Tag Archives: Westport Arts Center

Remembering Brenda Lewis

Brenda Lewis — the soprano whose range of vocal styles brought her great fame in opera houses and on Broadway — died here last weekend. She was 96, and had lived in Westport for many years.

Lewis inspired audiences worldwide — and musicians in our town.

Alexander Platt — the 1983 Staples High School graduate who returned recently to lead the Westport Arts Center’s concert series — posted this remembrance on the influential Slippedisc cultural website blog:

When one loses an especially close friend, one feels as if one has lost a part of oneself. From the moment she discovered me over 30 years ago, as an aspiring conductor fresh out of high school, Brenda Lewis was one of my dearest lifelong friends, “the Jewish grandmother I’d never had” as we used to jokingly recall.

Brenda Lewis (Photo courtesy of New York Times and Opera News)

Stravinsky’s “The Soldier’s Tale” and Walton’s “Facade” were just two of the narration projects we undertook together, at Yale and beyond. Throughout, she was a fount of goodness, wit, wisdom, generosity, great knowledge, and tough advice (more of which I wish I’d followed).

Her recording of “Regina” will always be the authoritative interpretation of this great American opera — as with her own career, something always underrated, and it was a relief to see that her work in the first production of Barber’s “Vanessa” was finally acknowledged.

From her earliest days, she was an utterly self-made artist, always mixing Broadway with summer stock and some of the world’s great operatic stages, from New York to Vienna. As I once exclaimed to her, “Brenda, ‘crossover’ — you invented crossover!”

Or as she put it to me once, wistfully, “Wherever I was singing — on Broadway, in a classroom, in a barn somewhere, or singing ‘Carmen’ or ‘Salome’ at the Met — I was just so happy to be performing…..” — such great advice for so many of us, at this difficult time for music.

With Brenda’s death a magnificent mid-century golden age in New York’s operatic history is now gone — to my knowledge, she was the last of that line — but “there will always be a Lionnet,” and there will always be a Brenda, in my heart.

(For Brenda Lewis’ full New York Times obituary, click here.)

 

Aw, Shoot!

Keep your eye on Josh  Suggs and Samantha Henske.

Thanks to their own keen eyes, both were double winners in the 3rd annual Young Shoots student digital photography contest.

The joint effort of the Westport Arts Center and Westport Farmers’ Market shows off local talent — and the color and vibrancy of local farms.

Over 70 photos were submitted by youngsters ages 8 to 18, from across Fairfield County. Subject matter ranged from rhubarb to honey bees.

Suggs won the age 11-14 competition (judged by photography and food experts) for “Back to Our Roots,” and the Fan Favorite (selected by the public) for “Apple of My Eye.”

Josh Suggs’ “Back to Our Roots.”

Henske picked up 1st place in age 8-10 for “A Bouquet of Lettuce,” and the Fan Favorite prize for “One in a Million.”

Samantha Henske’s Bouquet of Lettuce

The age 15-18 category winner was “Happy Rhubarb” by Lili Dowell. The Fan Favorite was Sarah Maybruck’s “Colorful Beginnings.”

Lili Dowell’s “Happy Rhubarb.”

All were honored last night at Sugar & Olives. First-place winners earned $100, and the co-lead of a photo shoot at The Whelk with chef Bill Taibe.

Second place winners Samantha Sandrew, Olivia Toth and Claire Langdon received $50 each.

Fan Favorites got a 1-year membership to the Arts Center, and a Farmers’ Market t-shirt.

First place winners (from left) Lili Dowell, Samantha Henske and Josh Suggs, with Bill Taibe. (Photo/Adriana Reis)

Pic Of The Day #138

Westport Arts Center night view (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

“Young Shoots” Sprout At Farmers’ Market

I’ve written before about the Westport Farmers’ Market’s “Young Shoots” photo contest.

It’s open to 3 age groups: 8-10, 11-14, 15-18. They can take shots every Thursday (10 a.m. to 2 p.m.). Fruits, vegetables, flowers, people — they’re all there, showing off the vitality of the market in colorful, imaginative ways.

