Long-time residents, artists of all ages and realtors — even those who got their licenses yesterday afternoon — are fond of referring to Westport’s reputation as an “artists’ colony.”
But what does that mean? What actually happened in an “artists’ colony”?
For one thing, illustrators shared stories, ideas — and drinks — on the train home from New York, where they worked day jobs in advertising, PR, publishing and magazines.
For another, there were some wild parties, involving artists, artists’ hangers-on, alcohol, swimming pools and whatnot. I’ve heard plenty of stories, from plenty of sources.
But living in an artists’ colony was serious work too. There were regular “sketch classes” — not classes, really, but gatherings of artists and artist-wannabes, who gathered to draw or paint from live models.
These gatherings took place in studios, basements, or anywhere else large enough for a model stand, easels and chairs, lights, and random props.
After 30 minutes of drawing, the models took breaks. That’s when the artists walked around, critiqued each other’s work, and schmoozed.
Remington Schuyler — a Boy’s Life magazine illustrator – held a sketch class in his Westport home.
John Steuart Curry's famous -- and controversial -- John Brown mural, for the Kansas statehouse.
In 1932, weekly sketch classes met at Edward C. Nash’s home (now Nash’s Corner). Among the regular attendees: John Steuart Curry, Robert Lambdin and Rose O’Neill. (She created the Kewpie doll.)
Bob Baxter and Ann Toulmin-Rothe held a sketch class in the mill building on Richmondville Avenue.
Robert Fawcett — one of the 10 Famous Artists’ founding members — ran classes in the company building on Wilton Road (now Save the Children).
But sketch classes have not gone the way of Famous Artists School. (I know, it still exists — but it’s a shell of its former self, and long gone from Westport.)
Howard Munce — the 95-year-old, sharp-as-an-illustrator’s-pen living legend of Westport’s artists’ colony days — still attends a sketch class at Elizabeth Gaynor’s house in Southport. It’s a cross-section of old Westport artists, others from the area, and younger folks with whom the veterans happily share their knowledge and humor.
Howard Munce (Photo by Kristen Rasich Fox)
Now, the Westport Historical Society honors all that with “The Sketch Class: A Westport Tradition.” The exhibit chronicles the history and significance of Westport’s sketch classes , and features a great group of artists of all ages.
It opens on Sunday (Jan. 30), and runs through April 30. It kicks off with a free, open reception this Sunday, 3-5 p.m.
The exhibit is curated by Howard Munce himself. So in addition to learning about sketch classes, if you go to Sunday’s reception you’ll learn all about Westport’s “artists’ colony” past — from a man who was there then, and still creates art today.
(For more information on the Westport Historical Society’s “Sketch Class” exhibit, click here or call 203-222-1424.)
You’re sure to hear more about it in the weeks ahead. But for now, save the date: Sunday, November 8, 7 p.m. at Town Hall.
That’s when Westporters can see a remarkable new film: “Years in the Making.” In just 66 minutes, it pays homage to Westport’s heritage as an arts colony. It honors 50 Westport and Weston artists, in mediums ranging from oil and charcoal to sculpture, photography and printmaking.
Jean Woodham, 81 (Photo by Kristin Rasich Fox)
But it does far more. All of the artists are over 70 — some well into their 90s. But as they talk about their art and their lives — their educations, their careers, their creative processes and the lessons they’ve learned from it all — they serve as inspirations for us all.
This is a film about Westport and art, sure, but it’s also about the power of passion, and the potential we all have to keep getting better at whatever we do, every day of our lives.
Filmmaker Martin West — with great help from Ann Chernow, Kristin Rasich Fox and Ada Lambert — has created a work that anyone can relate to, and everyone should see. There’s more to come — the finished product will include separate hour-long interviews and studio tours with each artist (50 DVDs in all) — but for now, mark your calendars for November 8.
“Years in the Making” has been years in the making — 90-plus, in some cases. The wait is definitely worth it.
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