Giants of the Blues — Westport artist Eric von Schmidt’s sprawling, 7-canvas work chronicling the roots of American music — should hang in the Smithsonian.
Instead, it graces the Staples auditorium foyer.
And that powerful piece is just 1 of over 1,000 paintings, sketches, cartoons, busts, murals and photos that fill the classrooms, hallways, offices and conference rooms of every Westport school and public building. For 4 1/2 decades the Westport Schools Permanent Art Collection has brought art into children’s lives, while paying homage to our town’s rich art history.
Now, the Westport Historical Society returns the favor. Starting this weekend, and running through the end of the year, the WHS will showcase the collection, with a pair of shows. Special treasures will be shown in the Betty & Ralph Sheffer Main Gallery, while cartoons and comic strips grace the Little Gallery.
An opening reception is set for this afternoon, from 3-5 p.m.
The Westport Schools Permanent Art Collection began modestly. In 1964 Green’s Farms Elementary School art teacher Burt Chernow asked a few local artists to donate works. Ben Shahn gave a pencil sketch — and the rest is history.
Today’s 1,000-plus artworks include paintings by Pablo Picasso, Alexander Calder, Robert Motherwell and Christo. There are cartoons by Charles Schulz, Al Capp, Whitney Darrow, Dik Browne, Mel Casson and Mort Walker, and photos by George Silk, Alfred Eisenstaedt, Philippe Halsman and Victor Keppler.
Over 150 local artists, past and present, are well represented.
The collection is curated by a committee of dedicated volunteers — including the indefatigable Mollie Donovan, who signed on 45 years ago expecting to work for a month or two, plus an an energetic group of young mothers. The group collects, studies, catalogs and displays the work — and keeps all artwork up to date on a computer database.
The Westport Schools Permanent Arts Collection is such an ingrained part of our town, we don’t even think about it. But we should.
The next time you’re in a school — or the library, Town Hall, or even Red Cross headquarters — look at the art that surrounds you. Admire it; think about it — and understand how it got there.
Then, sometime between today and the end of the year, wander over to the Historical Society and check out the exhibits. Forty-five years ago, Burt Chernow’s wanted to expose children to art. Today, every Westporter is enriched by his vision.