Tag Archives: Hardie Gramatky

Life On The Roseville Road Curve

The Roseville Road home is just about perfect. Built in 1923 on 2 acres of grass and woods, it’s handsome, welcoming and filled with love.

It’s where Linda Gramatky Smith grew up, and her father, Hardie Gramatky — painter/author/illustrator of “Little Toot” fame — worked. It’s where she and her husband Ken still live today.

Linda and Ken Smith's lovely Roseville Road home.

Linda and Ken Smith’s lovely Roseville Road home.

But no place is perfect.

Linda and Ken’s house sits on the dangerous curve, not far from the McDonald’s intersection at the Post Road. Time after time — often in snow, or at night — drivers end up on the front lawn. In the woods. Or through their stone wall.

Hardie Gramatky moved his family there in 1947. From then through his death in 1979, with unfortunate regularity, they heard the loud bang of a crash.

Homer Mills Sr. — a local mason — told Hardie that the stone wall was “my annuity.” Twice a year, he rebuilt it.

The stone wall after a recent accident. Drivers hit it when they fail to negotiate the southbound (toward McDonald's) curve.

The stone wall after a recent accident. Drivers hit it when they fail to negotiate the southbound (toward McDonald’s) curve.

The night Hardie collapsed — he’d just been honored by the American Watercolor Society — the wall was hit again. “This has not bee an good day,” the artist said. He died 2 days later.

In 1982, Linda moved with her mother to New Jersey. She and Ken bought the house, and for the next 11 years they rented it out. They were gone, but the accidents continued.

In 1994 — a year after the couple moved back here, and into their home — a 17-year-old speeder from Weston slammed into the post. His air bag saved his life. Linda and Ken got one for their own car.

A humorous plaque on the side of Linda and Ken Smith's house.

A humorous plaque on the side of Linda and Ken Smith’s house.

When Joe Arcudi — Linda’s 1960 Staples High School classmate — ran for 1st selectman, he promised to do something about the dangerous curve. (He recalled driving fast on the same “Rollercoaster Road” as a rite of passage in his own youth.)

After Arcudi was elected, he and Police Chief William Chiarenzelli met with Linda and Ken. They discussed a stop sign on nearby Colony Road, and a speed bump (there had been one a while earlier on Roseville near Whitney Street, but it was removed after a driver took it too fast and hit his head on his roof).

Ultimately, they settled on a couple of very large yellow signs with big arrows. Those have been a “significant help” in decreasing the number of accidents, Linda says.

But they have not stopped entirely. On Memorial Day morning in 2013, Linda drove out of her garage and felt a bump. It was a large rock.

Looking around, she spotted a car upside down near the woods. Fortunately, no one was still inside.

A Memorial Day accident 3 years ago put this car into the Smiths' woods.

A Memorial Day accident 3 years ago put this car into the Smiths’ woods.

A 23-year-old from Fairfield had flipped his car the night before, taking out a tree and pushing a rock toward the garage. He’d walked to McDonald’s, where a friend picked him up.

“His insurance company was great,” Linda says.

A couple of Sundays ago, at 12:15 a.m., Linda, Ken and their 9-year-old grandson heard a screech, then a crash.

This time, it was a 20-year-old Westporter. He was charged with traveling too fast, failure to stay in the proper lane, and operating a motor vehicle under suspension and without insurance.

The aftermath of the most recent crash.

The aftermath of the most recent crash.

“It’s no longer every 6 months. But it’s still very scary,” Linda says. “People travel too fast. We constantly worry that someone may die.”

“This house has been part of Linda’s family for almost 70 years,” Ken says. “This comes with the territory.”

He has a ritual. When a guest leaves, he walks onto Roseville Road. When the coast is clear, he gives the driver a wave.

That’s not Ken’s idea. For decades, Hardie Gramatky did the same thing.

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Calling Bartaco. Sort Of.

Bartaco opened nearly 2 years ago. Almost immediately, Linda Gramatky Smith’s fax line rang.

Someone wanted to know something about the menu. That’s odd, Linda thought.

Then the fax rang again. There was a call about reservations. Then another, wanting to know if the restaurant offered takeout.

