and a tapestry by Grayson Perry. (Photo/Paul Rivera for Architectural Digest)

It seems like an amazing poolhouse. Andrew and Fiona have great taste; Roger Ferris does inspired work, and Becky Goss of The Flat consulted on the furnishings.

Now I really want to see their mudroom!

The Fall Of The House(s) Of Harvey Weinstein

Yesterday, Harvey Weinstein went down to Manhattan Criminal Court, and was arrested on sexual assault charges.

Soon, several of his former Westport homes will go down too.

Applications to demolish the properties at 26 and 28 Beachside Avenue — adjacent to Burying Hill Beach — have been filed with the town.

The 8,896-square foot home, and 2 other houses, were sold in February to Andrew Bentley, for $16 million. He already owns several other properties on Beachside.

In 2012, Weinstein’s main house was the site of a fundraiser for the re-election of President Obama. Among the guests joining the president at the $38,500-per-person event: Anne Hathaway, Aaron Sorkin, Anna Wintour, Joanne Woodward, Jerry Springer and Governor Malloy.

Bentley told “06880”: “We have engaged the Westport-based, world-class architectural firm of Roger Ferris + Partners to design a house for the property. With their local roots and global vision, we are confident they will produce something that is right for the location.”

The presidential motorcade at Harvey Weinstein’s Beachside Avenue house, in 2012. (Photo/White House pool, courtesy of WestportNow)

Historical Society’s New Exhibit Looks Forward — Not Back

Since 1889, the Westport Historical Society has focused on our town’s past.

From now through the end of 2017, it’s looking ahead.

Specifically, to 2067.

06880 + 50: Visions of Westport” is not as outlandish as it seems. The Historical Society’s exhibit — local architects’ ideas about this place, half a century from now — includes intriguing aspects, like what we’ll do with parking lots once we move around in driverless cars.

This contribution — from Roger Ferris + Partners — focuses on the Saugatuck River. In the future, it could be a unifying element between the east and west banks. New buildings, parks and community features will be constructed on both sides — and the river itself will be revitalized.

But there are some back-to-the-future elements too. One contribution, for example, envisions neighborhoods filled with clustered housing, walking paths, open space and farms providing much of the food — a way of life that Westporters centuries ago might recognize.

The intriguing exhibit had its genesis last year. Andrew Bentley — a member of the WHS advisory board, and a man committed as much to the future as the past — wondered what would happen if the organization cast its eye beyond old houses, toward new ones.

The WHS asked 40 architects who live or work in Westport to submit ideas about what this place will look like 50 years from now.

Andrew Bentley

Bentley chose 50 years because it is the Goldlilocks of futurism. Ten years from now, we’ll still have single family Colonial homes. A hundred years may bring Jetsons-style stuff.

Five decades, Bentley says, is “the sweet spot. Architects can release their inhibitions, without being crazy.”

More than a dozen responded. The request was open-ended — and so are the concepts.

Mounted on the WHS walls, they range from a full town plan, to a school design, to new street lamps.

They include a beautiful S-shaped pavilion and park behind Main Street, in space freed up by new modes of transportation. There’s a high-speed ferry terminal, linking the Saugatuck River with New York.

Homes may be made of innovative materials. One way to avoid teardowns is building houses using modular pieces, like Legos. Instead of demolishing entire structures, they could be modernized by replacing outmoded parts.

Some projections are practical. Others are fanciful. All are worth seeing.

Architect Robert Cohen drew this bridge. He foresees it linking 2 Coleytown gems: the Newman Poses Preserve and Blau Gardens.

Each contributor has been invited to present an hour-long “brown bag talk” about their visions, with Q-and-As to follow. They’ll be scheduled weekly, throughout the fall.

Bentley hopes that the exhibit spurs attendees into thinking about what Westport can be.

At the same time, he says, it will help us appreciate the talents and visions of the architects currently living and working here.

This is a very intriguing and enterprising project.

And perhaps — say, 50 years from now — the Westport Historical Society can revisit it, with a retrospective of what the town thought 2067 might look like, way back in that crazy year of 2017.

(The “06880 + 50: Visions of Westport” opening reception is this Friday, September 22, 6 to 8 p.m. The exhibit runs through December 31. For more information, click here.)

Save Cockenoe: Then And Now

Last month, “06880” previewed Walter and Naiad Einsel’s estate sale. I don’t usually promote that stuff — but the longtime local artists’ Victorian farmhouse was filled with thousands of pieces of folk art, antiques, paintings, prints and advertising items. It seemed like a great Westport tale.

Andrew Bentley was one of the many art lovers who was there. He says it was “more like a folk art museum than a house.”

Andrew wandered past mechanical toys, kinetic sculptures and books of illustrations, on into Naiad’s studio. Magic markers, colored pencils and scissors were all in place, as if she had gone downstairs for coffee.

Thumbing through a stack of posters, he spotted a large envelope. Inside was a shimmer of gold and bronze. Removing it, he discovered a beautiful metallic silk-screened “Save Cockenoe Now” poster.

save-cockenoe-now-poster

Bentley knew it was from the late 1960s, when Westporters opposed a plan to build a nuclear power plant on the island just a mile off Compo Beach. (Click here for that full, crazy story.)

But he’d only seen a black-and-white thumbnail-sized image of the poster, in Woody Klein’s book on the history of Westport.

