Tag Archives: Betty Lou Cummings

Library Trustees Issue “River Of Names” Statement

The Westport Library board of trustees has issued a statement regarding the River of Names mural. They say:

In recent days, we have listened to, heard, and read the comments from some members of the community regarding the decision of The Westport Library Board of Trustees to not reinstall the River of Names tile wall at The Westport Library.

To address the concerns raised and to avoid any misunderstandings, below is a timeline of the River of Names project:

  • The River of Names was a fundraising effort for a Library Capital Renovation project in the late 1990s (1997-98). Contributions ranging from $100 to $1,500 were sought. Former Second Selectwoman Betty Lou Cummings and Dorothy Curran, a trustee of the Library Board at that time, co-chaired and graciously led the effort.
  • Marion Grebow of Grebow Tile Fundraising Murals was contracted to create the tiles, which were installed onto a reinforced, interior wall on the Library’s Riverwalk Level. Thus, due to how they were adhered, tiles cannot be separated without causing damage. The entire wall is approximately 26 feet long and 6 feet tall and weighs nearly 6,000 pounds.

The River of Names was hung in the lower level of the Westport Library.

  • Plans for the Library’s 2017-19 Transformation Project called for the removal of the interior wall that held the River of Names and other walls on the Riverwalk Level to create a more open, light-filled enclosure that allowed for greater use of the space and views of the Saugatuck River. A space on the second floor was designated in the plans for the tile wall.
  • Prior to start of construction, the Library hired Crozier Fine Arts, a leading art storage and logistics firm, to remove the River of Names tile wall. The wall was professionally disassembled into sections, at considerable expense to the Library, in order to remove it safely.
  • Prior to removal, the tile wall and the individual tiles were each professionally and meticulously photographed for posterity and preservation.
  • Since the transformation build started, the River of Names has been in climate-controlled storage at the Crozier facility, at the Library’s expense.
  • To make sure future generations are aware of the project, the Library created a dynamic River of Names digital platform that showcases the tile wall in its entirety. It is available on the Library’s homepage.
  • As part of the original design for the Transformation Project, the tile wall was to be reinstalled in the renovated space on the upper level, outside the Children’s Library. It would have been mounted and wrapped around a corner, where patrons could see it and enjoy it for many years. This location was unequivocally rejected by the individuals involved in the original development of the tile wall because it wrapped around a corner.

(From left): Former 2nd Selectwoman Betty Lou Cummings, tile artist Marion Grebow and historian Dorothy Curran. All were involved in the River of Names project.

  • Upon the rejection of the proposed location, the builder, along with the trustees, re-analyzed the design and determined that there was no other suitable location in the building to re-hang the tile wall, according to the requirements provided by the individuals involved in the River of Names original development.
  • At that time, and for several years afterward, we explored, in earnest, both public and private locations in town to re-hang the River of Names on a reinforced wall. While one location was potentially identified, the funding to prep the space and reinstall did not exist.
  • The Library honors the donors whose names were recorded on the tile wall. Their names are listed on the new donor wall located at the main entrance that was designed as part of the recent Transformation Project.
  • In September 2019, the Library Board met and decided unanimously to keep the tile wall in storage, and cover the storage fees, hoping another location could be found. The Board informally discussed that paying to store the wall for an additional three years was reasonable.

The Westport Library (Photo/Lynn Untermeyer Miller)

  • In October 2021, as the town was reviewing its public art collection, the Board asked the Library staff to contact community partners to obtain their points of view on the River of Names. The staff reached out to representatives of the Town’s Art Advisory Council, TEAM Westport, and the Westport Museum for History and Culture. These organizations independently expressed concerns about historical inaccuracies and the lack of representation of diverse people who played a significant role in Westport’s history. These opinions have been shared publicly.
  • The Library’s Board of Trustees confirmed the decision to not reinstall the River of Names. The decision was made after years of thoughtful discussions, looking at multiple points of view and consideration of numerous factors.
  • In April 2022, members of the Board met with Dorothy Curran and Betty Lou Cummings and informed them that there was no place to reinstall the wall at the Library and reminded them that they were welcome to have it. The Library offered to pay storage through the end of the year, or longer, if they needed additional time.
  • The Library has offered and remains open to transfer ownership of the River of Names to any responsible party who demonstrates a reasonable interest.

The decision not to reinstall the tile wall was one made by the Library’s Board of Trustees and the Board alone. We appreciate that not everyone agrees with the board’s conclusion, and we understood that it might not be universally popular, but it was made in good faith based on the mission and values of the Library.