Linda Gramatky Smith

Linda Gramatky Smith

Linda and her husband Ken have had their fax number for 22 years. (She’s a 1960 Staples grad; together they run Gramatky Galleries, handling the works of her late father, “Little Toot” illustrator Hardie Gramatky.)

The Smiths’ fax number is 203-222-8220. Bartaco‘s number is 203-222-8226. There would not seem to be much confusion — except “8226” is actually the same as “TACO,” on your phone’s keypad. The Wilton Road restaurant paid some pretty pesos for that easy-to-remember number.

Unfortunately — even before a tequila or two — plenty of people read the letter “O” as the number “0.”

Uh “oh.”

You or I would get pretty angry after the first couple of calls.

Fortunately, Linda and Ken are not you or I.

For 2 years, every time the fax line rings, they’ve answered it. Patiently, they explain the situation. Always, the callers are grateful. Nearly always, they compliment the Smiths on their patience and pleasantness.

Bartaco is very popular. That means a lot of people call the wrong number.

Bartaco is very popular. That means a lot of people call the wrong number.

In fact, the Smiths do more than just answer the fax. If they’re not quick enough to pick up — and the caller hears the fax “beep,” and hangs up — the couple calls back and gives the correct phone number. That kindness is always met with awe.

“We like Westport’s restaurants. We want them to succeed,” Linda explains, as if every Westporter who received at least 300 calls in 2 years — her estimate — would be so sanguine.

Bartaco has been responsive. They’ve added the numerals “8226” to their website, which has helped considerably. But the calls still keep coming — a few last week, Linda says. She thinks there are still some places (“maybe Yelp?”) that say only “203-222-TACO.”

The Bartaco website includes phone numbers for all 6 restaurants. Each ends in "TACO" -- er, "8226."

The Bartaco website includes phone numbers for all 6 restaurants. Each ends in “TACO” — er, “8226.”

Actually, Bartaco has done even more for Linda and Ken. The other day, they invited the couple in for a complimentary meal.

The Smiths had a great time. They loved the lively river scene, and the food was great.

Linda and Ken thanked the staff for an excellent meal.

In person. Not by phone.

Introducing Westport’s Most Famous 88-Year-Old “Baby”

Many Westporters know that “Little Toot” was born here, in the studio of longtime resident Hardie Gramatky.

Alert “06880” readers recall that the kewpie doll has a local connection: creator Rose O’Neill owned a 10-acre Saugatuck River estate.

But hardly anyone realizes that the Gerber Baby has Westport roots too.

In 1927, artist Dorothy Hope Smith made a charcoal drawing of her 4-month-old neighbor, Ann Turner. Ann’s father, Leslie, was an artist too; his comic strip “Wash Tubbs and Captain Easy” ran in 500 newspapers every day.

The original charcoal sketch of Ann Turner, and Ann Turner Cook today.

The original charcoal sketch of Ann Turner, and Ann Turner Cook today.

The next year, Gerber needed a face for its new line of baby foods. Smith entered her simple drawing in the contest. She competed with elaborate oil paintings — but the company loved it. By 1931, Ann Cook was the “official trademark.”

She’s been in every Gerber ad, and on every package, since.

But no one knew her. In fact — in an effort to appeal to both sexes — for many years Gerber did not even say if the baby was a girl or boy.

As years passed, several women claimed to be the Gerber baby. To end the discussion, Gerber paid Turner — by then married, named Ann Cook –$5,000 in 1951. That’s all she got — no royalties, nothing. (It’s better than Smith, though. She earned just $300 for her efforts.)

The Gerber baby at work -- and all grown up today.

The Gerber baby at work — and all grown up, some years ago.

Cook left Westport long ago. She had 4 children, and spent 26 years teaching literature and writing in  Tampa. After retiring in 1989, she wrote 2 mystery novels.

But now — at 88 — she’s been rediscovered. Oprah recently profiled Cook on her “Where Are They Now?” series. Huffington Post picked up the story.

Neither Oprah nor HuffPo mentions Westport. Nor does the official Gerber website.

But this is “06880.” It’s “where Westport meets the world.”

Which we’ve been doing — with tugboats, kewpie dolls and baby food — long before there were even zip codes or blogs.

(Hat tip: Carol King. No, not that one.)

