A couple of weeks ago, “06880” put out a call. Readers could help design a fun, creative local coloring book.
The idea came from Mark Potts. The 1974 Staples High School graduate lives in Lawrence, Kansas now, and sent his mother — renowned Westport historian Eve Potts — an article about a coloring book created there.
Eve thought it was a wonderful, creative way to bring our community — of all ages — together during this crisis.
Artists of all types — professionals, doodlers, everyone in between — were invited to submit a page of their favorite Westport scene. They’d all be turned into a PDF, for anyone to print out and color.
Now — with the help (of course!) of Miggs Burroughs — we present “Color Us Westport.” The 24 page book of historic, iconic and fun spots around town includes contributions from Miggs, Eve, Mark, Kathie Motes Bennewitz, Claire England, Kris Jandora, Penny Pearlman and Melanie Yates.
Westport is truly — still — an arts town. The Artists’ Collective, MoCA and new galleries offer an array of works. The response to our Saturday “0*6*Art*Art*0” gallery has been tremendous.
Now Eve Potts has passed along a great idea: Readers can create a Westport coloring book, during the pandemic. Call it “Color Us Westport.” (The idea came from her son Mark, who saw something similar where he lives now in Lawrence, Kansas.)
Working artists, doodlers and everyone in between is invited to submit a page, showing your favorite Westport scene. Then — in a variety of styles and places — they’ll be turned into a PDF, for anyone to print out and color.
Here’s one example: the Westport Country Playhouse.
What a great family activity. And an excellent way to learn about our town too.
Email submissions to email@example.com. Deadline is May 10.
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.
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.
Everyone driving past Town Hall enjoys the Christmas tree on its sloping lawn. An ordinary evergreen all year long, it’s lit every night during the holiday season.
But there’s a second one worth seeing. It’s inside Town Hall, just outside the auditorium.
The Town Hall Heritage Tree.
It’s called a Heritage Tree. And for good reason: Every December, for over 35 years, new ornaments are added. Each is designed by a Westport artist. Taken together, the nearly 150 designs represent our artistic heritage in a unique, beautiful way.
Elizabeth Devoll’s ornament features historical Westport photos.
Among the many artists represented: Bernie Burroughs, Mel Casson, Stevan Dohanos, Naiad and Walter Einsel, Leonard Everett Fisher, Neil Hardy, Robert Lambdin, Gordon Mellor, Howard Munce, Jim Sharpe, Dolli Tingle, Barbara Wilk and Al Willmott.
Tammy Winser’s Westport snowman.
This year, 5 new ornaments were added:
A whimsical glass ornament (“100% Santa approved”) by Nina Bentley.
A diamond-shaped acrylic lenticular featuring the William F. Cribari Bridge — with and without Christmas lights, by Miggs Burroughs.
A large, multi-faceted 20-view polygon featuring historical Westport photos, by Elizabeth Devoll.
A delicate pine cone, subtly embellished with text and color by Katherine Ross.
A glass-domed “Carrot: Building a Snowman in Westport” by Tammy Winser.
Miggs Burroughs’ lenticular features the Saugatuck bridge.
The new ornaments were hung — front and center on the tree — by Eve Potts and Marion Morra. They carry on the Heritage Tree tradition started by their sister, the late Mollie Donovan, nearly 40 years ago. The tree is sponsored by the Westport Historical Society.
Katherine Ross’ pine cone.
So don’t just drive by the Christmas tree outside Town Hall. Drive up, walk inside, and admire the Heritage Tree too.
Thomas Wolfe famously said, “You can’t go home again.”
What a crock!
Eve Potts is back. And it’s a tossup who’s happier: she, or the entire town.
Eve Potts, in a recent photo.
The Hamden native first arrived in 1956. She was working as an ad director in New Haven; her new husband, Bob, was an ad salesman for a New York publisher. Westport was a perfect, in-between choice.
The couple rented the top floor of a plumbing shop on Riverside Avenue. For $76 a month they got a great view of the river (and a nearby ping pong ball factory).
That building is long gone. Today’s it’s the Westport Arts Center. That’s fitting, because so much of Eve’s life has been centered on the arts.
