WAAC member artist Eric Chiang — who lives near CMS — creates large, multi-canvas acrylic paintings depicting themes like love, connection and hope. Many are colorful and fantastical — perfect for middle schoolers and a big, blank wall.
Could Chiang loan the school one of his pieces?
Chiang measured the wall, photoshopped a few images onto it, then suggested possibilities for consideration.
CMS Principal Kris Szebo created a survey to engage students and teachers in the decision-making process. A vote was taken.
The winner: Are We Born Connected? The triptych acrylic on canvas measures 4 feet by 15 feet.
Eric Chiang (center) with his triptych. CMS building chair Don O’Day looks on.
Chiang notes, “The sound of the cello is in the same range of that of human beings. I used cellos to represent humans, emphasizing their voices. The big cello in the foreground faces two choices: Sing a solo dirge like those floating cellos on the left, or band together for Ode to Joy and celebrate the existences together like those cellos on the right. We are wounded, we are in despair, but we have each other. We are born connected, and can sing together.”
Are We Born Connected? is on loan to CMS until the end of the school year. The fanciful work will greet the students when they come back from vacation tomorrow.
The artwork is hung. From left: team member Scott Bennewitz, Westport arts curator Kathie Motes Bennewitz, artist Eric Chiang, CMS building chair Don O’Day.
The public may not visit, due to security protocols and COVID. But the piece can be viewed on the WAAC website — along with more than 1,500 other works from Westport’s extensive public collection.
(Click here for more of Eric Chiang’s work. Hat tip: Nancy Diamond.)
As town art curator, Kathie Motes Bennewitz has spent years fleshing out full narratives of our earliest generations of artists — the men and women who established Westport’s reputation as an “artists’ colony.”
The first painters and illustrators arrived around 1904. Ralph and Rebecca Boyer joined them in 1923. Like many others — then and now — they had young children, and found Westport a better place to raise a family than New York City.
You may never have heard of the Boyers. But Bennewitz has.
In fact, her essay “A Seeing Eye for Beauty in the Everyday World: Ralph L. Boyer (1879-1952) and His Daughter Rebecca Boyer Merrilees (1922-2012)” is part of a new book.
A Life in Art: The Boyer & Merrilees Families was just published by the Northern New England Museum of Contemporary Art. It includes over 100 full-color images, covering the art they created from 1907 to 2010. Most was done right here in Westport.
The Boyers lived in Coleytown. It was far from the center — but their neighbors included James and Laura Gardin Fraser, Oscar and Lila Audobon Howard, and Kerr and Phyllis Brevoori Eby. James Daugherty lived nearby, in Weston.
The Boyers’ antique saltbox had been the home of illustrator Clive Weed. Known as the Aaron Burr Adams house, it still stands on Easton Road, near Bayberry Extension.
Boyer built a small studio, on a hilltop. He had sweeping views of the Aspetuck River, where the stream widens into a lake (now part of the Newman Poses Preserve). When he was not painting, Boyer was fishing.
“Landlocked Salmon No.1 (c. 1924-1935),” etching and drypoint. Inscribed: “To my friend James Daugherty with deepest regards Ralph L. Boyer.”
Boyer’s favorite drawing and etching subjects included haying on the Coley farms, trees along the Saugatuck River and fly fishing on the Aspetuck. His etchings of trout, salmon and bass capture their grace of movement.
He also painted portraits of key community members and artists. During the Depression he received important WPA mural commissions. His most famous — the “History of Fire” series — hangs in the Westport fire station today.
Along the Saugatuck (mid to late 1920s), etching and drypoint (Ralph Boyer)
His daughter Becky graduated from Staples High School in 1939. Her yearbook called her “one of the town’s most expert badminton players, as well as one oits leading younger artists.”
After Pratt Institute, she became an accomplished commercial illustrator. She was most renowned for her botanic work.
In 1960 she became the first female artist with a Reader’s Digest cover (a painting of ferns). She drew 8 more covers, all botanical.
Becky and her husband Douglas Merrilees moved to Northfield, Vermont in 1961. There he developed what is now called the “Made in Vermont” movement. She continued to draw nature there.
Artwork by Rebecca (Becky) Boyer Merrilees.
Bennewitz’s essay was inspired by a generous donation to the Westport Public Art Collections by Becky Boyer Merrilees in 2012, just months before she died. It included etchings and sketches by her father, watercolors by her mother, and beautiful paintings by Becky, along with art by Kerr Eby.
