Tag Archives: Kathie Motes Bennewitz

Friday Flashback #123

The other day, town arts curator Kathie Motes Bennewitz moved a Westport Public Art Collection painting from the Parks & Recreation office to Town Hall.

“Up by Daybreak Nursery” — done by noted Westport artist Howard Munce in 1989 — showed the weird Weston Road/Easton Road/Main Street intersection, near Merritt Parkway Exit 42.

On the back, Kathie noticed a few interesting things:


The note on the left — written by Howard in December of 1999 — said:

In 1989 I came upon this scene and quickly went home for my camera.

The locale is at the convergence of Rt. 136 and Rt. 57 — just opposite the Daybreak Nursery.

When former 1st Selectman Bill Seiden saw it he said “Worst traffic situation in town.” Many agree.

Since this painting was done, the nursery has built and planted a mound on the small island that separate the two roads. Also, the Merritt Parkway entrance has been redesigned, causing greater complication at the corner.

Happy motoring. Howard Munce.

Equally fascinating were these “Street Beat” interviews from the December 2, 1999 Minuteman newspaper. The question was: “Which is the most dangerous intersection in Westport?”

On the left, Jim Izzo — owner of Crossroads Ace Hardware — described nearby Main Street and Canal Road. “There is an accident every 2 weeks or so, some kind of fender-bender or something,” he said.

Sid Goldstein nominated Wilton Road and Kings Highway North, because of its narrow turning lane onto Wilton (since improved), and “drivers stop too close to the yellow line on Route 33 heading south” (still an issue).

Nancy Roberts of Wilton said it was the very intersection that Munce had painted: “The merge is laid out so that it confuses people, and not everyone stops properly.”

Todd Woodard — a Tacos or What? employee — thought it was Post Road East, where Roseville and Hillspoint Roads were not aligned properly. Plus, he said, the “big dip” on Roseville makes it hard for visibility. Also the two restaurants’ driveways are poorly placed within the intersection.”

Finally, Chris Cullen — who worked in marketing — pointed to North Compo and the Post Road. “They should make a right turn lane” on North Compo, he said, “because traffic gets backed up very easily.”

Those comments were made 20 years ago. Many are still relevant today.

And probably will be in 2039, too.

Lambdin Mural Hangs In New Home

For nearly 50 years, a spectacular mural hung just inside the main entrance to Saugatuck Elementary School, on Bridge Street.

Created by Westport artist Robert Lambdin as a WPA project, “Pageant of Juvenile Literature” greeted every visitor to the school. (It was also stared at by generations of mischief-makers, as they waited for meetings with the principal.)

Lambdin is well known for other murals, including a pair called “Saugatuck in the 19th Century” (one originally in a Saugatuck bank, now at Town Hall; the other at Westport Bank & Trust, preserved by the current tenant Patagonia), and “Spirit of Adventure,” which hangs over the entrance to the Town Hall auditorium.

But, says town arts curator Kathie Motes Bennewitz, “Pageant” was Lambdin’s masterpiece. Its complexity, and the wide variety of characters he painted, “touch everyone who sees it,” she says. “People just get pulled into it.”

The left side of the 7-foot high, 20-foot high mural depicts an array of classic fictional characters: Minerva, Huck Finn, Alice in Wonderland, Winnie the Pooh, Don Quixote, Robin Hood, Robinson Crusoe.

A closeup of the Robert Lambdin mural… (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

Lambdin included himself too — as Long John Silver.

One of his models was Janet Aley, who now — near 90 — still lives in Westport. Another model was Howard Brubaker — great-grandfather of Westporter Brian Crane — who went on to become editor of Colliers.

The right side of the mural portrays great historical figures, like Leif Erikson, Joan of Arc, Pocahontas, George Washington, Clara Barton, Davey Crockett and Abraham Lincoln.

… and the right side.

The middle section shows the history of writing, from ancient Egypt to a quill pen, then a typewriter.

When Saugatuck Elementary School closed in 1984 — due to declining enrollment —  the Bridge Street building was unmaintained. Weather and vandals took their tolls.

