The River of Names was created to bring Westport together.
Unfortunately, over the past few days it’s become a symbol of division.
The motives of organizations and individuals — and their reputations — have been questioned, maligned and impugned. Fingers have been pointed (and middle fingers raised), by folks who always worked together — and always should.
The time has come to put all that vitriol aside. Sure, it’s the holiday season. But it’s also the right thing to do.
The River of Names, when it hung in the lower level of the Westport Library.
The River of Names is clearly a beloved, integral part of Westport. It means a lot to many people — those who contributed to it, or whose families did. Those who bought tiles in loved ones’ memories. (And not just “historical” tiles. Hundreds of others simply bear names and dates.)
It is, quite simply, an important piece of our town.
But it’s not a perfect one.
A number of people and groups have worked behind the scenes to seek a resolution to the tile mural situation. Several themes have emerged:
The Westport Library seems willing to extend the storage lease, while discussions about a solution continue.
There may be places in the Library where it could be rehung — for example, the Komansky Room — with structural improvements.
If the Library is not a feasible spot, other places — Town Hall or the Main Street pedestrian tunnel, perhaps — might work.
Because of its construction, it’s unfeasible to cut the mural. Its “river-like” theme mirrors Westport history — but it’s incomplete. More information and details, more nuance, a more modern interpretation of that history is crucial. Residents and visitors alike must understand where our town came from, so we can appreciate — and make it better — today and tomorrow.
Wherever it goes, the River of Names needs to be put in context. It was a work of an earlier time — a snapshot of some historical moments.
Many other moments were omitted. We’ve learned of more, and our views of our history have changed, in the years since.
The time is ripe to add supplementary and interpretive material. It can be done in many ways, using old-fashioned tiles or new technology.
The “River of Names 2.0” could even be a fantastic new fundraiser for the Westport Library.
Let’s turn the corner on the River of Names controversy. (Photo/Lynn Untermeyer Miller)
We’re all on the same page. Let’s all work together — the Library, Westport Museum for History & Culture, TEAM Westport, Westport Arts Advisory Council, other town organizations, and individuals on all sides of the debate — to find a solution.
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That’s right: Only constructive, positive comments will be allowed. No name-calling, shaming or negativity at all. Thank you.
Here’s news both bittersweet and great:
After 3 years, Westport has a new poet laureate.
Hopefully, she’s a better poet than I am.
Diane Lowman’s 3 years as Westport’s poet-in-residence ends June 30. She’ll pass the torch — or pen, or computer keyboard or whatever — next Wednesday (June 29), at a noontime Westport Library ceremony.
Our new poet laureate is Jessica Noyes McEntee. Her 2-year term begins July 1.
McEntee, her husband, 2 young children (now teenagers) and pets moved into a historic Westport house in 2013. She is active in the community, serving on the boards of the Westport Young Woman’s League and Save Westport Now.
She’s also a working poet. Her debut chapbook, Jackie O. Suffers Two Husbands & Other Poems, was published by Finishing Line Press in 2019. She’s taught at Westport Writers’ Workshop since 2015,
Poet laureate-designee Jessica Noyes McEntee.
Poet laureate is not a full-time gig. McEntee works in marketing for the Pequot Library in Southport. The Amherst College graduate was previously an editor at John Wiley & Sons.
The Westport Arts Advisory Committee oversaw the selection process of the new laureate. Applicants met with a selection committee that included members of the WAAC, Westport Public Schools and the Westport Library. McEntee was officially appointed by 1st Selectwoman Jen Tooker.
As Westport’s first poet laureate, her predecessor Lowman enriched town meetings, collaborated with schools, and ran workshops for the Senior Center. She recited original haikus at many local events, including the dedication of the reimagined Library in 2019.
Westport needs registered voters to serve on 5 advisory bodies:
Arts Advisory Committee: advises on the preservation of Westport’s legacy as an arts community, provides oversight of the Westport Permanent Art Collections, and helps increase visibility of the arts in town.
Maintenance Study Committee: the Committee recently completed studies of all major town buildings, and reviewed buildings recently purchased by the Town, or under consideration for purchase and/or demolition.
International Hospitality Committee: advises town officials about local activities related to the United Nations and international visitors.
TEAM Westport: advises town officials about achieving and celebrating a more welcoming, multicultural Westport community.
