There’s something about a small wooden studio off Sylvan Road.
For years it was where artist Perry Barlow worked, creating covers and cartoons for the New Yorker.
Photographer Nancy Breakstone made it her own. She frames and displays photos of abstract patterns she finds everywhere: in the volcanic sand of Costa Rica’s beaches, in coral, even in modernist buildings like the TWA Hotel at JFK. They’ve been on display at local art shows, and online.
She took a turn, creating pictures that could seem tough to understand — until you see how the ocean makes them. Click here for a gallery talk at Silvermine with Trace Burroughs and others, a month before COVID changed everything.
Now Breakstone takes portraits. As always, she’s earned great recognition.
It started 7 years ago. She and her husband Bill Kutik were walking on the coast of Costa Rica, enjoying interesting patterns in the sand. She shot them on her iPhone.
Back at their house, he was surprised. He’d stood next to her, but not seen what she saw. Her photographer’s eye framed things perfectly.
For the past 3 years, the couple has spent winters in the British Virgin Islands. Breakstone could not find similar abstract natural patterns to photograph.
But she discovered portraits of people. One — a 21-year-old woman named Kimberly — who grew up on an isolated island is a standout track and field athlete events like discus, and distance and relay races.
Her real talent is soccer. She is the goalkeeper for the British Virgin Islands national team.
That’s not enough to pay the bills. Breakstone met her as a day worker at the hotel beach 2 weeks before she headed to Guatemala for the first World Cup qualifying round. The opponent was powerhouse Cuba.
Kimberly said confidently, “We’re gonna win.” She was equally sure a soccer scholarship was coming her way from a college in Louisiana.
They met after the beach bar closed. Breakstone didn’t pose Kimberly; instead, she asked about her life. Breakstone snapped this photo:
Kimberley (Photo/Nancy Breakstone)
Cuba easily beat BVI in the soccer match. But Breakstone’s photo hangs in “Coming of Age,” a show of 70 artists older than 60 at the Ridgefield Guild of Artists. It ran on the cover of a newspaper supplement about the show.
Next up: “The Art of Nature.” The art show and sale Breakstone organized opens soon as a benefit for Earthplace. She will show a new 10-part series of coral and other recent work Nine local artists will exhibit their work too.
The opening night reception (April 28, 5 to 9 p.m.) includes a talk with all 10 artists, and wine and canapés donated by Rizzuto’s. Tickets are $15; click here to purchase, and for more information.
The show is free on Saturday and Sunday, April 29-30. It’s a natural!
Alert — and preservation-minded — “06880” reader Bill Kutik writes:
Every house in Westport has a history. I’ve been lucky enough to learn about mine from a man who grew up in it — 91-year-old Peter Barlow.
It’s already somewhat famous as the “Gerber Baby” house off Sylvan Road North, though we never think of it that way. We already knew it was built in 1927 by an original New Yorker cover artist and cartoonist, Perry Barlow. Many of his colleagues settled in Westport in the 1920s and ’30s because they had to go into New York only once a week to show their work to the magazine’s art editor. Back then, many considered Westport too far to commute on a daily basis. Imagine that?
Perry Barlow (self-portrait).
Barlow’s wife, artist Dorothy Hope Smith, had a sideline to her book illustrating and advertising work: doing oil paintings of friends’ children. In 1928, Gerber held a contest to find a face for its new baby food. Dorothy sent a simple charcoal sketch of a neighbor’s baby, and offered to paint an oil.
The marketing execs loved the sketch, paid her $250 (in 1929 dollars), and starting in 1931 the Gerber Baby turned into the longest running advertising symbol in American history – 90 years and counting. Imagine, if instead, they had given her a small payment every time they used it?!
Dorothy Hope Smith’s “Gerber baby” sketch.
After buying the Barlow House in 1998, my then wife and I dithered over its 2 painting studios. The larger one is part of the house with a 2-story ceiling, a huge north-facing window made of 77 individual panes of glass, and a soaring brick fireplace. The other is a separate building with much the same (including a bathroom and kitchen), but a smaller north window with 25 panes.
We needed historical precedent: Which artist used which one?
I opened the Westport phonebook (remember those?), and found Peter listed. He cheerfully answered my question: “My mother used the studio in the house.”
It became my office, where I have been delighted to work at such a historic intersection of art and commerce. After 30 years in the software industry – as columnist, consultant and impresario – I am close to finishing my first book. It was written largely in Dorothy’s studio.
Bill Kutik, at work in Dorothy Hope Smith’s former studio. (Photo/Nancy Moon)
My wife Nancy Breakstone has made Perry’s former studio into her photography studio. She frames and displays incredible photos of abstract patterns she finds everywhere: in the volcanic sand of Costa Rica’s Pacific beaches, in coral and even in modernist buildings like the TWA Hotel at JFK. You may have seen them at one of the 50+ local art shows she exhibits in every year, or online.
Perry Barlow’s studio is now used by Nancy Breakstone Photography.
So the “artists’ studio” tradition of the Barlow House continues.
I lost touch with Peter when he left Westport after 70-plus years to move closer to his daughter Dorrie Barlow Thomas in Pawcatuck. But I thought of him when I contacted Bob Weingarten, house historian and plaque coordinator since 2003 for the Westport Historical Society (now the Westport Museum for History & Culture). He immediately did an incredible deep dive into historical research. and determined the Barlow House qualified.
Happily I saw Peter commenting on a blog in “06880.” I answered his comment with my email address, and began a voluminous correspondence. We found half a dozen things in common over the 20 years separating us, including boating and typography. That’s in addition to his childhood home, which we both love.
Peter has been a professional marine photographer his entire working life. He shot editorial and advertising pictures for leading magazines, including Yachting and Motor Boating, which also published his 1973 book The Marine Photography of Peter Barlow (still available). For 17 years, he created his own 2-page spread of photos and copy every month in Soundings.
Peter was involved in every step of the plaque approval process. When COVID restrictions eased and spring weather arrived, Dorrie drove them both 90 minutes to Westport. We spent a great few hours together touring the house and studio, hearing how everything used to be, having lunch outside, and hanging the plaque together.
(From left) Nancy Breakstone, Bill Kutik, Peter Barlow and Dorrie Barlow Thomas, with the newly hung plaque at the Sylvan Road North home.
But first we recreated what he most enjoyed as a teenager: driving at top speed the original and still-unpaved uphill driveway to the house. It sits on top of what I’ve been told is the second highest hill in Westport. Peter confirmed that 85 years ago, you could see Long Island Sound from his 2nd-floor bedroom. How can I start a deforestation program to my south? I drove us up the driveway at reckless teenage speeds. He roared with delight — and told me I should have gone faster.
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