Tag Archives: George Hand Wright

100 Years After The “Great War,” Remembering Great Artists Who Served

The page has turned on this year’s WestportREADS.  

This year’s program — in which the entire town is encouraged to read the same book, then participate in discussions, lectures, videos and more — focused on “Regeneration.” Pat Barker’s historical fiction features a British officer who refuses to continue serving during the “senseless slaughter” of World War I.

The novel inspired Kathie Motes Bennewitz to do some digging.

The town arts curator knew that when “The Great War” began, Westport was already a thriving arts colony. 

What, she wondered, was the connection between local artists and World War I? Kathie writes:

Over 220 Westport men fought in the US armed forces. Many were “doughboys,” a nickname given to soldiers in the American Expeditionary Forces.

We know from wartime draft records the names of many artists who lived here in 1917, as every man ages 18-45 was required to register. Among the residents were Karl Anderson, Edmund M. Ashe, E. F. Boyd, Robert Leftwitch Dogde, Arthur Dove, Ernest Fuhr, Ossip Linde, Lawrence Mazzanovich, Henry Raleigh, Clive Weed and George Hand Wright.

While Ashe, Mazzanovich and Dodge registered as national guardsmen with the Connecticut Militia, many others were too old to do so. So they used their talents to serve the home front in other ways.

Editorial cartoonist Clive Weed, a summer resident since 1910, made spirited illustrations on wartime events, like this one: “He Might Be YOUR Boy,” for the Philadelphia Public Ledger.

George Hand Wright drew similar illustrations.

Other Westporters — including Ashe, Boyd, Fuhr, Raleigh and Wright — created graphic posters to recruit servicemen and nurses, or urge citizens to purchase Liberty Bonds to finance the war. One example is Ashe’s “Lend the Way They Fight” (below), which shows an American infantryman hurling a hand grenade at German soldiers in a trench on the western front of France.

Hundreds of posters like this were made, raising $21.5 billion for the war effort. Here’s one from Raleigh:

In August 1918 — only months before the war ended — Anderson joined creative and patriotic forces with his Westport neighbors Mazzanovich and Linde to paint a billboard advertising war stamps, in downtown Bridgeport. The trio were filmed in action by the government for a newsreel, which was shown in movie houses nationwide.

When the war ended, younger artists flocked to Westport.

Kerr Eby, James Daugherty, and Ralph Boyer and his future wife Rebecca A. Hunt had each served as camoufleurs. They painted camouflage — a novel and demanding job.

Eby — assigned to the Camouflage Division of the US. Army 40th Engineers, Artillery Brigade in France — had it the hardest. Working on the front, he produced camouflage for artillery and troops. He also made drawings of the horrific images he witnessed on the battlefield.

Boyer and his art school friend Daugherty were both assigned to Baltimore for another important job: to execute “dazzle” painting designed to protect Navy vessels from enemy site and fire.

This new art involved painting abstract murals on ships that would soon be loaded with troops and ammunition. Swinging from a bosun’s seat, the artist la­id the design on the side. A gang of painters followed rapidly behind, cutting in the geometric pattern with precision.

USS Leviathan in “dazzle” camouflage, 1918.

“The result was supposed to confuse and befuddle the German submarine gunner,” Daughtery said. “It could hardly do less.”

Of course, Westport’s most enduring legacy of World War I is the Doughboy statue at Veterans Green, across from Town Hall. Bennewitz explains:

Sculptor J. Clinton Shepherd was another wartime camoufleur. He served in the Illinois National Reserve and Air Corps. When he moved to Westport in 1925, the town had voted to erect a monument to honor its soldiers and nurses, who had returned from the front, and memorialize the 7 who had died.

In 1928 Shepherd received the commission. He sensitively rendered a life-sized soldier “with a pensive expression to memorialize the personal side of that ‘war to end all wars.'”

Dedication of the Doughboy statue in 1930. It was located on the grass median dividing the Post Road, between what is now Torno Lumber and the former Bertucci’s restaurant. This view looks east. The statue was moved in the 1980s to its current location opposite Town Hall (below).

(Photo/Seth Schachter)

93 Cross Highway

Westport is filled with stories of charming old houses that turn into teardowns.  “06880” reported one of them just yesterday.

This is not one of them.

Two years ago Ed Gerber heard that the home at 93 Cross Highway was for sale. He knew it well.

Built in 1764 by the spectacularly named Eliphalet Sturges, it was owned for the next 144 years by the Sturges family.

George Hand Wright

In 1908 George Hand Wright — an illustrator, watercolorist and pastel artist who was a founder of Westport’s artists’ colony — bought the house and 30 acres of land, for a mere $300. He turned a small outbuilding into his studio. He and his wife Anne lived at 93 Cross Highway for nearly 50 years.

In 1947 Wright helped establish the Westport Artists Club, and later served as president. He died in 1951; Anne followed 3 years later. Wright’s nephew Frank Boylan inherited the property, and lived there another 50 years.

Boylan was Gerber’s godfather, and his father’s best friend. Growing up in New Haven and Fairfield (in his teens and 20s, he ushered at the Westport Country Playhouse), Gerber spent many happy days at #93. Two years ago, when the Boylan estate prepared to sell the house, representatives asked if Gerber was interested.

For 40 years, Gerber had lived in Washington, DC. But he was ready to retire from the FDIC. He knew if he did not act, 93 Cross Highway could be Westport’s next teardown.

He bought it.

Then he went to work.

Ed Gerber stands proudly in his refurbished living room.

Walls and ceilings needed painting and plastering. The maple floors needed refinishing. Gerber remodeled 2 baths, and the kitchen.

But the house had great bones. With massive stone fabrication, a handsome hearth and wonderful Wright-era furniture, it’s been lovingly restored to its past glory.

And it’s earned historic landmark status.

That’s a no-brainer. Gerber is a member of Westport’s Historic District Commission, and a vice president of the Westport Historical Society.

Ed Gerber and 93 Cross Highway.

The Historic District Commission has little authority to deter teardowns outside of the town’s 6 designated districts. “What we have is moral suasion,” he says.

But many people in houses at least 50 years old can hardly wait to knock down anything old and charming, to build something new and big.

“Everyone asks us to waive the 180-day waiting period (for demolition),” Gerber says.

He points to 108 Cross Highway, an 1805 home built by a free black man that was headed for destruction. The HDC has met several times, by phone and in person, with the owner and his agent, to provide options to demolition.

Ed Gerber turns back to #93. Thanks to his hard work, reverence for the past and passion for the present, it’s assured of remaining a lovely landmark on a well-traveled road for many years to come.