Suddenly, he held an original. After nearly 50 years, he says, “the colors were still electric.”

Andrew turned to the stranger beside him. He explained that the poster represented a perfect confluence of Westport’s artistic heritage, revolutionary spirit and environmental priorities.

Then, in another Westport tradition, he gathered up as many posters as he could find, negotiated a bulk discount, and made a list of friends in town who deserved a gift.

In 1967, Westporters saved Cockenoe.

In 2016, Andrew saved its posters.

Both stories are worth telling.

(PS: Andrew Bentley designed the logo for The Flat — the new Railroad Place spot that mixes design, art and objects with contemporary lighting, accessories and jewelry. Owner Becky Goss has a few framed Save Cockenoe Now posters there, ready for sale.)

 

Mike Goss Covers Westport

You can’t judge a book by its cover. But you can sure judge Westport by its New Yorker covers. Also by the 20 photos of the exact spots depicted on those covers, taken lovingly by Mike Goss and exhibited now, side by side, at the Westport Historical Society.

The photographic reproductions are astonishingly well done. They’re taken in the same season the covers were painted or sketched, at the same time of day and in the same light. The moods of each image and painting match. Taken together, they show Westport — then and now — in all its gorgeous, small town, maritime, bustling, artsy glory.

What is particularly remarkable is that Goss came late to the craft of photography. And the exhibit itself was designed long after “The New Yorker in Westport” — the wonderful book by Eve Potts and Andrew Bentley — was in proofs. It shows 50 full-size covers of Westport scenes, by artists like Charles Addams, Perry Barlow, Whitney Darrow, Jr., Albert Hubbell, Garrett Price and Charles Saxon.

Mike Goss, on the other side of the camera.

Mike Goss, on the other side of the camera. (Photo/Helen Klisser During)

Goss spent his professional career as a financial executive. After retiring in 2013, he took a few classes in one of his hobbies: photography.

Bentley — who had already written his “New Yorker” book — asked his friend Goss to take a few promotional photos.

Bentley liked what he saw. Goss took more. He showed nearly 2 dozen to the Westport Historical Society, and the Westport Arts Center’s Helen Klisser During. An exhibit was born.

Taking those photos was far harder than point-and-shoot. Each cover showed a different season. Goss created a spreadsheet, so he could take each image at the right moment. He tried to mimic the covers as much as possible, including light, color, even blurred lines.

His first photo, of Round Pond in the snow, was shot last February. Others had to wait for summer. “I drove by the beach for weeks, waiting for a lifeguard chair to appear,” Goss recalls, of another memorable cover.

Round Pond -- then and now. (Photo/Copyright Mike Goss)

Round Pond — then and now. (Photo/Copyright Mike Goss)

There were other challenges too.

“Artists can take licenses with their paintings,” he notes. “They can move buildings around, and eliminate overhead wires.”

A photographer can’t do that. As a result, he says, “some photos are not as bucolic as the covers.”

Some of the artwork was “cartoon-y,” Goss adds. A 1955 magazine cover showing construction of the Connecticut Turnpike showed a beautiful tree-lined street on one side, with steam shovels digging in a straight line on the other.

He spent hours trying to find attractive lines, before ending up one night on an I-95 overpass. That photo did not make it into the main exhibit. It’s shown instead in a side exhibit, “The Cutting Room Floor,” alongside other images that did not quite work.

The Bridge Street Bridge was a favorite spot in 19xx. It remains an icon today. (Photo/Copyright Mike Goss)

The Bridge Street Bridge was a favorite spot in 1954. It remains an icon today. (Photo/Copyright Mike Goss)

Others work fantastically. Goss loves his Round Pond shot, tinted blue and with the sun shining through trees. He’s also very proud of the deli counter at Oscar’s. Those 2 could stand on their own, he says.

Others would not. A dark picture of the train station is “ugly” — just like the original cover. Yet “complementing each other, they’re very interesting.”

The entire process taught Goss the value of a collection. “If we just did one cover, it might not have been interesting. But when you put them all together, you get a real sense of what Westport is all about.”

There’s a certain sense of history — but also timelessness — at the Historical Society exhibit. The bunting in Goss’ photo of the Westport Country Playhouse balcony matches Helen Hokinson’s 1936 painting almost exactly. The rafters and balustrade are almost identical too.

The Westport Country Playhouse -- yesterday and today. (Photo/Copyright Mike Goss)

The Westport Country Playhouse — yesterday and today. (Photo/Copyright Mike Goss)

Another strong image is of the railroad tracks in Saugatuck. A 1963 cover captures the beauty, in a strong black and blue painting. Goss does the same.

Just as there is whimsy in New Yorker covers, some photos elicit smiles. Next to 1961 artwork of children reading comics on a green Sunday morning, Goss captured his own kids in the same sort of setting — reading iPads.

Goss spent 6 months on this project, and took thousands of photos. You can see them at the Westport Historical Society through October 26 (weekdays 10 a.m.-4 p.m.; Saturdays 12-4 p.m.).

They’ll also live forever on his website: mikegossphotography.com.

(Interested in the “New Yorker in Westport” book? Thanks to the generosity of Andy and Fiona Bentley and the Potts Book Fund, every cent of the $40 cover price goes directly to the Historical Society. Click here to order.)

The cover of Eve Potts and Andrew Bentley's book.

The cover of Eve Potts and Andrew Bentley’s book.