Tag Archives: River of Names

“River Of Names”: The Sequel

Dorothy Curran — a co-organizer of the “River of Names” fundraiser that helped bring a 26-foot long, 6-foot high mural to the lower level of the Westport Library — has been following the artwork’s future during the library’s transformation project with interest. She reports:

I spoke directly to Kurt Derner, who installed the mural (we worked together on installation logistics). He is being hired to de-install it as well.

No one is more aware than he of the many risks and loose ends attendant to the project. Happily, he is a very intelligent guy and we had a good talk.

Among other things, he plans to cut down the wall in panels which will keep entire sections intact. However, as he cuts, the margins of the affected tiles are very much at risk. Also, his work ends with the wrapping and labeling of each section. He and Marion Grebow (the tile artist) are very concerned about what plans the library has for then safely packaging, transferring and storing the work.

For the record, the only conversations that those of us who were involved in the logistics of mural installation have had with the library pertain to the wisdom (or lack thereof) of taking the mural down and its planned destination 2 years hence. We were not invited to participate in discussion of the removal, transfer, storage and re-installation logistics.

The River of Names, in the lower level of the Westport Library.

However, happily, thanks to Marion, Kurt and I now are in touch and I will try and provide some quiet coding and logistical help for him. To start, in the River of Names book, on the pullout page the coding system that we used to guide tile placement is on display.

Remarkably, though the print is fine, every name and every word on the mural pullout is legible. The tiles that Kurt believes are most at risk are the bookshelf tiles. Anything that is broken will have to be re-made, but there is no plan or budget in place for that and no agreement with Marion.

Kurt also has told the library that the panels must be stored vertically. As far as we know, they will be placed in what now is the McManus Room: exactly the same floor where the jackhammering will be going on that supposedly necessitates removal of the mural from its existing location for its “safety.” He has no idea how they plan to create or box the panels for storage. Therefore, there may be a change in condition between the time that he removes the panels and the time that they are ready for reinstallation.

The only hopeful news is that, while Kurt indeed is coming to the library on Wednesday, it is “only” for a meeting. No date has yet been finalized for the beginning of his takedown. He is anticipating September.

The library says that the mural will be removed safely, stored carefully, and reinstalled appropriately.

Advocates Fear Tide Going Out On “River Of Names”

For 20 years, the River of Names has stood as one of the Westport Library‘most unique, quirky and popular attractions.

Stretching 26 feet long and standing 6 feet high, the mural contains 1,162 tiles. Each was individually created and drawn by artist Marion Grebow. Some portray historical events, like the founding of Westport, onion farming and the arrival of the railroad.

Others feature favorite places around town: the Compo Beach cannons, Minute Man monument and Staples High School. Some cite local organizations and businesses.

Most show the names of nearly 1,000 families. They honor parents, children and pets. They note when the families came to town, and where they lived.

One of the tiles shows Stevan Dohanos’ Saturday Evening Post cover of the World War II memorial outside the old Town Hall. It’s surrounded by tiles honoring familes and civic organizations. (Photo courtesy of fotki.com)

The River of Names was a special fundraiser. Under the direction of former 2nd selectman Betty Lou Cummings and Westport Historical Society/Westport Woman’s Club leader Dorothy Curran, sales of the tiles brought in $300,000 for the library’s capital campaign.

Donors were promised that the mural would exist in perpetuity.

The River of Names draws visitors — some curious, some wanting to find their own tile, all intrigued — to the lower “Riverwalk” level of the library.

Grebow designed her mural to be looked at like the river itself. Taken together, the individual tiles appear to shimmer and move — imitating the Saugatuck River a few yards away.

The River of Names.

But the library has embarked on an exciting 18-month “transformation” project. The downstairs level will be where most books are stored; a new entrance there will open up the river, improving the entire library experience for all.

On Wednesday, the mural will be taken down. A group of Westporters — including Curran, Cummings and arts advocates — fears for what happens next.

They worry that the library has no written plan for removing the mural from the wall. They don’t know where it will be stored, and how the tiles will be labeled so they can be replaced in the precise spots Grebow selected. And they haven’t gotten definite word on where it will be exhibited once the transformation is complete.

I asked library director Bill Harmer about those concerns. He replied: “Yes, it’s safe. It will be safely taken down and safely stored. It will be available for re-hanging when the library renovation project is completed.”

Town arts curator Kathie Motes Bennewitz adds:

The Library has held discussions with Marion  Grebow, individuals involved in the 1998 fundraising project, the original installer, and (as early as 2014) with 3rd-party fine art service firms on how best to de-install, pack, transport and store the wall.

The priority has always been to protect the wall during construction. I am confident it will be professionally handled and stored until it can come back to the library.

Meanwhile, mural advocates produced a video about the River of Names.

At the end, Curran says: “Every day the tide goes in, and the tide goes out. But the river remains.

“I hope that the names will, too.”

(For more information, email save.our.river.of.names@gmail.com)