We love Westport for many reasons, and one of the things we cherish most is that Westporters are passionate and engaged. We believe that reasonable people can disagree, at times strongly, on an issue, and we support that conversation. In fact, it aligns with the Library’s stated commitment to empower the individual and strengthen the community through dynamic interaction and the lively exchange of ideas.

The Board advocates for civil conversations that are respectful and topical, not derogatory, or personal. We ask that varying points of view be shared respectfully and for the ongoing discussion to be one of learning, sharing, decency, courtesy, and growth.

We are grateful for our continued partnerships with the Town’s Art Advisory Council, TEAM Westport, and the Westport Museum for History and Culture. The Westport Library looks forward to continuing to work on our shared interests with the goals of enriching the lives of the residents of Westport and beyond. It is unfortunate that through this recent discourse, these organizations are being attacked for a decision the Library’s Board of Trustees made regarding the tile wall.

The motto of the Library is “open to all” — and we truly see it that way. That is not only those who agree with this decision or those who will disagree with a future decision. The Library is for everyone, a gathering space and a community resource. We are thankful to all who have reached out to share their thoughts constructively. Please know we have listened and regarded every opinion. And we look forward to sharing this community space — in the days, weeks, and years to come.

Sincerely,
Westport Library Board of Trustees

Friday Flashback #322

The Apple Festival has been gone now far longer than it ran.

But for 18 years — from 1982 to 1999 — it was one of the highlights of autumn in Westport.

Conceived by Staples High School PTA leader (and, later, 2nd Selectwoman) Betty Lou Cummings, it was a celebration of apples, apple cider, apple pies — and a huge fundraiser for Staples organizations.

Betty Lou Cummings and a gift basket filled with (probably) apples.

The fieldhouse was filled with up to 10,000 visitors. Booths, games, food, fun — it was all there. Any high school club or team could offer anything.

One of the most popular, year after year, was Staples Players’ Haunted House. Coming right before Halloween — and with teenage actors eager to entertain (and scare) little kids, it was a no-brainer.

The cast of Staples Players’ Haunted House.

Eventually, CLASP joined as a sponsor, and recipient of funds.

With Election Day around the corner, the Apple Festival also attracted politicians. Bob Dole showed up one year, stumping for someone I’ve long since forgotten.

Today, the Apple Festival — like the Great Race and Festival Italiano — is just a memory.

We’ve got new traditions, like the Slice of Saugatuck.

How do you like them apples?

(Friday Flashback is a regular “06880” feature. If you enjoy it, please click here to support this blog.)

Roundup: Mill Pond Fence, Betty Lou Cummings, Jackopierce …

Pristine views of Sherwood Mill Pond are back!

Fencing has been removed from the pedestrian pathway leading from the Old Mill parking lot to Compo Cove.

It was installed in December 2020, during water monitoring tests.

Signs warning against jumping into the pond near the tidal gates remain.

But the decades-old ritual — a rite of passage for many Westporters — still goes strong. (Hat tip: Oliver Radwan)

Fencing has been removed from Sherwood Mill Pond. The black poles remain. (Photo/Dan Woog)

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Have you heard about Westport’s scavenger hunt?

Hidden around town are 18 pieces of art, all inspired by town monuments, buildings and more that are part of the bicentennial quilt.

It’s part of a display in the Westport Museum of History & Culture. The show — in conjunction with MoCA Westport and CAMP Gallery — features textiles and other quilt-inspired artifacts. The hunt runs through August 20. Click here for details. (Hat tip: Dave Matlow)

1st Selectwoman and Police Chief Foti Koskinas hunt for clues. (Photo/Dave Matlow)

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Happy 88th birthday to former 2nd Selectwoman, Apple Festival founder and organizer, super-involved and multi-tasked civic volunteer, and all-around wonder woman Betty Lou Cummings!

She celebrated yesterday with her husband Tom. Not pictured below: all her tens of thousands of Westport fans.

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When Cary Pierce was a student at Staples High School, he got his first big break.

Hall & Oates failed to appear for a 1985 concert at Longshore — to be fair, they never signed a contract — so Cary’s band, Pseudo Blue, entertained instead. (Click here to read all about that strange day in Westport history.)

Cary went on to graduate from Staples in 1987. He kept playing guitar, and singing.

For nearly 35 years, Cary and his Southern Methodist University classmate Jack O’Neill have fronted Jackopierce. The band has shared stages with Dave Matthews, Counting Crows, Sheryl Crow, Lyle Lovett, Matchbox Twenty and Widespread Panic. They’ve performed in clubs and at colleges across America — and before 500,000 people at the Texas Motor Speedway.

