Newcomers may have heard that Westport was once an “artists’ colony.”
Oldtimers remember the Famous Artists School on Wilton Road (just north of Bartaco — click here).
For a while, magazine ads and matchbook covers all over the world invited aspiring artists to learn from Famous Artists School masters.
They did not exactly “teach.” They lent their names to the enterprise. But they were quite an accomplished (and very male) bunch.
Anthony Dohanos sent along a great photo. His father — Stevan Dohanos, the famed Saturday Evening Post and US postage stamp illustrator — sits prominently on a rock at the front left, wearing plaid pants.
Norman Rockwell puffs his trademark pipe in the row behind, near the right.
Sitting in the front row on the right is Rod Serling. He was, I guess, part of the auxiliary Famous Writers’ School. (There was also a Famous Photographers’ School).
How many of these men (and 2 women) can you identify? Click “Comments” below — and add any memories you have of the years when the Famous Schools made Westport famous.
Stevan Dohanos designed 40 US postage stamps. His works hang in the Whitney, and many other prestigious museums.
But perhaps his greatest fame came from over 100 Saturday Evening Post covers. Many depict scenes from Westport, where he lived starting in the 1940s. He used many local models.
Some of those folks may still be around. If so, they probably remember frolicking at Compo Beach, for Dohanos’ July 31, 1954 cover.
If so, they should find out when “Antiques Roadshow” airs on their local PBS station. (It’s already been on Channel 13 in New York.) The current episode includes Peter M. Fairbanks’ appraisal of the original painting.
His verdict: It should be insured for $40,000.
PS: No, Dohanos did not make that raft up. Back in the day, several were anchored off Compo. They were popular spots for diving, tanning and hanging out.
In 1976, Westport artists honored America’s bicentennial with a special calendar.
Howard Munce, Hardie Gramatky, Randy Enos, Al Willmott, Ward Brackett, Stevan Dohanos and others contributed sketches of Old Mill Beach, the Compo cannons, old Town Hall, the railroad station, even the revered Minnybus.
Proceeds helped fund Bicentennial events in town, and the purchase of artwork for the Bicentennial art collection.
Hardie Gramatky’s illustration of Old Mill, for the 1976 Bicentennial calendar. The original is being donated by his daughter, Linda Gramatky Smith, to the Westport Public Art Collection.
Inspired by that project, the Long Lots PTA launched a Westport Schools Calendar in the early 1980s. Student artists submitted work. Filled with dates of key school and district activities, it quickly became a major fundraiser.
In 2018 we’re a lot closer to the Sestercentennial than the Bicentennial. But the Westport Schools Calendar is stronger than ever.
In 2015, the LLS PTA handed the project over to Friends of Westport Public Art Collection. Proceeds now support the amazing collection that hangs in every school, and many town buildings.
This year, over 200 local students — from kindergarten through 12th grade — submitted art for the calendar. A committee chose a colorful image by Greens Farms Elementary School 1st grader Jack Steel for the cover. GFS 4th grader Kasey Feeley’s homage to the district as a thank-you to teachers graces the inside cover
Jack Steel’s 2018 cover art .
Each of the 13 months features wonderful student work — in full color.
The young artists were inspired by their schools, sports teams, activities and nature. Like their professional predecessors in 1976, their images relate powerfully to Westport.
“In an era when we all keep our calendars on electronic devices, the Westport Schools Calendar is a wonderful throwback,” says 1st Selectman Jim Marpe.
“You can see a whole month’s events spread out in front of you, accompanied by fun student art.”
Marpe’s daughter graduated from Staples years ago. But he still uses the calendar to keep up with school events.
Staples High student Will Roschen’s image of his building is the March illustration.
The Westport Historical Society has a history of mounting fascinating exhibits.
Subjects have ranged from Saugatuck and famous artists to rock ‘n’ roll and our town 50 years from now.
But while the Sheffer Gallery in the back pulses with life, the front of 223-year-old Wheeler House on Avery Place has been oddly shut.
Now the WHS has opened its Victorian front door to visitors. And — just inside — a long-neglected display case offers an intriguing look into Westport’s past.
“The History of Westport in 100 Objects” opens tomorrow (Monday, April 16). Every 2 weeks for the next year, the items will change. They’ll start with the original settlers in 1637, and work up to today.
Kewpie dolls will be on display later this year. In 1909, Westport illustrator Rose O’Neill created the characters.
Artifacts include books, land deeds, farming tools, clothing, toys, a railroad tie — anything that helped make this town what it is.
