Nearly 20 years ago, 1,400 Westport middle school students created what is believed to be the largest piece of public art in Fairfield County.
Designed by students in their art classrooms — with help from noted artists Katherine Ross and Miggs Burroughs — the “Kids’ Wall” rose 8 feet high, and stretched 44 feet wide.
Costing $18,000 — donated by dozens of individuals and organizations — it included 1,500 pounds of tile and adhesive, 1,000 pounds of “Wonder Board” (tile backing), and 200 pounds of grout.
There are 64 panels, 500 pieces of broken tile, and other objects on each panel. That’s 32,000 individual pieces on the mural, give or take a few.
Each panel was completed in one 50-minute art class. There were 64 classes, covering every 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th grader in town.
The Kids’ Wall, at Longshore.
The approval process took 2 years. The Planning & Zoning Commission, Architectural Review Board, Parks & Recreation Department, Public Works, Police Department, Conservation Commission, RTM, Arts Advisory Council and Board of Selectmen all weighed in
Finally, it was done. The Kids’ Wall was unveiled near the Longshore pool on May 28, 2000.
It’s still there.
But it’s also at the Westport Library.
Just inside the upper parking lot entrance, there’s an exhibit celebrating the 20th anniversary. It includes a 1/3-scale banner of the wall, plus newspaper stories and more.
The Kids’ Wall exhibit at the library.(From left): Artists Miggs Burroughs and Katherine Ross; outgoing Library exhibits director Chris Timmons; incoming exhibits director Carol Erger-Fass.
Somehow, this enormous public art project never got the publicity it deserved. If you go to the Longshore pool or sailing school, you see it.
But no one else does — or even knows about it.
The “transformed” library opened 3 months ago. Perhaps this exhibit will transform the little-known Kids’ Wall into an artistic treasure, known far and wide.
Or at least beyond Longshore.
KIDS’ WALL BONUS:Click below for a video on the making of the mural:
Alert “06880” reader — and very talented graphic designer/artist/ arts supporter/amazing civic volunteer — Miggs Burroughs writes:
The Drew Friedman Community Arts Center sponsored free art classes last spring and summer for middle school kids in town. They were developed and run by local artist Katherine Ross and her daughter Rebecca.
Randy Herbertson — president of the Westport Downtown Merchants Association — hosted the classes at his Visual Brand office on Church Lane.
The most recent class project was a collaborative mural. It was conceived and executed by the students, based on the idea to “Shop Local.” That’s been a mantra of (among others) David Waldman, who developed Bedford Square across the street on Church Lane. Each youngster created a different letter.
When Waldman saw the mural, he asked to display it in Bedford Square. It now hangs in the window of #11.
It’s very satisfying to have some of Westport’s biggest players come together to support art, created by some of our youngest talents.
So does the Drew Friedman Community Arts Center. The non-profit — funded by a $500,000 bequest from the late downtown landlord and Cobb’s Mill Inn owner — has quietly but strongly impacted the lives of young Westporters. Led by passionate volunteer artists, these boys and girls create their own art — right where they live.
Homes with Hope runs an after-school program for children and teenagers living in the organization’s Powell Place housing, and the surrounding neighborhood Saugatuck Avenue neighborhood. It provides positive role models, academic support and enrichment, 4 days a week.
First, with the guidance of Miggs Burroughs, the Drew Friedman Center helped kids in the program create a mural of their self-portraits.
Recently, they embarked on their 2nd project. Each student chose a “spirit animal,” then created their own interpretation of that animal and its environment.
Hard at work on the mural.
Artist Katherine Ross and her daughter Rebecca worked with them to devise a layout and composition for the mural, then helped them realize their visions.
Art is a collaborative process.
The mural now hangs proudly in the Powell Place community room.
Artists young and old, and their mural. (Photo releases were not obtained for all young artists.)
This project — run by Lynn Abramson — is just the latest for the Drew Friedman Community Arts Center. They’ve already sponsored art classes at Project Return, in Randy Herbertson’s studio, and for developmentally disabled youngsters at CLASP Homes.
Art lifts, energizes and inspires. Thanks to Drew Friedman’s generosity, it’s also accessible now to every child, no matter where in Westport they live.