The Boyers’ time here — particularly the early years — must have been quite something. In 1931, the Boston Evening Transcript described Westport like this:
An extensive permanent colony of painters, etchers, sculptors, typographers and printers of 20 years (who) have established themselves in the fabric of the town…
A very attractive social structure has sort of accumulated, so that Saturday evenings the year ‘round are very jolly indeed.…
They are friends, they are people. They fish and skate and ride and sail sloops and swim and have children. They gossip — dear me! How they gossip, and they are as easily friendly as any group you could imagine.
(Click here to buy A Life in Art: The Boyers & Merrilees.)
The Round Pond Road resident was revered nationally for addressing social ills like child labor and racial injustice. She worked tirelessly for immigrants’ rights, world peace and women’s full franchise.
But there is much more to Lillian Wald’s story. Kathie Motes Bennewitz and Bob Weingarten fill in the blanks.
Lillian Wald was born in 1867 in Cincinnati. She graduated from high school at 15, and spent the next 6 years traveling around the globe. After moving to New York City she studied nursing, then entered the Women’s Medical College become a doctor.
In medical school she volunteered her services to the immigrants and poor on the Lower East Side. She became so engrossed in that care that she left medical school. In 1893 she organized the Henry Street Settlement and Visiting Nurse Service of New York. She found her calling.
Henry Street Settlement.
Wald was a dynamic organizer. She started with 10 nurses. By 1916, 250 nurses served 1,300 patients a day.
She worked out of 265 Henry Street, a 5-story walk-up, cold water building on the Lower East Side. Wald helped to educate those she served on health care and personal hygiene, and expanded to assist in housing, employment and education. In 1903 she persuaded President Theodore Roosevelt to create a Federal Children’s Bureau.
In later years, Wald was recognized for her efforts in nursing and as an author.
In 1970 she was inducted into the Hall of Fame for Great Americans through the dedicated effort of Aaron Rabinowitz — Ann Sheffer’s grandfather — who knew Wald from childhood, and in the 1930s had moved to Westport to be near her.
She had come to Westport in 1917, as a summer resident. When she retired, she moved full-time to the 1868 house on the pond across from Longshore. She enjoyed watching neighborhood youngsters skate there in winter.
The library exhibit focuses on her suffrage work. In 1914 Wald wrote::
Democracy brings people nearer together…. When women share equally with men the responsibility for righteousness in government and when their counsels on matters of public welfare are given the dignity the ballot bestows, there will follow a new sense of comradeship, a new sense of fellowship between men and women: woman win not be the unacknowledged power behind the throne—she will share the throne!
The suffrage movement in Connecticut.
In the 1910s Wald hosted suffrage events at the Settlement, and delivered addresses. On November 4, 1915, she fed supportive “watchers and pickets” at Lower East Side assembly districts as men voted on New York state’s suffrage amendment.
These polling sites, The New York Times reported, were lively with “constant cheers and cries of ‘Votes for the Women!’ from small boys in the street. Here and there an Italian voice chimed in ‘Vota for Women.’”
When she left New York for Westport, a stream of distinguished guests visited. Eleanor Roosevelt came several times, enjoying tea and staying at the home of Ruth Steinkraus on Compo Road South.
Lillian Wald’s House on the Pond.
In 1937, the First Lady visited for Wald’s 70th birthday. She wrote:
The neighbors in Westport got together and made a book for her, one of the most interesting books it has ever been my pleasure to see. Westport is the home of many artistic people, but this included the names of all her friends, even if their talent was only that of being able to love another fine human being.
They all signed their names, those who could draw, drew pictures, those who could write, wrote verses and prose, and I think that book will be for her a joy in many hours when she perhaps would not have the energy to take up any occupation, or even to look at anything new.
I was interested in the cover of this book, nicely worked in cross-stitch, but designed so that many of her daily interests were right there for you to pick out. Two little Scotties down in the corner; the ducks which waddle down to the pond and eat chunks of bread up near the house; the birds of peace.
Lillian Wald’s birthday book cover. It is owned by Ann Sheffer.
Wald is by far the most famous — but just one of many fascinating Westporters whose stories are told in the Westport Library exhibit. Click here to access the full gallery.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
Oscar’s was a regular gathering place for many other Westporters too.
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 our king.”
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