Next Monday (August 15, 6 p.m.), Jackopierce comes to Milestone restaurant in Georgetown. The venue is small, so tickets will go quickly. Click here to purchase, and for more information.

No word on whether Hall & Oates will sit in too.

Jackopierce: Cary Pierce (right) and Jack O’Neill.

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Michael Scott crushed it.

The Staples High School Class of 2011 graduate — and star on the Wreckers state championship team — finished Juneau’s Ironman Alaska yesterday in an astonishing 10 hours, 18 minutes and 48 seconds.

He ignored stunning views to swim 2.4 miles in Auke Lake in 36:33. He biked 112 miles along the Glacier Highway in 5:49.09. Then he ran 26.2 miles through the lush Mendenhall Valley rainforest in 3:29:42.

That was good (great!) for 23rd place, out of 733 competitors — and 3rd out of 36, in his men’s age 25-29 age group.

Congratulations, Mikey. Now take a well=deserved rest!

Michael Scott

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Lifelong Westporter Anthony Gilbertie died last week, from complications of Parkinson’s. He was 84.

He was the 5th member of the Gilbertie family to serve on the RTM.

Anthony was devoted to Assumption Church, where he was a cantor for 13 years. Most recently, he was a US Postal Service carrier in Weston. Anthony enjoyed history, current events and the New York Yankees.

He was predeceased by all his siblings: John Jr, Mario, Linda Gilbertie-Bullard and Michael, and baby siblings Thomas and Gloria.

He is survived by his wife of 61 years, Diane Taylor-Gilbertie; children, Tom (Anne). Peter (Dee) and Nancy Gilbertie-Loshuk, and grandchildren Griffin Gilbertie, William Gilbertie, Thomas Gilbertie, Christopher Gilbertie and Jack Loshuk.

Anthony’s wake will be held Friday (August 12, 8:30 to 10:30 a.m. Harding Funeral Home). A Mass of Christian Burial will follow there at 11 a.m., followed by burial at Assumption Cemetery on Greens Farms Road. The family asks that all attendees wear masks, as some family members are immunocompromised.

In lieu of flowers, donation may be made to Assumption Church or The Parkinson’s Foundation.

Anthony Gilbertie

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Longtime Westporter Jeanne Wylie Crist died last week. She was 99 years old.

Jeanne married her Albany high school sweetheart, Robert “Mike” Crist in 1947 after working with the Naval Department in New York City. Two sons were born there before they moved to Westport, where Karen was born in 1956.

They lived in Westport for nearly 50 years before moving to Lenox, Massachusetts to be close to their daughter in 2011, when Mike’s health faltered.

They were members of Saugatuck Congregational Church, loved walking Compo Beach and cherished many friends. In retirement they purchased a cottage on Lake Bomoseen in Vermont, where Mike had enjoyed his childhood. Jeanne and Mike also traveled extensively throughout North America, Europe and Asia.

Jeanne was preceded by Mike in 2011, and their son, Robert “Lee” Crist in 1983 and Jeffrey Crist in 2017. She is survived by her daughter Karen (Matthew Miller), grandchildren Chas (Ashley), Geoffrey (Michelle) and Kaylee Wylie,  and great-grandchildren Charley, Nuala, Declan, Wylie and Penelope.

A graveside service will be held at Evergreen Cemetery in Westport, where she will be interred with her beloved Mike and 2 sons. To share memories and stories click here,

Jeanne Wylie Crist

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Tracy Porosoff thinks this dramatic photo shows a wasp beetle eating a cicada at the Compo Beach baseball fence.

Whatever it is, it’s a perfect way to start off our “Westport … Naturally” week.

(Photo/Tracy Porosoff)

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And finally … speaking of Jackopierce (as we were above): Here’s a little preview of their Milestene show:

(Keep the music coming! Please click here to support “06880.”)

Random Acts Of Kindness (Again)

Back in 1993, a little book called “Random Acts of Kindness” took the nation by storm.

Filled with examples of small things that brought big smiles — including kind acts by Coleytown Elementary School youngsters — it sparked a national movement. (And a cottage industry of books, over the next 30 years.)

In 1995, Westport PTA Council president Mimi Greenlee and 2nd Selectwoman Betty Lou Cummings co-chaired “Random Acts of Kindness Day” in Westport. First Selectman Joe Arcudi made it official.

All across town, kids collected mittens for people in need. The local Red Cross offered free CPR courses. The Westport Library waived fines for late books.