In 1992, the town decided to convert the old Saugatuck El to senior housing. The murals were slated for demolition.

But a group of art-lovers — including Mollie Donovan, Eve Potts and Judy Gault Sterling — set out to save the work. Within a month they raised $40,000. That was enough to remove the mural, conserve it, and reinstall it at its new home: The Westport Library.

For nearly 25 years, the Robert Lambdin mural hung above the Westport Library’s Great Hall. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

Opened just 6 years earlier, the library was an inspired choice. Hanging above the Great Hall, the mural — with its representations of literature and history — was visible to all.

Plus, back in the day Lambdin had actually been a Westport Library trustee.

More than a quarter century later though, the library is in the midst of its own renovation. A suitable spot could not be found, during or after the project.

Bennewitz and members of the Westport Public Art Collection searched for a large wall, with plenty of foot traffic. They — with architect Scott  Springer — found it, at Staples High School.

Which is how, the other day, the enormous mural was removed from the library, transported, and reassembled near the auditorium lobby. Hung proudly — and even closer to the public than at the library — “Pageant of Juvenile Adventure” will be seen by thousands of students every day, and folks of all ages at plays, concerts and other events.

Moving the mural was no easy task. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

Bennewitz praised many groups, for making the move possible. Town Hall, the Westport Library and Westport school system worked together, coordinating manpower and equipment. Support also came from the Westport Arts Advisory Committee and Friends of WestPAC.

The mural was installed during school vacation. Students have not yet seen it. But everyone who passed by during the installation was impressed.

That includes Staples custodian Jeff Allen. A former Saugatuck El student, he remembers the mural well. He’s proud to see it back up in the school where he now works.

Staples custodian Jeff Allen admires the artwork.

He and many others will be in attendance this Friday (March 2, 2:45 p.m.). A rededication ceremony will include brief speeches, appropriate music (“House at Pooh Corner”) — and students, teachers and others dressed in costumes. (First Selectman Jim Marpe will portray Abraham Lincoln.)

Anyone who remembers the Lambdin mural from its original location at Saugatuck Elementary School is particularly welcome.

Of course, everyone who loves art, literature and history is encouraged to be there too.

BONUS FUN FACT: Robert Lambdin was not the only Westport WPA artist. During the 1930s, 17 local artists produced 34 artworks, and 120 photos.

Robert Lambdin’s “Pageant of Juvenile Adventure,” in its new home.

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)

Moving Morris

This morning’s “06880” story — about Miggs Burroughs’ “Signs of Compassion” photo project — noted that it’s the last exhibit in the Westport Library’s Great Hall before their transformation project begins.

The library will remain open during the renovation. But preparations are already underway.

Art throughout the building is being packed up and stored.

Next Friday, it’s Morris Jesup’s turn.

The iconic bust of the library’s founding patron will head to Town Hall, where he will chill out for the transformation duration.

From left: Carole Erger-Fass, Christine Timmons, Judy Auber Jahnel, Morris Jesup  and Kathie Motes Bennewitz. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

Before he goes, the library invites fans to come by, and take your photo with the old guy. In the photo above, library staffers and town arts curator Kathie Motes Bennewitz show how it’s done.

Photos can be shared on social media. Use the hashtag #Moving Morris.

He looks austere. But don’t be put off.

Morris Jesup is down for anything.

So What Are You Gonna Do Now With All That Milk And Eggs?

Trader Joe’s and Stop & Shop were stripped nearly bare. Gas stations were jammed. The Blizzard of the Year Decade Century Millennia Entire History of the Universe Since the Big Bang was coming!

It snowed this morning. The wind blew. A couple dozen homes were without power.

Ninety minute later, the juice was back on.

That was pretty much the story today. There was a storm for sure, and a bit of flooding. But to find the last time predictions were so far off, you have to go way back to November 8.

It was a day for Netflix. Finishing your taxes. And for Westport students to do homework.

Because you know — the Forecast of Doom notwithstanding — they’ll be back in school tomorrow.