Wakeman Town Farm Committee: helps WTF serve as an educational demonstration center for sustainable living.
Registered voters seeking an appointment should click here for an application. It must be emailed (firstname.lastname@example.org) or mailed (110 Myrtle Avenue, Westport, CT 06880) by April 15.
With few exceptions, non-elected members of town boards, commissions and committees are appointed by the First Selectwoman.
First Selectwoman Jen Tooker ways, “Westport’s electorate is dynamic and diverse. This community could not run successfully without the many citizens who willingly and enthusiastically give of their time to benefit us all.
“Among the many appointed boards, commissions and committees, there are a number of vacancies that may filled by the members of our community who seek an opportunity to volunteer, gain knowledge of their municipal government, and provide service to the town. Some boards have minimal commitments, others are more hands-on and skill-driven, but all play an important role in keeping our community strong and vibrant.”
Click here for a list of all town boards, commissions and committees.
Those alpacas didn’t fall from the sky. The Wakeman Town Farm Committee helps oversee activities there. (Photo/Cathy Malkin)
Wayne Blickenstaff — aka “Blick” — was a key member of the Eighth Air Force, part of the England-based World War II air campaign against Germany. Rising to lieutenant colonel, flying P-47 Thunderbolts and P-51 Mustangs, he flew 133 destroyed 10 enemy aircraft.
After the war, Blickenstaff settled in Westport. For many years, he was part of Famous Artists School.
Now he’s written a book. “Ace in a Day” will be published in September.
Amazon calls it “Blick’s honest and gritty personal memoir of his air war in Europe. His vivid writing places you in the cockpit as he and his comrades battle the enemy in the skies or attack ground targets across Europe. His account conveys a true sense of just how dangerous flying World War II fighters, in all weather conditions, really was.
“It was not just the enemy that could kill you. A moment’s inattention, overconfidence or simple mistake could be deadly. As a keen observer of character, Blick’s pen portraits of those around him, including many of those who sadly did not survive the war, offer a poignant and deeply moving tribute to those with whom he served.” Click here for more information. (Hat tip: Laurie Woog)
Staples High School sophomore Grace Power has a big role in Amy Schumer’s new series “Life & Beth.” It debuted on Hulu this month.
Grace — who was part of last year’s Staples Players radio shows — is seen in 7 episodes, as “Young Liz,” the best friend of Amy’s younger version of herself.
The New York Times says: “The straightforward, emotionally grounded acting that much of ‘Life & Beth’ requires isn’t Schumer’s strength, but … Grace Power (is) also good as Beth’s best friend in the flashbacks.” (Hat tip: Nicole Mayr)
This Sunday (March 27, noon to 5 p.m., 190 Main Street), the CAMP Gallery hosts “Sip and Shop for a Cause.” It’s a closing event for the current exhibition: “Not Dior’s New Look III.”
20% of the gallery’s commission will be donated to Fashion Fights Cancer. The organization provides design-oriented therapeutic programs to cancer patients, survivors and their loved ones.
In addition, all participating brands — Kristi Vosbeck, Rosie Assoulin, The Hidden Gem, Johnny Was, Boho Prep and Le Rouge Chocolates — will contribute a percentage of all event sales towards Fashion Fights Cancer, and efforts in Ukraine.
Forget 1st selectwoman. Who cares about superintendent of schools?
The real cool job is … Westport’s poet laureate.
The position comes vacant July 1. Diane Lowman — our first (and so far only) town poet completes her term June 30.
During her tenure, she recited and curated poetry at town ceremonies and events, schools, Senior Center, Library and arts events.
Diane was particularly creative during the pandemic, launching a lawn sign campaign to help raise spirits.
Haiku, by Westport poet laureate Diane Lowman
Westport’s poet laureate serves as an ambassador for both the town and the literary form, helping continue our vibrant literary history.
Specifically, the poet laureate:
Promotes poetry as a form of communication, inspiration, and entertainment for local residents.
Participates in Connecticut Poet Laureate group programs throughout the state.
Expands access to, and creates connection through, poetry.
Elevates awareness of and appreciation for all forms of poetry.
Advocates for poetry, literature and the arts.
Contributes to the town’s literary legacy through public readings and participation in civic events.