Hardie Gramatky’s “Compo Beach Figures”

Andrew Wyeth called Hardie Gramatky one of America’s 20 greatest watercolorists. Parents called him a gifted author and illustrator; his “Little Toot” books kept kids entertained for hours.

Westporters called him “neighbor.”

Though world-renowned, Gramatky loved painting local scenes. Compo Beach was a special place for him and his family. In 1971 he produced a watercolor called “Compo Beach Figures.”

Hardie Gramatky: "Compo Beach Figures"

After winning an award in 1974, the work was purchased by Joan Neff and Fred Shearer. In 1979 they presented it to the town of Westport, as a gift.

Three months later, Gramatky died of cancer.

Now, a limited edition giclée — a high-quality lithograph printed on heavy watercolor paper, with a look and feel identical to the original painting — is available for purchase. Gramatky’s family will donate net proceeds to the Westport Schools Permanent Art Collection, which owns several of his works.

That’s a great reason to order one ($200 unframed; $350 with a walnut or gold wood frame). “They make great holiday gifts” is another reason.

Hardie Gramatky at work.

Hardie Gramatky at work.

That’s the background on “Compo Beach Figures.” But Linda Smith — Gramatky’s daughter — wants to know more.

She’d love to find out about Neff and Shearer, the couple who gave the painting to the town. She’d also like to find out who posed for the paintings.

Meanwhile, for a close-up look at “Compo Beach Figures,” visit the Westport Historical Society. It’s one of 45 Westport works on display there through January 4.

(To order a giclée, click here — then scroll down. For more information, email: wspac06880@gmail.com. To answer Linda Gramatky Smith’s questions, email: linken2467@aol.com,)

Mollie Donovan’s Art Auction

When Mollie Donovan died a year ago, Westport mourned. A vibrant, creative and very bright woman was gone. On a more practical — and selfish — level, we worried that her many areas of expertise — arranging Westport Historical Society exhibits, for example, or hanging paintings for the Westport Schools Permanent Art Collection — would be lost forever too.

Mollie Donovan

Though Mollie was irreplaceable, she continues to give back to her favorite activities. The donations made in her name are one example. An event this Saturday (April 21, 7 p.m., Westport Playhouse Barn) is another.

The “Mollie Gala Art Auction” features 100 high-quality pieces. They come from local and regional artists — and as far as Barcelona. Westporters Leonard Fisher, Hardie Gramatky and Howard Munce are represented; so is Modesto Cuixart, who in 1959 was selected over Picasso as best painter at the São Paolo Bienal.

The auction is a fundraiser for the Westport Historical Society, one of Mollie’s many beloved organizations. There will be beautiful art, with silent and live bidding; music from a string quartet and pianist, and plenty of food and wine.

It’s a typical Mollie Donovan event: classy, artistic, and all for a good cause.

A year after she left us, she’s still helping her hometown out.

(Tickets are $60 until Friday, April 20; $65 at the door. Click here to purchase.)

Some of the art on sale at this Saturday's "Mollie Gala." Enjoying the scene is Kristan Peters-Hamlin, chairwoman of the event. (Photo/Larry Untermeyer)

The Cold War’s Hot Exhibit

The 1950s: McCarthyism. The Cold War. Nike Sites, fallout shelters and elementary school “duck and cover” drills.

Those were the days!

Well, yeah. In many ways they were — especially around here. We had a real-live Main Street, with actual grocery stores, hardware stores, and merchants who knew your name. Kids romped in the woods free from parental worries.

And Westport was growing rapidly. Every day, it seemed, another family moved in. Many were arts-types: novelists, TV writers, playwrights, admen. They were drawn by the town’s reputations as an “artists’ colony” — and as each one arrived, more followed.

Starting this Sunday (January 29), you can revisit those days. The Westport Historical Society presents 2 exhibits looking back on that golden/scary era.

“Next Stop: Westport, The Inspiration for 1950’s TV & Film Writers” takes its title from “A Stop at Willoughby,” one of “Twilight Zone”‘s most memorable episodes. In it, an ad executive on his way home to suburban Westport repeatedly finds himself in a pastoral town called Willoughby — in 1888.

Westport’s role in “The Twilight Zone” was no coincidence. Rod Serling wrote the episode when he lived in Westport.