The late restaurant owner and longtime arts supporter’s $1 million bequest to endow a Community Arts Center — a series of projects, rather than an actual building — has already funded several scholarships and programs for under-served students.
On Thursday afternoon, another installment of Art on the Beach brought youngsters to the Compo pavilion.
Led by Westport artist and educator Katherine Ross and her daughter Rebecca, the budding artists painted, drew and created collages.
A few of the works created Thursday at Compo Beach.
They also talked about forming a collective for young artists in town. Thanks to Drew’s funds, all sessions would be free.
To learn more — as a young artist, or the parent or friend of one — email Miggs Burroughs: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
Last spring, alert “06880” reader Katherine Ross was walking along Imperial Avenue, near Harborview Road. She noticed what she called “a forgotten park on the river.” Small trails, a few benches were hidden and a plaque identifying “William P. Teuscher Wetlands Preserve” were hidden, she says, by overgrown weeds and poison ivy.
This summer, Katherine noted substantial changes. Trails had been cleared. Wood chips were down. New plants had taken root.
The William P. Teuscher Wetlands Preserve — before and after.
Katherine was impressed. But she did not know who was responsible.
Recently, she learned the answer. Staples student Patrick Overton took on the task, for his Troop 39 Eagle Scout project. He had help from his brother James.
A newly cleared path in the William P. Teuscher Wetlands Preserve. It juts into the Saugatuck River off Imperial Avenue, near Harborview Road. (Photo/Katherine Ross)
What a great idea. And how nice to do something so important, so well — and so quietly.
Patrick Overton, with the Teuscher plaque.
PS: Here’s a closeup of the plaque. Very interesting and educational (except for the misspelled “whose.”)
Between the 50th anniversary of the town’s purchase of Longshore and the founding of Orphenians; the 175th birthday of Westport, and the 375th celebration of Connecticut, the 10th anniversary of anything might seem like nothing to write home blog about.
But the Westport Historical Society is taking note of the decade-long Kids’ Wall at the Longshore pool. If something that’s only as old as the millennium can be honored by historians, it’s good enough for “06880.”
Today (May 28), the WHS unveils an exhibit paying tribute to the “dedication, tenacity and spirit of a passionate group who fought Town Hall to bring the project to fruition.”
Okay, so it wasn’t the Minutemen trying (unsuccessfully) to beat back the British at Compo Beach. It’s still a good story.
The 6-foot high, 44-foot long Kids’ Arts Wall, decorated with 32,000 hand-placed tiles, was first proposed in 1998 by Westport artist/teacher Katherine Ross.
“There were very few activities for middle schoolers at the time,” she recalls. “There were no arcades, no bowling alley, no movie theaters.” (Not like today!)
“They were being kicked out of downtown stores for loitering. We wanted to show these kids they had a creative voice.”
She and fellow artist Miggs Burroughs envisioned a spot near the library. But the P and Z, other politicians and some Westporters feared — well, everything: Visual clutter. Skateboarders atop the wall. Amplification of sound from the Levitt Pavilion. Headlights reflecting against the wall, causing accidents. The list was more dire than the plagues at a Passover seder.
Finally, Steve and Toni Rubin suggested the Longshore pool. Bingo!
Middle school students submitted 1400 drawings. Using a variety of media — and little treasures like quarters, beads, even notes about water safety — the wall was built and decorated in 3 months.
What Burroughs believes to be “the largest piece of children’s art in Connecticut” was unveiled on May 28, 2000.
Ten years later, the WHS exhibit will include an actual-size photo replica of the wall, newspaper clippings and interactive mosaic art opportunities. The event is a focus of the WHS Time Travelers Camp sessions, which take place during the summer. It will serve as a springboard for a study of the sea.
Middle schoolers who participated in the project are especially invited to today’s exhibit. Of course, they may recall it as ancient history.
After all, they’re now in their early 20s.
(The Westport Historical Society exhibit begins with a reception today [May 28], from 5-7 p.m. It also honors the 50th anniversary of the town’s purchase of Longshore. Earlier today — 3 p.m. at Saugatuck Congregational Church — town officials and noted citizens celebrate the 175th anniversary of Westport’s charter, with a unique ceremony [and a birthday cake]. For more information, click here or call 203-222-1424.)
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