The First Selectwoman’s office appoints the poet laureate. The Westport Arts Advisory Committee administers the program.
Diane Meyer Lowman with her haiku, at the Westport Book Shop.
Candidates should be 21 years of age or older, live in Westport, and have a wide range of relevant knowledge and experience. They must be comfortable with public speaking, and willing to work collaboratively with the school district, Library and other cultural organizations to develop and present poetry-related activities and events.
Of course — this being poetry — the position is honorary and non-compensated. The term runs for 2 years.
In the wake of threat of legal action against TEAM Westport, one of the original sponsors of the town’s multicultural commission says: Not so fast.
As a member of the Representative Town Meeting (RTM) in August 2005, Ann Sheffer says she and her husband, Bill Scheffler — a fellow member — wrote the ordinance establishing the organization.
They authored 2 others during their tenure too — for the Arts Advisory Committee, and the International Hospitality Committee.
All were approved by the RTM. What all 3 share, Sheffer says, is that they have “absolutely no authority or even membership requirements.” All are “completely advisory.'”
The language adopted by the RTM reads:
The Together Effectively Achieving Multiculturalism (TEAM) Westport Committee is hereby established, to be appointed by the First Selectman, in order to advise the appropriate Town officials as to specific actions that may be taken to achieve and celebrate a more welcoming, multicultural Westport/Weston community. This Committee’s recommendations shall not be binding but shall be of an advisory nature only.
TEAM Westport was accepted by the RTM on August 2, 2005, and became effective 10 days later. It had been established as an ad hoc group by First Selectwoman Diane Goss Farrell in 2003. Her successors — Gordon Joseloff, Jim Marpe and now Jen Tooker — have supported the committee.
The Arts Advisory Committee was established in 1997. The RTM adopted this language:
The First Selectman is hereby authorized to establish an Arts Advisory Committee in order to advise the appropriate Town officials as to the preservation and promotion of the artistic heritage of the Town. This Committee’s recommendation shall not be binding but shall be of an advisory nature only.
The International Hospital Committee language says:
An International Hospitality Committee is hereby established, to be appointed by the First Selectman, in order to advise the appropriate Town officials as to activities in the Town related to the United Nations and international visitors. This Committee’s recommendations shall not be binding but shall be of an advisory nature only.
In the alley between Main Street and Bedford Square are floodgates no longer in use. David Waldman — the developer of the mixed-use center between Main Street and Church Lane — asked the WAAC how the gates could look more attractive.
The arts organization commissioned 5 artists to turn them into a history of our town: Westporters Eric Chiang, Jana Irejo and Rebecca Ross, Norwalk’s Hernan Garcia and Iyaba Mandingo of Bridgeport.
At 1 p.m. on Saturday, October 16, the WAAC will unveil their 5 paintings at the Main Street entrance to the Bedford Square courtyard. The works include early life among Native Americans, and Black life and culture here.
A “concept slide” of what the floodgate art might look like. These are not the finished pieces.
A professor at North Carolina State University College of Art and Design, and a noted collagist whose colorful, culturally symbolic work incorporates themes from his extensive travels to Ghana, he’s no stranger to Westport.
In 1964 he came to Westport through an American Friends Service program that brought 35 Southern students to the North to promote integration. Joyner lived with the Ader family.
After graduating from Staples High School he headed to Iowa State University on a football scholarship, transferred to North Carolina A&T, then earned a Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina-Greensboro.
Joyner’s, and other newly acquired art, will be part of the WPAC’s first-ever public showing of dozens of works at MoCA Westport. The event opens January 28, and runs through March 13.
Charles Joyner’s mixed media work “Village @ Ntoso” has been acquired by the Westport Public Art Collections.
Westport Local Press reports that “Bear 211” — the black bear tagged with that number by the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, and reported at various sites in northern Westport and environs over the past 2 months — was struck by a car and killed yesterday, on Route 136 in Easton. The driver left the scene.
The Westport Public Art Collections includes an astonishing array of 1,500 paintings, illustrations, photos and more. They hang in every public school, and buildings like Town Hall, the Parks & Recreation Department office, even fire headquarters.
But not everyone has access to schools. Town Hall is still pretty much closed. And when was the last time you were at the fire station?
This winter, there’s an exciting opportunity to see 40 or so outstanding works.