Fellow residents included novelist Max Shulman, whose Rally ‘Round the Flag, Boys! satirized life in a suburban town when the Army selects it for a missile base. (Which actually happened here; the subsequent film led Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward to move to Westport.)

It was quite a time. There were so many creative types, says Linda Gramatky Smith — the daughter of “Little Toot” creator Hardie Gramatky — that there were regular writer-vs.-artist basketball and softball games.

The Historical Society exhibit features all that, and more — like Sloan Wilson’s novel The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, which was set here (the subsequent movie, starring Gregory Peck, was filmed here), and the final year of “I Love Lucy,” when the Ricardos and Mertzes move to town.

Video of a different kind will be shown at the WHS too. “The Cold War in Our Backyard” — a fascinating, chilling (and at times laughable) film compilation by Lisa Seidenberg, including everything from instructions on removing radiation from food to the still-frightening “Twilight Zone” episode on barbarism in a fallout shelter — will play in a continuous loop. (You can also click here to see it.)

Nearby, images and artifacts will recreate the fears that filled that “golden” era.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” Charles Dickens wrote.

He didn’t live in Westport.

But so many other famous writers did. Starting Sunday, the Westport Historical Society shares their stories with the world.

(The exhibit’s opening reception is this Sunday, January 29, 3-5 p.m. Click here for more information, or call 203-222-1424.)

Hardie Gramatky Helps Historical Society

Little Toot” artist Hardie Gramatky is a Westport legend.

His wife — Dorothea Cooke Gramatky — was also an artist, though less known.

His daughter, Linda Gramatky Smith, and her husband Ken have kept her parents’ work alive, both internationally and here in their home town.

"Green's Farms Station," 1948.

Now the Gramatkys’ work is benefiting the Westport Historical Society too.

For a limited time before the holidays, giclée prints by Hardie and Dorothea ordered at the Historical Society or through www.californiawatercolor.com will generate 30% back to the WHS.

(NOTE: If you’re like me, here’s the answer: A giclée is a high-tech, high-quality process that exactly replicates the color and texture of original watercolor artwork. Examples — printed on heavy Provence watercolor paper — are on display in the WHS gift shop.)

Though Hardie is best known for his children’s books, he painted stunning watercolors of Westport landscapes. (Andrew Wyeth called him one of America’s 20 greatest watercolorists.)

"Schlaet Point," 1948.

38 local scenes are available.  So are hundreds of other subjects by Hardie, Dorothea and other leading artists. All generate the 30% donation to the Historical Society.

(To order online, click here; at checkout, enter the code “WHS” — oh yeah, you also get a 10% discount. You can also order at the Westport Historical Society, 25 Avery Place.)

"Turkey Hill Sleigh Ride," 1955.

Seymour Schachter Illustrates Success

Seymour Schachter’s parents were from the old country. They told him he’d never make a living doing art.

Seymour Schachter, in his Westport studio.

Seymour loved to draw and paint.  At 8 he won a national art contest — for adults.  Yet when it was time for college, in 1978, and his parents said he could go to art school only if he paid for it himself, he ended up at Boston University’s school of business.

But he showed his artwork to the dean, who made a deal with his art school counterpart.  They waived all business electives, so Seymour could take art courses.

After graduation he landed a high-paying job selling eyeglass frames around the world.  It was a dream job — “for anyone else,” he says.  Driving to an important meeting in France, all he wanted to do was paint the countryside.

He quit cold turkey — and got a job in a Hackensack mall art supply store.  But he was so successful — doubling sales in 1 month — that he caught the eye of the chain store’s president.

Through a series of similarly fortuitous meetings, legendary creative director Hazel  Spector asked him for a storyboard.  He had no idea what a storyboard was — but he stayed up all night, and created a great one.

That led to more offers.  One company requested 25 panels; they’d pay $40.   Hey, it’s money, Seymour figured.  He tried not to act surprised when he received $1,000 — $40 for each panel.

Continuity hired him as head artist.  His 11 years there “were better than any art school,” he says.  His work was critiqued by the best in the business.

Seymour Schachter, with a few of his product labels and designs. More line the shelves behind him.

Seymour’s ability to switch styles — from cartoons to superheroes to photo realism — proved invaluable.  In 1995 he formed his own company, and never looked back.  He crafted a career as an illustrator for Fortune 500 companies.  He’s drawn national ads, and designed some of the most popular product labels in the world.