Bob was promoted, and the Pottses moved to Chicago for 4 years. But they wanted their kids — they soon had 4 — to go to Westport schools.
They bought a house on Acorn Lane. Several years later, they moved to the corner of Compo and Bradley.
Eve was one of Westport’s most dedicated volunteers. She served the Westport Historical Society, the Westport Schools Permanent Art Committee, and PTA Council. She chaired the Historic District Commission, and helped convert Bedford Elementary School into the current Town Hall.
But in 1991, Eve and Bob moved to Essex. Their kids were grown; he’s a big boater, and the Connecticut River community promised a wonderful, slower-paced lifestyle.
Eve Potts (left) and her sister Marion Morra, at the Henry Ford Museum exhibit of an old Merritt Parkway tollbooth. The women collaborated on several books, including “Choices,” for cancer patients.
Eve’s sister — the late Mollie Donovan, who moved here a few years after Eve — kept her up to date on all things Westport. Eve remained on the WHS board, and often visited relatives in the area.
In addition to many nieces and nephews, her son Matt is in Norwalk; Amy and her 2 children are in Milford, and Abby and her 5 kids are in Greenwich. (Mark is the outlier: He lives in Lawrence, Kansas.)
The pull of Westport remained strong. For several years, she and Bob talked about coming back. It did not happen. He died several years ago.
A few days ago, Eve moved into a sunny, spacious Regents Park condo.
“I can’t believe we didn’t do this 10 years ago!” Eve says.
“I can’t tell you how happy I am to be here. The energy in Westport is so invigorating!”
She’s jumped right back into the arts scene. Although many older artists moved away or died, Eve has found new friends in families like the Bentleys.
The cover of Eve Potts and Andrew Bentley’s book.
Nina is a noted artist. From Essex, Eve had collaborated with Nina’s son Andrew on the Historical Society’s book depicting 50 New Yorker covers. (He moved to Westport in 1991 — the same year she left.)
“Andy’s been so welcoming,” Eve says. “He introduced me to all his friends. It’s nice to know a whole new group of people.”
The other day, Eve went to the Westport Country Playhouse. After the performance of “Art,” Andy’s wife — art historian Fiona Garland — spoke.
“It was fantastic!” Eve says. “She’s so bright, and everyone was so engaged.”
After nearly 4 decades here — and then 25 years away — Eve Potts sees Westport through both old and new eyes.
Serena & Lily — the former Kemper-Gunn House — now open on Elm Street.
She is excited at the changes Bedford Square will bring downtown. She looks at Serena & Lily and sees both a beautiful new store, and the old Victorian house before it was moved across Elm Street. It was called the Kemper-Gunn house — because, Eve says, “my lawyer, Ben Gunn, was there!”
Certain things never change, of course. There’s the natural beauty of the beach, and the ineffable charm of the people and our heritage.
It’s easy to knock the 2016 version of Westport. The behavior of some folks, and the destruction of old homes and trees, is a frequent theme on “06880.”
But, Eve Potts reminds us, “Westport has so much going for it. So much of our history still remains.”
Thanks, Eve, for helping us see our hometown from a wonderful, old/new perspective.
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. (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)
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 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)
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.).
(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.)
Walt Reed’s death last week, at 97, marks the end of one more link to Westport’s arts colony past.
Reed — a leading illustrator, art historian and author of books on illustration and illustrators, including fellow Westporter Harold von Schmidt — founded the Illustration House gallery here in 1974. One of the 1st of its kind, the company is now headquartered in New York.
Walt Reed, in his Westport studio.
“Walt was a wonderful, quiet, sweet, mild man who taught us all a lot about the early Westport illustrators,” says Eve Potts, who worked closely with him on a number of projects.
“Walt was always willing to share his knowledge, always helpful no matter how small or large the task you asked him to help with.”
James Gurney says: “Genial, good-natured and enthusiastic, he almost single-handedly pioneered illustration history as a field of research. He legitimized original illustration artwork as a category for collectors.”
One of Walt Reed’s books on the history of illustration.
Reed was born in Texas. He went to art school at Pratt. During World War II he was a conscientious objector, working instead in the Dakotas for the government. After the war, he aided in European reconstruction efforts.
