Tag Archives: Bernie Burroughs

“Main Street To Madison Avenue” Opens Tomorrow On Riverside

When the Westport Arts Center announced its next exhibition — “Main Street to Madison Avenue,” honoring Westporters’ involvement in advertising and art over the last 70 years — folks flocked to offer items.

Children, grandchildren and surviving spouses scoured studios, attics and basements to find sketches, paintings and storyboards. WAC officials had expected some interesting submissions. But they were stunned at how much had lain around, unnoticed and untouched for years.

One of the people was Miggs Burroughs. A noted artist and photographer himself, he hauled in his father’s portfolio. In the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, Bernie Burroughs was one of those Westporters whose drawings helped influence consumer habits around the country — and eventually the world.

Miggs had not looked at some of his father’s work for decades. The Arts Center staff was fascinated by it.

After a couple of hours, Miggs casually mentioned Bernie’s van Heusen ad campaign — which Andy Warhol later appropriated.

That fit in perfectly with the “Main Street to Madison Avenue theme.” In addition to paying homage to Westporters, the show examines nationally known artists who were influenced by the iconic design and aesthetic of that era.

And when Warhol used Bernie Burroughs’ work, his model was Ronald Reagan.

“That’s the whole point of this show: making those connections,” WAC executive director Amanda Innes says.

“Van Heusen 356,” by Andy Warhol — based on work by Bernie Burroughs.

Miggs had another surprise for the WAC curators. He said that as a child, he’d go to the Westport station with his dad. When the train pulled in, Bernie would hand his portfolio to the conductor — along with some cash.

The conductor delivered it to Bernie’s New York ad agency. That was common practice, Miggs said.

“Conductor,” by Bernie Burroughs, is part of the Westport Arts Center show.

“That’s a great story about trust,” Innes says.

“But it also shows the anonymity of these artists. They created the work, but they didn’t sign them. They weren’t invited to ad meetings. They didn’t even own the art — the agencies did.”

Part of the reason for this show, she says, is to “honor the men who created so much of this iconic imaging and branding.” (And yes, everyone in this show — like nearly all of Madison Avenue then — is male.)

The Arts Center show opens tomorrow (Friday, April 21, reception from 6 to 8 p.m.). On display is original art and advertisements from illustrators like Bernie Burroughs, Al Parker and Bernie Fuchs. Hung alongside are works by artists like Andy Warhol, Walter Robinson and Richard Prince, who appropriated so much of that material.

Westport artist Bernie Fuchs painted this for Pepsi. He also created art for Coke. Both are displayed in the WAC show.

Innes has had a great time — and an excellent education — mounting the exhibit. For example, hearing it was in the works, Harold Levine headed over. He spent 2 hours regaling Innes about his career.

He had a lot to talk about. In addition to co-founding (with Chet Huntley) a legendary ad agency, he knew Warhol when the struggling young artist asked him for work.

Sadly, Levine will not be there tomorrow. He died in February, at 95.

But that gives you an idea of the kind of show it will be.

Part of Jonathan Horowitz’s “Coke/Pepsi,” on display at the Westport Arts Center. He draws upon the work of Andy Warhol — who in turn appropriated advertisements drawn by Westport artists.

Simultaneously, the WAC will showcase 30 works by high school students. The show is juried by treasured Westport artists Ann Chernow and Leonard Everett Fisher.

Tomorrow evening, a Westport student will receive the Tracy Sugarman Award — named for another of our most famous artists.

That award — and the entire show — is a great way to tie our artistic/advertising past in with our consumer culture present. It’s also a chance to highlight the next generation of local artists.

Some day, some may gain fame for their paintings. Some may toil anonymously, but have their works seen by millions.

And — like the professionals featured in the new Westport Arts Center show — some may do both.

(During tomorrow’s opening reception for “Main Street to Madison Avenue,” the video room will run a loop of advertisements — including some from Harold Levine’s agency. The show runs through June 22.)

Thoughts Before The Wrecking Ball

Tom Kretsch is a retired educator, an excellent photographer, and — since 1974 — a resident of Wakeman Place. He and his neighbors, the Burroughs family, have been friends for years.

Sometime soon, the Burroughs’ home will be razed. Tom sent along these thoughts on the impending demolition.

Gazing across the street, my eyes are fixated on the parched land once filled with a seemingly forested landscape of hemlocks, rhododendrons, tall pines and several towering oaks. The trunk of a once mighty oak rests on the back roof, which the final slice of the tree man’s saw sent crashing through what was once the studio and home of Esta and Bernie Burroughs.

Peering through the broken windows in the living room are the bare walls where their collection of funky artifacts (including Bernie’ s paintings) were gathered from art shows and places like United House Wrecking long before this sort of collecting and decorating was in vogue.

Walking along the side of the house and into the backyard brings back memories of the magical place it was.  A small swimming pool that Bernie helped create was the focal point of a garden of statues, shaded trees, a funky gazebo and pathways around the pool that led to gardens of shaded plants along a small stone wall.

The Burroughs' house in 1974 -- the day Miggs was married in the back yard.

The Burroughs’ house in 1974 — the day Miggs was married in the back yard.

The back of the house was adorned with signs like “The Remarkable Bookstore” (where Esta  worked for so many years), “Gentleman’s Clothing” (which Bernie made for a friend), and  “Woodman’s Ice Cream Store” (a sign found at some tag sale).

On summer nights friends seemed to gather nightly for little parties. They were the artists of Westport, as Bernie was a fine illustrator. Their social comings and goings often centered around that community, a vibrant part of Westport in those days. We could hear their laughter and joy as we sat on our screened front porch.

Our houses were actually mirror images of each other, built by the same builder back in 1938. My wife Sandi and I aspired to make our place as artistic as theirs. Following the sign example, we bought one in the Berkshires for $3. It said “Homemade Candies and Cookies.” We thought it would look artsy on the front of our house, but after several knocks on the door from people wanting to purchase cookies and then a call from our insurance company asking whether we had started a business in our home, we moved the sign to a less conspicuous place.

And so the Burroughs home awaits the final wrecking ball, a familiar scenario in this town. A new structure will arise, hopefully a tasteful and graceful one that will fit the contours of the land and melt into the fabric of the street. To the unwary driving by, the house now looks like an eyesore deserving of destruction. But for us there is sadness in seeing a place once of such beauty and style standing naked and broken, with but the memories of what used to be.

The Burroughs' house today. The wrecking crew arrives soon.

The Burroughs’ house today. The wrecking crew arrives soon. (Photo/Tom Kretsch)

Time brings change, and things left to their original being are often difficult to fix and salvage. It is easier to tear them down and start from scratch. Over the last years while she was living there, Esta graciously offered me a few of the signs that adorned the outside of the home. Miggs, her son, gave me the “Gentleman’s Quarters” sign during the final days of the salvaging period. This and the others now adorn our home, and remind us of what an inspiration their classy home was to us.

The morning light dances across the old red house that once stood gloriously on Wakeman Place: not a mansion by today’s standards, but truly a unique home that was cared for and loved by a wonderful couple. Like the place Esta worked in, it was “Remarkable.” It is sad to see it go.