Subway, Pepsi, Fruity Pebbles, Tropicana, Arm & Hammer, Sierra Mist,  Ragu, Skippy, Newman’s Own, Goldfish — all are Seymour Schachter clients, and Seymour’s artistic creations.

So was Joe Camel.

In 1984 — just 24 years old — his team drew the already-infamous cartoon character on cigarette tins and matchbox covers.

But Seymour felt conflicted.  He called the American Cancer Society, and offering his services at a lower-than-usual rate.  They asked him to draw posters.

“It was my way of balancing my conscience,” he says.

When his father died of a brain tumor, Seymour gave up doing cigarette ads altogether.

Eighteen years ago, Seymour and his wife Jamie began house-hunting.  She worked in Milford, so they searched for someplace between there and New York City.  Several friends suggested the “beautiful little artists’ community” of  Westport.

They knew nothing about it.  But they fell in love with the “nice beach, nice people and nice houses,” and bought a place off Cross Highway.

To his surprise, Seymour learned that the area teemed with promotional advertising companies like MCA, Ryan Partnership and Catapult —  huge firms with national accounts.

“We stumbled into an artists’ colony,” he says.  He’s been busy ever since.

Seymour Schachter is a successor to earlier generations of Westport illustrators — men like Harold von Schmidt, Steven Dohanos, Hardie Gramatky, Bernie Fuchs and Howard Munce.  For a century — starting in 1902 — they drew ads, book and magazine covers, product cans and boxes, putting this town on the international art map.

Impressed with Westport's DARE program, Seymour Schachter created this model -- and cardboard cutout. It sports a Westport Police badge.

They even spawned a noted correspondence course, Famous Artists School, located where Save the Children is now.

In the last 20 years, computers and the internet have taken work away from illustrators.  The world is changing in many ways, and commercial art has not been spared.

But, Seymour says, “for the few of us who can draw Flintstone characters standing around a Christmas tree, there’s still a lot of work.  And this part of Connecticut is still the place to get work.

“I hope to remain an illustrator as long as I live.”

Westport Welcomes Whitaker Art

Longtime Westporter Linda Gramatky Smith is — among many other things — treasurer of the Westport Schools Permanent Art Collection. 

For 2 years she has tried to get donations of artwork from the estate of internationally known watercolorists Frederic Whitaker and his wife, Eileen Monaghan Whitaker.  They lived in Norwalk from the mid-1940s to the early ’60s, and were close friends of Linda’s parents, Hardie and Doppy Gramatky.  (Hardie wrote and illustrated Little Toot.)

It took a while, but last month 2 dramatic watercolors arrived.

Frederic Whitaker's "Church in Weston."

Fred’s career spanned 70 years, and nearly 2000 paintings.  Westport received his “Church in Weston, Connecticut,” created in 1950.  The church was Norfield Congregational — and not much has changed in 60 years.

Eileen’s painting — “Granadinos” — is “so colorful that schoolchildren will love it,” Linda says.  Westport schools are dickering over which will get the artwork.

It’s fitting that “06880” marks the Whitaker work coming to Westport — because today is the 120th anniversary of Fred’s birth.

Happy birthday, Fred (and happy 100th to Eileen, later this year).  Welcome home!

Eileen Monaghan Whitaker's "Granadinos."

Honoring Permanent Art

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.

Westport artist Stevan Dohanos's Saturday Evening Post cover -- part of the Schools Permanent Art Collection -- has special significance.  The models were all Staples students.

Westport artist Stevan Dohanos's Saturday Evening Post cover -- part of the Westport Schools Permanent Art Collection -- has special significance. The models were all Staples students.

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.

Westporter Curt Swan drew the "Superman" comics for many years.  This illustration is part of the Westport Schools Permanent Art Collection.

Westporter Curt Swan drew the "Superman" comics for many years. This illustration is part of the Westport Schools Permanent Art Collection.

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.

Westport artist Hardie Gramatky donated this "Little Toot" book cover to the Westport Schools Permanent Art Collection.

Westport artist Hardie Gramatky donated this "Little Toot" book cover to the Westport Schools Permanent Art Collection in honor of beloved Green's Farms teacher Lucy Gorham.