Snow will fall. But birds have to feed. Kathie Motes Bennewitz made sure they had enough to eat.

Saugatuck Shores and coastal areas got hit with flooding, from the wind, high tide and full moon. When the storm receded, Max and Logan Manchester kayaked down Spriteview Avenue.

Water whipped up against Schlaet’s Point, on Hillspoint Road… (Photo/Ian Warburg)

…and nearby Compo Beach. (Photo/Ian Warburg)

This morning — with a statewide travel ban in effect — I-95 was deserted. This is the view looking north, from the Hales Road overpass. (Photo/Fred Cantor)

Friday Flashback #26

Last month’s Women’s March on Washington was quite an event. It drew dozens of Westporters — some of whom had never participated in anything like it before. They returned home excited, energized and empowered.

Just imagine how the women of the Westport Equal Franchise League felt, when they participated in Suffrage Week activities right here in 1913.

Kathie Motes Bennewitz — the town art curator and cultural historian who unearthed all this information — provides a clipping from the Bridgeport Evening Farmer of November 13 of that year. It says:

A meeting of the Westport Equal Franchise League was held at the home of Mrs. Rose Barrell on Myrtle avenue yesterday afternoon. The final arrangements for the Suffrage Week which will be held next week was made. The first gun of the week will be fired on Sunday evening when the Rev. K. McKenzie will address the gathering at Holy Trinity church at 7:30 o’clock. On Monday a rally and parade will be held which will be followed by addresses.

The parade will form at the corner of Myrtle avenue and Main street and will march to the Square. A brass band has been secured and it is expected that a large number of women will be in line. After the parade a rally will be held at which the following will give addresses: The Wage Earning Women, Mrs. E. Gregory of South Norwalk; The Necessary of Mother’s Vote, Mrs. Robert Fuller; Probation Work by Mrs. D. O. Parker of Greenwich, who at present is probation officer of that town; Taxation Without Representation, Mrs. Rose Barrell. The other speakers of the evening will be Mrs. G. C. Brown, Mrs. Rufus Putney and others.

How did the parade and rally go?

We don’t know. There was no follow-up report.

However, Kathie did find out that the Westport Equal Franchise League — to support women’s right to vote — had been formed a year earlier, in March 1912.

And Kathie learned that the 1913 Suffrage Week events in Westport were part of a national movement, kicked off by a parade in Washington, DC.

The women's suffrage parade marches down Pennsylvania Avenue on March 3, 1913. The National Park Service did not offer a crowd estimate.

The women’s suffrage parade marches down Pennsylvania Avenue on March 3, 1913. The National Park Service did not offer a crowd estimate.

The Westport Equal Franchise League kept going. The participated in the Hartford Suffrage Parade on May 2, 1914.

Six years later, the 19th Amendment — giving women the vote — became the law of the land.

A poster for the Hartford suffrage event. Westport women participated.

A poster for a Hartford suffrage event.

The Last Pastrami

Hundreds of current Westporters, former Westprters and work-in-or-pass-through Westporters streamed downtown today.

They joined employees, former employees and family members of Lee Papageorge at Oscar’s, the Main Street deli/gathering place/home away from home he’s owned since 1971.

Lee is hospitalized, battling lung cancer. Today is Oscar’s last day; it closes tomorrow.

One longtime customer said, “It was a place where millionaires sat next to homeless people. And no one knew the difference. Lee treated them all the same.”

As the large crowd honored the history and heritage of Oscar’s — and the man who, for more than 4 decades has made it a warm welcoming and wonderful place — it was clear that, in a town not known for agreeing on much, one thing is certain:

Main Street will never be the same.

A typical scene, seen for the last time.

A typical scene, seen for the last time.

For decades, this mural has depicted a group of 1970s-era regulars. Lee Papageorge is on the left.

For decades, this mural has depicted a group of 1970s-era regulars. Lee Papageorge is on the left.

Westport's movers and shakers have long gathered at Oscar's. This morning, former 1st selectman and WestportNow publisher Gordon Joseloff chatted with town arts curator Kathie Motes Bennewitz.

