Last summer, the Westport Arts Advisory Committee and MoCA Westport began work on the first in an annual exhibition drawn from the Westport Public Art Collections.
The inaugural show — “The Westport Idea” — opened in January. It ends this Saturday (March 12). WAAC chair Nancy Diamond writes:
In 1968 Ann Chernow moved from New York to Westport, where her art school friend and future husband Burt Chernow already lived. Ann had no idea there were artists in Westport; she was looking for a good school system for her children.
She also did not know that since 1964, Burt had been collecting works from his artist friends and colleagues to create the Westport Schools Permanent Collection.
“Burt’s dream was to make fine art a daily part of students’ lives,” Ann says. He was an artist himself and a teacher at Greens Farm Elementary School. With no assistance and no budget, Burt began the collection that has grown to more than 2000 works today.
Walking around the Gallery at MoCA, Ann is flooded with memories.
Standing before a colorful painting (Boy’s Head, 1964) by modernist painter Paul Camacho, Ann recalls. “Burt, our children and I were good friends with Paul and his family.” WestPAC now has more than 30 of Paul’s works. Three are on exhibit at MoCA.
Of her own work in the gallery, (Hercules, 1976), Ann explains, “It’s the only silk screen I’ve ever done. It turned out I was allergic to the materials.”
The piece is based on Bette Davis. When the legendary actress (and Westport resident) heard Ann was working on it, she visited the studio to check up on it.
Ann is riveted by Laszlo Moholy-Nagy’s crayon and pastel work, Chalk Composition (1946). “One day Baroness Hilla von Rebay, who was instrumental in developing the Guggenheim Museum, called Burt,” she says.
“Hilla asked whether he could stop by her Greens Farms home and possibly fix some paintings she had that were practically ruined. When he got there, Burt found this Maholy-Nagy, as well as a Kandinsky, rolled up on the windowsill.
“They were badly creased. Burt brought them home and flattened them, but you can still see the wrinkles behind the glass.
Photographer Larry Silver arrived in Westport a few years after Ann. When he got out of his car in 1973, he says, “I looked around and all I saw were pictures. The sky, the grass, the trees. I hadn’t even seen the water, but everything was a picture waiting for me to shoot.”
That day he and his wife Gloria found the least expensive house they could afford. He pulled out a check that he had received from a recent advertising campaign and handed it to the broker. “She probably was surprised when it didn’t bounce,” he says.
In 1996 he was invited by the Chinese city of Yangzou (now Westport’s sister city) to photograph their lifestyle. Six Dancers shows 6 deaf girls from the School for Blind and Deaf. They danced for us to a song called Mother, if I could only hear Your Voice Just Once. Larry says, “We all teared up. To do a portrait of the girls, I had to design this photo so each of the 6 faces were important.”
In 2021, Larry donated 30 compelling black and white photographs of his China trip to WestPAC.
Hanging below Larry’s photo at MoCa is a work by Bridgeport photographer Adger Cowans (Three Shadows, 1968). Larry met him 3 years ago. “His is a wonderful picture, reminiscent of the 1960’s styles of life in the streets. It’s beautifully designed.”
Larry had similar praise for Westport photographer Jerri Graham (Sisters, 2020). “This also is a beautifully designed, well-done picture. The girls look so carefree dancing, even wearing their COVID masks.”
In 2000, Westport’s Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Lynsey Addario made her first trip to Afghanistan to document the lives of women living under the Taliban. She returned there almost annually until 2014.
A Girl Visits a Shiite Shrine (2008) shows a young woman defiantly not wearing a veil. “The girl is centered in the picture and your eye goes right to her,” Larrysays. “It’s really good.”
Lynsey donated 33 images from her Afghanistan series to WestPAC in 2021.
The works of these Westport artists, as well as of their friends and colleagues, are on exhibit at MoCA in The Westport Idea through Saturday March 12. Click here for more information.