The Westport News’ Arnie Green noted a few other possible ways for Westporters to celebrate the day:

You are a pedestrian attempting the crossing at the Post Road and Main Street. The Mercedes bearing down on you stops well before the crosswalk you are in. The driver smiles and gives you a full-hand wave.

A usual, a UPS truck is parked beyond the last parking spot in the middle row at Brooks Corner, making it difficult for you to exit. The UPS driver appears and says, “Let me get this out of your way right now, and I’m sorry to have blocked you.”

The teenager, wearing a baseball cap backwards, and driving a modified Jeep, is cruising Main Street at what may be faster than the speed limit. You step off the curb. He slams his brakes to stop just short of you. He leaps from the Jeep and says, Boy, was I dumb to drive that fast. Please excuse me for scaring you.”

Not much has changed in 27 years, that’s for sure.

Whether 1995 or 2002, traffic has not gotten better on Main Street and in Brooks Corner. Time for kindness!

But 27 years later, both Mimi Greenlee and Betty Lou Cummings are alive and well. And very active in town.

In fact, on Wednesday Mimi emailed me all the information I’ve cited above. That was a very random act of kindness.

She did it because yesterday — February 17 — was the anniversary of Westport’s 1995 Act of Kindness Day.

I couldn’t get the story posted in time. That wasn’t very kind, I know. But the date doesn’t matter. It’s the thought that counts.

And the thought is a good one.

Just 2 years ago, random acts of kindness were all the rage. As the pandemic roared into town, Westporters delivered meals (and scarce toilet paper) to people who could not (or would not) leave their homes.

Others sewed masks, hung signs with encouraging slogans for first responders, and did thousands of other very random acts of kindness.

Today, only the rage remains. We are at each other’s throats over everything from mask wearing and vaccines to driving and parking. The Post Road and Brooks Corner are as gruesome as ever.

So — in as kindly a tone as I can muster — I wonder: Is it time for another Random Acts of Kindness Day?

Or maybe even an entire Week or Month this time.

If you think that’s a good idea, click “Comments” below. You might offer a few suggestions of kind acts yourself.

Of course, if you think it’s ridiculous, feel free to call me a soft, coddling !@#$%^&*. It’s a free country.

At least for a while.

PS: In 1995, I wrote in my Westport News “Woog’s World” column:The US Congress took time out from its important work of slashing welfare benefits, attacking Medicaid and declaring war on immigrants, homeless people and abortion doctors to declare all of next week Random Acts of Kindness Week.”

Not very kind, I know. But that too shows how little we’ve changed since the last millennium.

Roundup: Kentucky Aid, Urgent Care, Arnie’s Place …

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On the last Sunday before Christmas, Main Street is packed today with almost-last-minute shoppers.

While buying gifts for friends and loved ones, Steve Crowley hopes we’ll think about everyone in Kentucky whose holidays — and lives — were upended by last week’s tornadoes.

Steve — the owner of SCA Crowley Real Estate Services — has swung into action. He got a logo (courtesy of Miggs Burroughs) with the words “America Lends a Hand.” He ordered dozens of t-shirts, with the design.

Marty Rogers produced a sign. It’s in front of Vineyard Vines all day today, where Steve and his sons are selling the shirts, in return for donations to the Western Kentucky Relief Fund. 100% of all contributions go directly there.

In the midst of everything, stop in front of Vineyard Vines to help out. And, Steve says, if you can’t be there, send a tax-deductible check made out to “Team Western Kentucky Tornado Relief Fund,” c/o Public Protection Cabinet, 500 Metro Streeet, 218 NC, Frankfort, KY 40601.

Steve Crowley (right) and sons, selling t-shirts outside Vineyard Vines today.

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As the Omicron variant surges, and COVID cases soar, the Urgent Care center on Post Road East — which offers rapid testing i– has been swamped with patients.

As Bob Weingarten notes,  the line of cars there “has replaced the normal line at Starbucks” across the street.  .

(Photo/Bob Weingarten)

Hey: If there’s an accident at Urgent Care, at least you won’t go far for treatment.

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Marty Greenberg lives on the Saugatuck River, across from the Rowing club. Last night around 8:30, the “floating Christmas team” passed by, for the second time.

“What a sight! What a treat!” Marty says. “it’s a unique Westport thrill.”

Floating Christmas tree, across from the Saugatuck Rowing Club. (Photo/Marty Greenberg)

Readers: If you’ve got photos — or any other info on the floating Christmas tree, like when it will next ride the river — click “Comments” below.