Each display will include a “mystery object” (though not necessarily from the era depicted). Visitors can guess its identity. One — drawn from all correct answers — will win an item from the gift shop.
A passport/online check-in will help children record their visits. After coming enough times, they’ll get scrip for gift store purchases.
An 1882 shipping book includes the noted Westport name “Wakeman.”
As each case changes, its items will be archived in a digital exhibit on the WHS website.
The Historical Society has plenty of objects. But they’d love more. If you have an item that might work for the exhibit, email 100Objects@westporthistory.org.
(“The History of Westport in 100 Objects” opens tomorrow — Monday, April 16 — with a 4 p.m. reception focused on 5th through 8th graders.)
Another artifact: part of Westport artist Stevan Dohanos’ 1950s watercolor of our Memorial Day parade.
As work proceeds on David Waldman’s latest project — converting the former Save the Children headquarters on Wilton Road into a retail/residential complex — it’s a good time to revisit Stevan Dohanos’ 1965 painting of the site.
Back then, it was home to Famous Artists School. Dohanos was one of those (very) famous artists who helped stay-at-home artists around the world discover their inner illustrator.
This painting — courtesy of Dohanos’ son Anthony — is a bit stylized. The house on Gorham Island is moved south, and Bedford Elementary School (now Town Hall) slides very close to Main Street.
But it provides a very realistic view of the days when Westport was the center of the illustration world. Even without Famous Artists, we were a town filled with — and honored by — famous artists.
Stevan Dohanos is best known for his 123 Saturday Evening Post covers.
But the Westport illustrator was also a noted US stamp artist. He designed several dozen — the number varies, according to who’s counting — honoring a wide range of subjects, including American presidents, NATO and the statehoods of Alaska and Hawaii.
Dohanos also created Christmas stamps. In 1989, Westport served as that year’s official “first day of issue” post office.
Dohanos’ other holiday stamps ranged from the classical, like this 1969 scene …
… to the playful, like this in 1970…
… to the religious, in 1975:
Of course, Dohanos drew holiday scenes for the Saturday Evening Post too. This cover — from December 13, 1947 — is called “Rural Post Office at Christmas.” (The sign says “Georgetown.”)
As chair of the Stamp Advisory Committee, Dohanos oversaw the art design of more than 300 stamps. He was appointed by Franklin D. Roosevelt, and served under 7 presidents.
Stevan Dohanos died on July 4, 1994, at his Westport home. He was 87 years old.
As befits a home built more than 150 years ago, it’s got a back story.
Plus a bit of mystery.
According to Tad Shull — a current co-owner and musician/writer in New York, who spent his childhood there — it was constructed as a caretaker’s cottage or gatehouse, elsewhere on Long Lots.
It was moved to its present site in the 1870s by William Burr, who inherited it from his father. Additions were built in the 1920s and ’60s. From the street, it still looks much like the original.
55 Long Lots Road. The entrance to Hall-Brooke is on the left.
It may (or may not) have served as a 1-room schoolhouse. But it has a definite connection to education: Burr Farms School opened in 1958 a few yards away. (It was demolished in the 1980s; all that remains are athletic fields.)
The most intriguing tale is this: Shull’s parents bought the house in 1957 from Elaine Barrie — the 4th (and last) wife of John Barrymore.
Shull had heard that the actor used the house as a “love nest.” It’s uncertain whether Barrymore lived there; Barrie bought it after he died in 1942.
Shull also heard rumors that Barrymore had an affair there with a married woman, Blanche Oelrichs, who published poetry under the name Michael Strange. Shull found a book of her poems — with her handwritten annotations — on his mother’s bookshelf last fall.
More lore: Stevan Dohanos’ famous “Thanksgiving” painting may have used the red Long Lots house as its model/inspiration. (“06880” posted that possibility last year; click here, then scroll down for several comments confirming it.)
Stevan Dohanos’ “Thanksgiving” painting. Recognize this house?
And, Shull adds, he heard from Tony Slez — who once owned a gas station at the foot of Long Lots, where Westport Wash & Wax now stands — that his Polish relatives worked as onion pickers on the road.
Shull says that as a youngster he was teased for living “next door to a mental institution.”
But he calls his boyhood “a paradise. There were plenty of kids around. We had a pond with frogs. It was a great place.”
His family hopes that whoever buys the house will preserve it. And — even if only part of its history is true — the red gingerbread that everyone passes on Long Lots has quite a past.
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