Westport’s movers and shakers have long gathered at Oscar’s. This morning, former 1st selectman and WestportNow publisher Gordon Joseloff chatted with town arts curator Kathie Motes Bennewitz.

Oscar's was a regular gathering place for many other Westporters too.

Oscar’s was a regular gathering place for many other Westporters too.

Ali Papageorge -- Lee's daughter -- sported an Oscar's t-shirt.

Ali Papageorge — Lee’s daughter — sported an Oscar’s t-shirt.

A paper plate on the back of the barber chair where Lee regularly sits read, "Reserved for the king."

A paper plate on the back of the barber chair where Lee regularly sits read, “Reserved for our king.”

Oscars - 7

 

 

Bridge Street Bridge: A Bit Of Background

The recent flurry of posts about the Bridge Street (William Cribari) Bridge prompted Kathie Motes Bennewitz to check in.

The town arts curator writes:

The recent Westport Historical Society exhibit, “Saugatuck@ Work,” addressed the Saugatuck bridge. This original drawing of the bridge (July, 1884) is from the WHS archives:

Bridge Street bridge - original drawing

The WHS exhibit included this information:

The Saugatuck River Bridge carries Route 136 over the Saugatuck River in Westport today. The bridge, built in 1884 and designed by the Union Bridge Company of Buffalo, is the oldest surviving movable bridge in Connecticut and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The movable bridge allows waterborne traffic to easily pass, which was crucial to the area’s maritime economy at the time it was built.

The bridge consists of a 144-foot-long fixed approach span on the eastern side, and a hand-cranked movable span. Both spans are pin-connected Pratt through truss designs made of wrought iron.

In the mid-1980s there was a successful 2-year battle to save and restore this Westport landmark. The battle began when Federal and state officials determined that the 100-year-old structure had rotting floor beams, and steel decking, trusses and girders had fallen into disrepair. Their plan was to build a new bridge, 3 lanes wide and with a higher vertical clearance, with no posted weight restrictions.

The Bridge Street Bridge. (Photo/Library of Congress)

The Bridge Street Bridge. (Photo/Library of Congress)

This bridge was never without political controversy. The bridge’s present location was the historic crossing point, as established in 1746 when the Disbrow ferry was established to carry traffic over the Saugatuck River.

However, local merchants and financiers, such as the Jesup family and Horace Staples, built a substantial infrastructure of maritime, financial and commercial facilities upriver at Westport center, and blocked this bridge’s realization for decades. They wanted to force the flow of traffic from Fairfield, Greens Farms and Compo uptown, crossing the river there to reach the depot and wharves to the west.

Yet in the early 1880s, when the needs of overland transport demanded a new bridge in Saugatuck Village, there was little question but that the bridge would have to be built to accommodate the passage of vessels destined not only for Saugatuck itself, but also for the larger port upstream at Westport center.

A detail of the Bridge Street Bridge, from Robert Lambdin's Saugatuck mural.

A detail of the Bridge Street Bridge, from Robert Lambdin’s Saugatuck mural.

Horace Staples admitted late in life that it was the mistake of his life in having the bridge built where it was now [downtown] instead of at Ferry Lane, where the road builders that proposed and where the ferry had been established.

Ironically, the onion trade declined drastically soon after the bridge was opened, rendering moot the reason for erecting the swing bridge rather than a cheaper and less troublesome fixed crossing.

(Kathie adds: The Library of Congress has Historic American Buildings Survey, Engineering Record, Landscapes Survey photographs online. Click here to view.)

A Few Hours To Honor The Minute Men

They’re called the Minute Men, but they spent 8 years fighting the Revolutionary War.

It took a couple of years to renovate Westport’s Minute Man statue.

The annual Minute Man Road Race is actually 2 races — 5K or 10K — which take considerably longer than a minute to run.

So it’s fitting that Westport will celebrate “Minute Man Day” next (Sunday, April 26), with a series of activities that take 300 minutes (5 hours, if you failed math).