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Sure, this is one of the busiest weeks of the year. But if you get a chance, stop in to the Westport Library’s Verso Studios holiday open house tomorrow (Monday, December 20, 7 p.m.).

The creative staff will show off their podcast, mixing and mastering equipment.  They’ll answer questions about audio and video creation, editing and post-production, including training courses.

Registration is requested, for planning purposes. Click here to RSVP, and learn more.

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Speaking of the library: Longtime and beloved Westport artist Roe Halper’s acrylic paintings will be on display there from January 5 to March 7.

There’s a reception January 13, and an artist’s talk February 10. Both begin at 7 p.m..

COVID got you worried? Contact Roe for a private viewing: http://www.roehalperart.com.

“Orange” (Roe Halper)

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Speaking of the Library: It can’t run without volunteers. Betty Lou Cummings was one of its staunchest.

She served many other organizations, including her fall festival baby, the Applel Festival. She was a Representative Town Meeting member, as well as a 2nd selectwoman.

Yesterday, Betty Lou and her husband Tom celebrated their 66th wedding anniversary. It was the same day I — and so many other Westporters — got their classic Christmas card, filled with photos of children, grandchildren, and random others.

Happy anniversary — and Merry Christmas — to one of our town’s favorite couples!

Betty Lou and Tom Cummings.

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Meanwhile, across Jesup Green from the Library, the Westport Book Shop continues to fill an important niche.

And the used book store does it with panache. Here’s their current sign:

(Photo/David Meth)

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Here’s a last-minute gift idea for anyone who remembers hours spent at Arnie’s Place arcade (or dreams about paying their taxes in pennies, as Arnie did).

Virginia Wong — the Westport native and entrepreneur who spent many happy hours at the controversial (to parents and town officials) and joyful (to kids) Post Road video arcade (now Ulta) — has reanimated the iconic graphic from Arnie Kaye’s long-running campaign to open, and stay open.

“I Support Arntie’s” t-shirts come in 4 colors. They’re perfect for any ’80s Westport kid.

Click here to order. But hurry! Tomorrow (Monday, December 20) is the cutoff for Christmas delivery.

“I Support Arnie’s” t-shirt, in pink.

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If you haven’t been to Compo Beach lately, you’ve missed serene winter “Westport … Naturally” scenes like this:

(Photo/Jonathan Prager)

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And finally … Edith Piaf was born on this day, in 1915. The French singer-songwriter. She died in 1963, just 47 years old. But she left quite a legacy behind.

Roundup: Betty Lou Cummings, Wizard Of Oz, Painting With A Twist, More


Back in the day — the mid-1950s — Betty Lou Cummings was a Michigan State University cheerleader — one of the first female cheerleaders in the entire Big Ten.

After moving to Westport, she became a cheerleader for Westport. She volunteered with a host of organizations — the Westport Library, Senior Center, CLASP Homes — and led the fall Apple Festival for 2 decades. She was elected to the Representative Town Meeting.

In the 1990s, she served as Westport’s 2nd selectman. She ran as a Republican, with Joe Arcudi.

In 2011, the Republicans gained control of several town boards and commissions, after a 14-year hiatus. “We’re back!” Betty Lou told WestportNow.

Now 86, Betty Lou Cummings still cheers for causes that are important to her. Yesterday, Michigan State played Rutgers in football. She dressed in green, gamely grinning through the bad loss.

She also cheered for her presidential candidate. But the longtime Republican is not supporting President Trump.

She’s a Joe Biden fan — as the sign outside her Saugatuck Shores home proudly shows.

In fact, the former Republican 2nd selectman is now a registered Democrat.


When Staples Players fans around the world turn in to tonight’s broadcast of “The Wizard of Oz” (6 p.m., WWPT, 90.3 FM; for the livestream, click here ), they’ll enjoy an old-fashioned radio broadcast, complete with sound effects, music and local ads.

Actors who normally perform on stage have been rehearsing — via Zoom, and occasionally together — for weeks. But other members of the high school’s award-winning troupe have been hard at work too.

Players head of computer sound effects/sound designer Brandon Malin sends along these behind-the-scenes photos. Here’s the live sound effects equipment in the WWPT-FM radio studio:

And here is the control room, where all the magic happens:

(Photos/Brandon Malin)


Painting With a Twist — the fun, quirky, do-it-yourself-together spot in the Julian’s Post Road shopping center near South Maple — is closing. Their last day after 7 years is December 12.

In a note to their fans, they say “the plaza where we are located is being converted for another use.”