MoCA Westport and the Westport Arts Advisory Committee are collaborating on an exhibit, at MoCA’s expansive gallery space.
Two of the works are shown below. As for the few dozen others: well, you’ll have to see for yourself!
“Don’t Judge Me 2020” (Christa Forrest
From Larry Silver’s “Yangzhou, China 1997-2000” collection.
Piglet is the name of a deaf, blind pink dachshund/Chihuahua mix. He was rescued by Westport veterinarian Melissa Shapiro. (Click here for a 2017 story.)
She’s just written a book. “Piglet: The Unexpected Story of a Deaf, Blind, Pink Puppy and His Family” will be published August 3. Simon & Schuster calls it “a charming, inspirational memoir about empathy, resilience, kindness, and an adorable deaf blind pink dog.”
Click here for details. And watch “Good Morning America” this Saturday (July 31), for an interview with Melissa. (Hat tip: WEndy Bouthillier)
It’s a little bit of vandalism: a couple of benches overturned by Ned Dimes Marina, off Compo Beach Road.
But the benches are memorials to real, much-loved human beings. Richard Webb — who says this is the second time it’s happened this month — notes that the perpetrators “might as well be turning over headstones.”
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.)
Tonight, Church Lane celebrates its closure to traffic with music.
Busted Chops plays funk and soul between Spotted Horse and Urban Outfitters, from 6 to 9 p.m. Bring your friends — and masks!
Busted Chops takes over tonight, fro 6 to 9 p.m.
First there were planters. Now comes haiku.
This weekend, the Westport Arts Advisory Committee’s is placing 20 lawn signs throughout downtown. Each contains a photo of Westport, and a haiku by town poet laureate Diane Lowman.
Rotating lawn sign “art shows” are designed to keep downtown visitors inspired and smiling during the pandemic. Here are 2 signs — still packaged — for the first round.
Among the Westport Garden Club’s many roles: maintaining the “Beach Buds” garden at the entrance to Compo Beach.
Yesterday they added more color, through their #FridayFlowers bouquet. They came from Ginger Donaher’s garden.
So even if you arrive too late this weekend and find the parking lot closed, you’ll have something to smile about.
It’s a syrupy name, but it does the job. SuiteTooth — already active in New York City and the Hamptons — has just started working in Westport. They solve a big obstacle to visiting the dentist — it’s inconvenient (especially now, during the pandemic) — by offering at-home preventative dental care (cleanings, exams, X-rays and sealants), plus cosmetic services like whitenings.
Their mobile dental suite can be set up inside a home, outside, or in a pergola or pool house. (You do have a pergola, right?) They just need an 8×8 space, electricity, WiFi and a bathroom.
For more details, click here or call 347-256-1445.
And finally … it’s already August. Can September be far behind?
The Westport Arts Advisory Committee and Westport Library’s 8th annual TEA — that’s Thinkers, Educators, Artists — event is set for this Sunday (October 27, 2 p.m., Town Hall).
The topic is timely and relevant: “Breaking Barriers Through the Arts.”
Music, visual arts, performance and poetry artists will share personal stories of breaking boundaries through their work, in 3 20-minute conversations and performances.
There are special appearances by Westport poet laureate Diane Lowman and internationally renowned pianist Frederic Chiu — a local resident — plus an audience Q-and-A, and the presentation of a Horizon Award to a young area artist of note.
Noah Fox is the winner of that Horizon Award. The 2009 Staples High School graduate — he went by Noah Steinman then — studied photography at Staples, and studio art, art history and queer theory at Oberlin College; earned an MFA from the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts; worked as education manager at the Westport Arts Center, and now serves as coordinator of academic and public programs at the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum.
He’s made a name with a unique project: “transforming” educational books that are “alarmingly misogynistic, homophobic and racist.” Fox paints, draws, sculpts and uses collages to gouge out the books, and “reclaim” them. He “sheds light on the oppressive foundations of American culture, while exposing the ways in which these systems and rhetoric persist today.”
Fox will be joined on the TEA stage by:
Illustrator Ann Chernow of Westport, whose works evoke the images of female cinematic figures of the 1930s and ’40s
Westport conceptual artist and sculptor Jeanine Esposito, who co-founded Beechwood Arts salon, and now brings innovation to libraries, universities and non-profits
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