Minute Man Road RaceThe activities — commemorating the 238th anniversary of the British march from Compo Beach to Danbury and back again (our Minute Men did a pretty good job against them), and celebrating the renovation of Henry Daniel Webster’s 105-year-old statue — begin at noon on Sunday, April 26, soon after the Minute Man Race.

Departing every 15 minutes from 12 to 1:30 p.m., Westport Historical Society docents (including yours truly) will lead guided tours. We’ll start at the Ned Dimes Marina (definitely not a Revolutionary War facility), and make stops at the old cemetery and Minute Man statue. There are special children’s activities at the marina. Net proceeds from a suggested donation of $10 (ages 13 and up) go toward the ongoing care of the statue.

From 1-5 p.m., a recreated Revolution militia encampment will be set up on Jesup Green. The Connecticut Society of the Sons of the American Revolution color guard performs musket demonstrations. This event is free.

At 2:30 p.m. in the Westport Library, conservator Francis Miller will describe how he restored the Minute Man statue. This one is free too.

The Minuteman statue. In the distance is Minuteman Hill.

The Minuteman statue. In the distance is Minuteman Hill.

At 3 p.m. — also in the library — history lecturer Ed Hynes discusses the Danbury raid. He’ll talk about the 4-day adventure, which included noted brigadier general Benedict Arnold. If you don’t know which side he was on — or even if you do — this promises to be very educational.

In fact, the entire day is worth more than a few minutes of our time.

Minute Man Day

Robert Lambdin’s Old Mural Gains New Life

Westport has a poor batting average for saving old homes.

But when it comes to preserving murals, it’s all grand slams.

Restored murals by John Steuart Curry and other noted artists hang in our public schools, fire station and Town Hall.

The Westport Art Rescue Committee — led by the late Mollie Donovan, her sister Eve Potts, Judy Gault Sterling and Ann Sheffer, among others — saved Robert Lambdin’s WPA-era “Pageant of Juvenile Literature” when Saugatuck Elementary School was converted to senior housing. It’s now on display at the Westport Library, admired by hundreds of people every day.

Lambdin also painted the grand “Saugatuck in the 19th Century” — actually 3 works. Two — dating to 1964-65 — were installed in the handsome main lobby of Westport Bank & Trust Company, which commissioned the work.

They remained there as the local bank was swallowed up in a series of takeovers by now-forgotten, bigger ones. The building — in the heart of downtown — is now Patagonia. The cool, functional clothing store has lovingly preserved Lambdin’s murals.

Robert Lambdin's old-time murals lend a touch of Westport history to modern-day Patagonia.

Robert Lambdin’s old-time murals lend a touch of Westport history to modern-day Patagonia.

The other “Saugatuck in the 19th Century” painting was hung at Westport Bank & Trust’s Charles Street branch — in the heart of Saugatuck. It was painted around 1969, when the branch opened.

That large mural depicts a lively Saugatuck. It shows agriculture, stables, the railroad and river trade; businesses like Elonzo Wheeler’s button factory; the Bridge Street bridge, and the Saugatuck Bank (Westport Bank & Trust’s forerunner), whose founding partners included Horace Staples.

Though the view was composed with artistic license, Lambdin conducted painstaking research. Town residents modeled for him, including (at the center) Captain Serano Allen.

Robert Lambdin's Saugatuck mural.

Robert Lambdin’s Saugatuck mural. Hover over or click to enlarge.

The Saugatuck mural was a point of pride in the neighborhood, even as the branch lost its local roots. Eventually it became a TD Bank.

When TD (whatever those initials stand for) closed the branch last November, the mural’s future was unknown.

The building is being sold. The mural is headed for storage.

But — thanks to town art curator Kathie Motes Bennewitz, and the Westport Arts Advisory Committee — “Saugatuck in the 19th Century” has a new life.

After touch-up work, it will hang in Town Hall. An exhibit is planned too.

The gift from TD Bank is valued at $25,000.

But you can’t put a price on preserving history.

Last Thursday, the mural was removed from the old bank building.

Last Thursday, the large mural was removed from the old bank building.