They add:

We have had such fun, rewarding experiences with all of you and we carry so many happy memories of helping you celebrate your personal milestones, your festive gatherings with friends and family, and your creative nights out. We hope we have given all of you an escape from your cares and some joyful, festive time that has inspired you and uplifted your spirits.

The artists and I will all miss seeing your smiling faces and spending time in our beautiful studio, surrounded by all our colorful art and all the great music that ignites the soul.

But we still have almost 2 more months! So we hope you’ll come and enjoy some time with us. Plan your girls night out, holiday party, company team building event, date night, child’s birthday party, or just join a public class to forget your concerns and have some fun!

If you’d rather, you can paint in the comfort of home with one of our Twist at Home kits.


And finally … Jerry Jeff Walker died Friday, of complications from throat cancer. He was 78.

Best known for writing “Mr. Bojangles” after spending a night in a New Orleans drunk tank — though the song was not, as many people think, about the legendary tap dancer/actor/singer Bill “Bojangles” Robinson — Walker was also an enormously influential figure in the Austin music scene. He helped create “outlaw country,” popularized as well by Willie Nelson and others.

Remembering Marion Grebow

Marion Grebow — the artist whose ceramic “River of Names” mural delighted Westport Library visitors for 2 decades — died on Thursday. She was 66 years old.

The “River of Names” was a special fundraising project. Co-chairs Betty Lou Cummings and Dorothy Curran invited Grebow — a Stamford native who worked in sculpture, drawing, calligraphy, porcelain and, ultimately, ceramic tiles, and who was related to the Nevas family, longtime Westport philanthropists — to propose a design.

Marion Grebow (center), flanked by Betty Lou Cummings and Dorothy Curran.

Her plan grew to include 1,162 bas-relief tiles, tracing 350 years of town history. Residents present and past, non-profit organizations and local businesses contributed funds. Grebow then crafted individual tiles for each.

Some portrayed events like the founding of Westport and onion farming; others showed scenes like National Hall and Compo Beach, or noted the dates and names of families living in town.

Grebow envisioned the mural as a true “river” — not just of history, but as a metaphor. “If one stood at the far end of the mural and looked back across the surface pattern of the tiles, the dancing light looked like moonlight on flowing water,” Curran says.

The River of Names was hung in the lower level of the Westport Library.

After the River of Names was hung in the library’s lower level, Curran published a book about the mural. It included information about each tile, and serves as an additional resource for Grebow’s remarkable work.

When the library undertook its transformation project, no room could be found for the mural. It is now in storage, and lives on in digital form.

Grebow also produced works for New York’s 92nd Street Y and Temple Emanu-El, the Connecticut Audubon Society in Fairfield, and many others.

She is survived by her husband Gustav Olsen, and their sons Sam and Harald.

A graveside memorial service will be held tomorrow (Sunday, February 23, 11;30 a.m., Umpawaug Cemetery, 149 Umpawaug Road, Redding). A memorial service follows at her West Redding studio.

A few of the 1,162 River of Names tiles.

River Of Names Mural: Artist, Project Chairs Respond

Yesterday, the Westport Library responded to criticism of its decision to replace the River of Names mural — the massive artwork filled with 1,162 tiles depicting Westport history and residents — with a digitized version.

Part of the reason, officials said, was the objection of 3 of the original organizers of the 1997 fundraising project to hang the artwork on 2 adjacent walls, rather than as one long piece.

This morning, the 3 — Dorothy Curran, co-chair of the River of Names capital campaign, and author of a book accompanying the project; Betty Lou Cummings, chair of the same campaign, and Marion Grebow, the artist who created every individual tile — respond to the library’s response, and the “06880” comments that followed.

Much has changed in the 22 years since our project began.

The important parts have not. The much-celebrated artistic and financial success of our Westport Public Library Community Capital Campaign project, the creation of a 6’2’-by-26’4” oblong bas-relief ceramic tile donor mural, with 1,927 donor surfaces on 1,162 separate interlocking tiles, loosely arranged in 50 columns and 29 rows, bounded by bookshelves with 10 book spines each, endures.

At one level the work was a timeline, running from 1637 to 1998, showcasing 80 colorful, randomly placed historical tiles and 4 historical theme tiles at the corners.

993 gleaming white ceramic river tiles, contoured as bas-relief waves, and bearing donor names or messages in blue calligraphy, were the dominant visual pattern.

The River of Names was hung in the lower level of the Westport Library.

Each donor’s process of selecting a location and parsing a message was highly personal.

Names marked with a star symbol flagged Westport-area authors.

