First it was world headquarters for the Famous Artists School. Joined later by Famous Writers and Famous Photographers Schools, it made Westport known all over the globe — on matchbox covers and magazine ads — as the place to send your artwork, writing and photos to become, well, famous.
Later it served as world headquarters for Save the Children.
Today, alert “06880” reader (and locally famous photographer) Chip Stephens was across the Saugatuck River, when the 60-year-old Wilton Road building was demolished.
The long view …
The site is being developed by David Waldman into a retail, restaurant and residential complex.
The Famous Photographers School is long gone. (So is the business that bought its Wilton Road headquarters: Save the Children.)
But — more than 40 years after it closed — some of its most famous photographs live on.
Yale University Art Gallery has bought Famous Photographers’ entire archive. Images, course books, advertisements — all are now housed in New Haven. A small exhibit from the archive is on display now.
After Famous Photographers School — and its cousins, Famous Artists and Famous Writers Schools — closed in 1974, thousands of artifacts gathered dust. Jeffrey Price — a Norwalk business owner — found the Famous Photographers archive, and restored it.
Among the most famous Famous Photographers faculty: Richard Avedon, Joseph Costa, Alfred Eisenstaedt, Phillippe Halsman, Irving Penn, Ezra Stoller, and Bert Stern.
This iconic photo of Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca was taken by Famous Artists School founder Victor Keppler. The renowned photographer lived in Westport until his death in 1987 at 83. This image is now part of the Westport Schools Permanent Art Collection.
Those who do probably don’t know that she lived in Westport. Coca died here in 2001, age 92.
And even the folks who know that don’t know this iconic shot was taken by Victor Keppler. A renowned photographer, he helped found Famous Photographers School, headquartered here. He lived in Westport too, until his death in 1987 at 83.
(Hat tip to Kathie Motes Bennewitz for these Westport connections.)
Recently, in my other life as a “Woog’s World” columnist, I made a snarky reference to Famous Artists School.
Specifically, I called it — and its kinfolk, the Famous Writers and Famous Photographers School — “a Westport institution that crashed nearly as rapidly as it grew.”
A few days later I got an email from a Magdalen Livesey. Though her name sounds like the creation of one of the only people ever to flunk a Famous Writers course, I opened it.
Magdalen Livesey wrote: “Although your article didn’t say it in so many words…it left the impression that Famous Schools has been moribund for quite some time.”
She was happy to inform me that “Famous Schools” are alive and well.
A meeting of Famous Artists' artists, circa 1954. Clockwise from lower left: Ernest Fiene, Doris Lee, Ben Stahl, Stuart Davis, Adolf Dehn, Arnold Blanch and Will Barnet. (Photo courtesy of Smithsonian Archives of American Art)
They were acquired by Cortina Learning International in 1981, she said. In 1990 the offices moved from Riverside Avenue to Newtown Turnpike, and in 1995 to Wilton. That’s the current location, with a warehouse and shipping facility in Danbury.
Famous Artists School currently has students in “many different countries around the world, as well as in the States,” Magdalen continued. Since 1967 they’ve had “a very active licensee” in Japan — Kodansha Famous Schools — with 15,000 students.
The present Famous Artists Courses include “the classic textbooks,” along with complete-at-home assignments that are sent in for “critiquing and evaluation by artist-instructors who work in their own studios.” Coming soon: a revised, updated downloadable version.
In 1993, Magdalen said, a 45th anniversary exhibition was held at the Westport Arts Center. Stevan Dohanos — the last surviving member of the original 12 apostles founding “Famous Artists” — was still active then.
“We actually had quite widespread publicity for that event,” Magdalen added, “including a featured article in the Westport News. Perhaps you are too young to have been aware of it.
Perhaps not. A more likely answer: Who remembers 1993?
But Famous Schools is not resting on its 45th-anniversary-17-years-ago laurels. Their next project: rejuvenating Famous Writers School, “which is still active but on a more limited basis.”
Magdalen’s email came at an appropriate time. It’s Easter Week. Her name conjures up Mary Magdalene.
And her tale about Famous Schools is an important reminder that — when you least expect it — someone, or something, can rise from the dead.
Click here to help support “06880” via credit card or PayPal. Any amount is welcome — and appreciated! Reader contributions keep this blog going. (Alternate methods: Please send a check to: Dan Woog, 301 Post Road East, Westport, CT 06880. Or use Venmo: @DanWoog06880. Or Zelle: email@example.com. Thanks!)