In the 1950s Reed was an instructor at Westport-based Famous Artists School. In 2012, the Norman Rockwell Museum honored him with its 1st-ever Distinguished Scholar Award.
The last time Potts saw Reed was at the opening of a Westport Historical Society exhibit on stamps produced by Westport artists.
He was part of that group. In 1976, he’d created a series of 50 stamps depicting state flags, to honor the American bicentennial.
(For an in-depth story on Walt Reed’s influence on the art world, click here.)
It’s one of the New Yorker‘s most famous covers: the view of the rest of the country, from Manhattan. Everything from the Hudson River west is wasteland or the Pacific Ocean.
The view from Westport can look a bit myopic too. For instance, because so many illustrators lived here (and started Famous Artists School), we still think of ourselves as an artists’ colony.
Those 2 things — the New Yorker and art — come together this month in clever, self-patting fashion. The Westport Historical Society‘s next exhibits focus on Westport’s influence on the famed magazine.
“Cover Story: The New Yorker in Westport” highlights the 761 covers designed between 1925 and 1989 by 16 artists living in the area. An amazing 44 of those covers actually show Westport scenes.
This Charles Saxon cover from December 19, 1959 seems inspired by the Westport train station.
Artists include Garrett Price, James Daugherty, Perry Barlow, Charles Addams and Whitney Darrow Jr.
From 1939 to 1973 the New Yorker’s art editor was James Geraghty. He too lived here, so his suburban commuter mentality greatly influenced the covers.
Curator Eve Potts has collected artifacts, anecdotes and correspondence from Geraghty and the families of the 15 artists for this show.
The first page of “Hiroshima” in the New Yorker.
A companion exhibit — “Can’t Tell a Book by its Cover…” — is based on a New Yorker quirk: the cover offers no clue to the stories inside.
That was especially true on August 31, 1946. The entire magazine was devoted to one story: “Hiroshima,” by John Hersey. He soon moved to Westport, bowled and golfed with Geraghty’s local New Yorker teams — and served on the Board of Education.
A later resident of his South Turkey Hill home was Martha Stewart. In the hands of a talented illustrator, that idea would make a perfect New Yorker cover.
PS: Here’s one New Yorker cover that resonates especially strongly today. Artist Jenni Oliver is not a Westporter. But her subject matter — on November 12, 1984 — is poignant, considering the upcoming demise of 15 trees on the Longshore entrance road.
Here you go:
(An opening reception for the 2 exhibits is set for Sunday, January 26 (3 p.m.). For more information, click here or call 203-222-1424.)
Who knew, for example, that swimming and lifeguarding would help propel Kathie Bennewitz — 35 years later — to her new position as Westport’s 1st-ever town curator?
Yet that’s what happened, after Kathie Motes moved to Westport in the summer of 1978 — just before her senior year at a new school, Staples High.
Kathie joined the swim team, took art classes, and befriended Ellise Fuchs, whose father Bernie was a world-famous illustrator. Kathie posed for him, pretending to receive a medal for an Olympic scene.
At Princeton, she majored in art history. “I’m not a fine artist,” she claims. “But I love the process, and the way art reflects who we are.”
One summer, lifeguarding at Compo, she met Scott Bennewitz. He was a beach security guard — and a fellow Princetonian.
They married, and lived in Dallas, Minneapolis and Holland. She’d earned a masters in art history. Everywhere they moved, she worked in museums.
She also was appointed tri-chair of the Permanent Art Collection, and served on the Westport Arts Advisory Committee. The 2 organizations gave her a broad perspective on the arts here.
So, when a group of people — including Ann Sheffer, David Rubinstein, Leslie Greene, Carole Erger-Fass and Joan Miller — floated the idea of a town curator, she was intrigued.
So was First Selectman Gordon Joseloff. “We already have a town historian, Allen Raymond,” Kathie notes. “This is a natural counterpoint.”
The doughboy statue on Veteran’s Green is part of Westport’s art and sculpture collection.
In her new post, she’s responsible for advising the town on the care of its art and sculpture collection. Westport owns several hundred works of art, displayed in Town Hall, the Senior Center, Parks & Rec headquarters — even the Fire Department. Statues include the Minuteman and Doughboy on Veterans Green.