Names marked with a heart symbol conveyed love.

If one stood close to the finished wall and peered across the 26’4”-long mural surface, truly, to the eye, the ceramic tiles became a shimmering river.

For the moment, however, the mural endures only as a memory.

The River of Names includes tiles for the original Westport Library, built in 1908 on the Post Road (now next to Freshii) …

To accommodate its exciting “Transformation” project, the Westport Library had the mural removed in sections by fine arts professionals and placed in storage. The 8’8”-wide hallway where it resided no longer exists.

We all want the 6’2”-by-26’4” mural back.

But where? And how?

The Westport Library is proposing to “bend” it, sideways, outside the Children’s Library, so that one part of the mural would face west and one part would face north.

Artist Marion Grebow went back to her design to be sure, but the 6’2” high x 26’ 4” long mural, an interlocking design, has no vertical seam. The thick ceramic tiles cannot simply be folded in a straight line to “bend around a corner.”

So which donor tiles should be cut in half? And – given the fragility of the medium—would cutting shatter the divided tiles? And what happens to the jagged edges at child level?

And would the result still be beautiful? And honor the pride that each donor had in each tile? And honor the artist who conceived and wrought a different, unified work on a single vertical plane?

We welcome the opportunity to review the new, detailed, tile-specific, mural schematic that the Westport Library envisions. To date, we have not seen it.

(From left): Betty Lou Cummings, Marion Grebow and Dorothy Curran, at Monday’s meeting with Westport Library officials. The women were told of plans to digitize the River of Names mural.

Separately, we applaud the library’s planned interactive digital display of the mural tiles, with separate online access. It’s is a great idea for teaching, reference and entertainment. But it’s no substitute for the sheer beauty, the interplay of light, volume, form, color, texture and meaning, that one experiences when viewing the original work of ceramic bas-relief mural art.

Also, a “tile-by-tile” digital view of the mural falls short of the work’s larger purpose and metaphor: a visual river of donor names, overlooking the actual Saugatuck River.

For some, standing by the old McManus Room entry and looking back across the gleaming ceramic bas-relief mural tiles, imparted an unforgettable visual experience of strong sun or moonlight shining on the river waves, and all donor tiles merging like water to become one donor community.

Note that an outdoor installation is not a feasible alternative. The clay and grout used require a climate-controlled indoor location.

Yes, the mural is heavy. It was built to last in a ground-floor location. For re-installation, this is a routine engineering issue that architects are trained to accommodate.

Westport Library, we know you’re big on flexible space. Railroad cars move on wheels. So could the heavy mural. It also could be a multi-purpose wall. For example, when needed for a performance, a multi-media screen could descend in front of it.

Bottom line, this is Westport! We believe that the library and its architect can resolve the River of Names mural re-installation in a way that will satisfy everyone. The simple answer:

  • Find or build a flat plane interior wall, illuminated by natural light, in the WPL
  • Mount the mural on it
  • Open champagne.

River of Names Mural: The Library Responds

Westporters reacted with fury to yesterday’s announcement that the River of Names mural will not be re-hung in the Westport Library.

Most of the dozens of readers responding to the “06880” story expressed chagrin that the 26-foot long, 6-foot high mural — whose 1,162 tiles represent 350 years of Westport history and memorials to families, and which was commissioned as a 1997 fundraiser — will reappear only in digitized form.

Some commenters asked for their tiles back. Others wondered if the mural — removed during the Transformation Project — was already destroyed.

The River of Names was hung in the lower level of the Westport Library.

Some readers also wondered why no library representatives stepped forward to respond.

This morning, they did.

Original plans for the transformed library included a spot for the River of Names, say director Bill Hamer and board of trustees president Iain Bruce.

It was to be located on the upper level, outside the children’s library near new meeting rooms. It’s a high-traffic area, just beyond the elevator and at the top of stairs. The mural would be well-lit, visible from the main level — and in an area where new generations of youngsters could learn Westport’s history from it.

Library officials presented the idea to 3 key River of Names stakeholders: Betty Lou Cummings, who conceived the project; Dorothy Curran, who shepherded it through, and Marion Grebow, the artist who created every tile.

They objected adamantly. The reason: It would wrap around a corner, on an “L”-shaped wall. They believed that would destroy the “river” design. They insisted it be remounted on one straight wall.

“We were sensitive to their feelings,” Bruce said. “We did what we had to do all along: We took it down.”