Kathie will also serve as liaison to the 1,100-piece Permanent Art Collection, and the Westport Library, with its own murals, paintings and illustrations.
“So many other communities lose their treasures,” she says. “But thanks to Burt and Ann Chernow, and so many others, we have ours. They’ve created a platform we can spring off of, and do even more.”
That “more” includes plenty. Kathie envisions self-guided tours of the schools’ collections. A “museum on the street,” with Howard Munce’s Remarkable Book Shop work displayed outside that old store (most recently Talbots). Robert Lambdin’s “Battle of Compo” mounted near the cannons.
She’ll be involved in the rehanging of art at Town Hall — something last done in 1976.
Kathie would also like to open up hard-to-see parts of the town’s art collection — like the amazing fire station mural — to the public.
“Pageant of Juvenile Literature” — a 1934 work by Robert Lambdin — hangs in the Westport Library’s Great Hall. This is part of that mural.
She is eager to get started. But she won’t be alone.
“I’m a team player. I enjoy working with people in groups. We need everyone’s help.”
Among those helping: Marie-Neloise Egipto, a Staples senior who will do her spring internship with the Permanent Art Collection.
“I’m honored to serve the town,” Kathie says. “This is different from the other positions I’ve held. It really validates all the decades of work done by the Mollies, the Eves and the Anns who have advocated for, and celebrated, our arts community and legacy.
“Very few communities have the public, school and library collections that we do. Westport should be very, very proud.”
Just as we all should be proud that Kathie Bennewitz is our 1st-ever “town curator.”
When we think of Westport as an “artists’ colony” — which, hopefully, we still do — certain names leap to mind: George Hand Wright. Harold von Schmidt. Stevan Dohanos. Hardie Gramatky. Howard Munce.
They spanned the 20th century, and helped launch Famous Artists School. Their work lives on, in catalogs, galleries and the memories of art lovers around the world.
But Westport has another arts legacy: WPA paintings. And back in the 1990s, much of it was in danger of disappearing.
The Depression-era works had hung for years in the post office, schools, Town Hall and other public buildings. Gradually, however — during renovations, moves and other events — WPA art was removed from walls, and never replaced. Important pieces of history gathered dust in storage closets, attics and basements around town.
“Pageant of Juvenile Literature” — a 1934 work by Robert Lambdin — hangs in the Westport Library’s Great Hall. This is part of that mural.
Mollie Donovan and her sister Eve Potts scoured — sometimes on their hands and knees — those nooks and crannies, searching for lost art. They were guided by hearsay, intuition, and a handwritten list of commissions compiled decades earlier by the magnificently named Henrietta Cholmeley-Jones.
Mollie and Eve didn’t find everything. Some works had been destroyed when buildings were torn down. But the ones they rescued were restored — thanks in part to Mollie and Eve’s fundraising efforts — and they’re now an important part of our town’s artistic legacy.
The other day, Westporters Kathie Bennewitz and Carole Erger-Fass traveled to Waterbury’s Mattatuck Museum for the opening of a new exhibit. Called “Art for Everyone,” it celebrates the 1,700 paintings, murals and sculptures created by 173 Connecticut artists, thanks to government support during the 1930s.
Robert Garrett Thew’s street sign was a WPA commission. Apparently, Westport drivers were not so careful in the 1930s, either.
Ralph Boyer’s “Westport WPA Art Committee, 1939” usually hangs in the selectman’s conference room at Town Hall. Now it’s on loan to the exhibit — and is the 1st painting visitors see as they enter the gallery.
Eve Potts was at the opening reception. She had great stories to tell about Henrietta Cholmeley-Jones, who was instrumental in assigning WPA commissions to Westport artists.
Seventeen Westport artists were put to work from 1934 to 1937. They produced 34 artworks and 120 photographs. All the materials, plus framing and placing of the murals, casting of the sculptures and film for the photographs, cost Westport a total of $3,020. For her work as “local supervisor,” Henrietta Cholmeley-Jones earned $1 a year.
But she made it into the painting on exhibit at Mattatuck (below). She’s wearing pearls.
Thanks to Mollie and Eve, Westport’s WPA works are on display year-round, throughout town. Like the Mattatuck exhibit, they are truly “Art for Everyone.”
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