This view from the main floor looks toward the childen’s library above (behind the portholes). Library officials proposed hanging the River of Names nearby. (Photo/Lynn Untermeyer Miller)

The wall on the lower level of the library no longer exists. The mural had to be removed and stored in one piece. Individual tiles cannot be taken apart.

The library hired Crozier Fine Arts, a professional moving and storage company. They carefully took the mural down (including the wall it is permanently part of). They preserved it, and are storing it in Ridgefield under climate-controlled conditions.

The cost to the library is $30,000 so far.

After the 3 originators told the library it could not be rehung on 2 walls, town arts curator Kathie Motes Bennewitz searched for a spot in another building.

However, Harmer says, “it can’t just hang on any wall. It’s very, very heavy.” To accommodate the mural, an existing wall would have to be demolished and rebuilt, or reinforced — at an expense considerably more than it cost to remove it. No town body was willing to pay.

“The library is committed to cooperating with any town agency or other body that wants to install the tile wall on its premises,” Harmer says.

However, an outdoor location like the Levitt will not work. The tiles were not made to withstand New England weather. If they got wet and froze, they would shatter.

The River of Names includes tiles for places like the original Westport Library, and others honoring families, local businesses and historic events.

“It was never our intention to have an irate public,” Bruce says. “A digital version seemed most logical, once we could not hang it in the library, and no one stepped up with an appropriate alternate place.”

“It was not sledgehammered,” he continues. “It is being carefully stored.”

In fact, Harmer says, the wall outside the children’s library was designed — and has been built — with the mural in mind.

“We told Betty Lou and Dorothy yesterday that it could still go there,” the director says. “We’re sorry we came to a crossroads. We’ve invested a lot of money and hours into trying to do the right thing. It’s a question of balancing the wishes of the original sponsors against our desire for an appropriate space.”

Bruce adds, “If they came back tomorrow and said they supported our original proposal, we’d do whatever we could to make it happen.”

Advocates Fear Tide Going Out On “River Of Names”

For 20 years, the River of Names has stood as one of the Westport Library‘most unique, quirky and popular attractions.

Stretching 26 feet long and standing 6 feet high, the mural contains 1,162 tiles. Each was individually created and drawn by artist Marion Grebow. Some portray historical events, like the founding of Westport, onion farming and the arrival of the railroad.

Others feature favorite places around town: the Compo Beach cannons, Minute Man monument and Staples High School. Some cite local organizations and businesses.

Most show the names of nearly 1,000 families. They honor parents, children and pets. They note when the families came to town, and where they lived.

One of the tiles shows Stevan Dohanos’ Saturday Evening Post cover of the World War II memorial outside the old Town Hall. It’s surrounded by tiles honoring familes and civic organizations. (Photo courtesy of fotki.com)

The River of Names was a special fundraiser. Under the direction of former 2nd selectman Betty Lou Cummings and Westport Historical Society/Westport Woman’s Club leader Dorothy Curran, sales of the tiles brought in $300,000 for the library’s capital campaign.

Donors were promised that the mural would exist in perpetuity.

The River of Names draws visitors — some curious, some wanting to find their own tile, all intrigued — to the lower “Riverwalk” level of the library.

Grebow designed her mural to be looked at like the river itself. Taken together, the individual tiles appear to shimmer and move — imitating the Saugatuck River a few yards away.

The River of Names.

But the library has embarked on an exciting 18-month “transformation” project. The downstairs level will be where most books are stored; a new entrance there will open up the river, improving the entire library experience for all.

On Wednesday, the mural will be taken down. A group of Westporters — including Curran, Cummings and arts advocates — fears for what happens next.

They worry that the library has no written plan for removing the mural from the wall. They don’t know where it will be stored, and how the tiles will be labeled so they can be replaced in the precise spots Grebow selected. And they haven’t gotten definite word on where it will be exhibited once the transformation is complete.

I asked library director Bill Harmer about those concerns. He replied: “Yes, it’s safe. It will be safely taken down and safely stored. It will be available for re-hanging when the library renovation project is completed.”

Town arts curator Kathie Motes Bennewitz adds:

The Library has held discussions with Marion  Grebow, individuals involved in the 1998 fundraising project, the original installer, and (as early as 2014) with 3rd-party fine art service firms on how best to de-install, pack, transport and store the wall.

The priority has always been to protect the wall during construction. I am confident it will be professionally handled and stored until it can come back to the library.

Meanwhile, mural advocates produced a video about the River of Names.

At the end, Curran says: “Every day the tide goes in, and the tide goes out. But the river remains.

“I hope that the names will, too.”

(For more information, email save.our.river.of.names@gmail.com)