First-place winners receive a $100 cash prize, and the chance to lead a food photo shoot with Bill Taibe (chef/owner of The Whelk, Ka Wa Ni and Jesup Hall). Second-place winners get $50.

In addition, winners have their work shown in a gallery-like setting at Sugar & Olives (a favorite Farmers’ Market vendor).

Those are nice rewards. But the contest also changes lives.

Last year, Lillie Fortino was art coordinator for the Norwalk Housing Authority’s after-school program. She thought the contest would be great for her kids.

Many had never been to a farmers’ market. They were hesitant at first. But they trusted Fortino, and her excitement fed theirs.

They brought a completely fresh eye — as children and photographers — to the bursting-with-goods-and-activity Imperial Avenue lot.

They also experimented with foods they’d never tried, like snap peas and soft cheeses, and bought flowers they’d never seen.

A talented girl named Anastasia Davis won her 11-14 age group.

Anastasia Davis’ winning photo.

Taibe invited Anastasia to Kawa Ni and the Whelk. There, she tried even more foods. Nothing was off limits.

The contest sparked a partnership between the Norwalk Housing Authority and Westport Arts Center. Fortino has a new job — director of education for the WAC — and this year she included work by NHA youngsters in the arts center’s student show. One boy proudly sold a piece there.

Ahead: collaboration between the NHA and the WAC’s artists’ residency program.

Everyone knows the Westport Farmers’ Market vendors grow great food. Who knew the market helps young kids grow too?

Anastasia Davis

Alexander Platt: An “Itinerant Music Pastor” Comes Home

Ten years ago — when the Westport Arts Center asked Alexander Platt to head its Concert Series — the timing was not right.

The 1983 Staples High School graduate was in the midst of a long career leading orchestras and an opera company in Chicago, North Dakota and Florida — plus a summer “Maverick Concerts” music festival in Woodstock, New York.

His twin brother Russell got the job instead.

Now it’s Alexander’s turn.

Alexander Platt conducts the Minnesota Philharmonic.

For professional and personal reasons — including feeling like “an itinerant pastor,” and the death of his mother (his father still lives in Westport) — Platt has returned home.

“It’s time to be intensive, rather than extensive,” the new Concert Series curator says.

“It’s wonderful to conduct orchestras. But it’s equally pleasurable to run them as a sherpa or guide.”

The chance to put a full season together — to “shape it, host it, bridge it with the community” — proved irresistible.

The Yale and King’s College Cambridge graduate is excited about the 2017-18 series. The WAC wanted classical music, jazz and “something in between.” Platt delivers it all.

Igor Pikayzen

From the opening on September 23 (cutting-edge pianist Anthony de Mare reimagines Stephen Sondheim), to internationally renowned violinist (and Westport resident) Igor Pikayzen, through the noted Juilliard String Quartet and the up-and-coming Calidotre String Quartet, ending with jazz and classical pianist Simon Mulligan, Platt has created 5 outstanding events.

“Even if you hate music, you’ll love these concerts,” he says. “They’re the best of the best. They bridge genres. I get in free, but I’d pay anything to hear them!”

Yet his work does not remain within the WAC’s walls.

Platt has begun building partnerships with “comrades in arms.” He’s reached out to Beechwood Arts & Innovation — his friendship and work relationship with Frederic Chiu and Jeanine Esposito goes back more than 20 years — and Suzuki Music School.

He’s also talking with the Westport and Pequot Libraries. Platt not only wants to eliminate date conflicts; he hopes each organization can cross-promote others’ events.

The Westport native remembers hearing “first-class music” every weekend, at venues ranging from Town Hall to the Unitarian Church.

“You didn’t have to go to New York or New Haven,” Platt notes. “I want to rebuild the audience for great music right here.”

He pauses.

“And there’s no place I’d rather be than Westport.”

Farmers’ Market Photo Contest Draws “Young Shoots”

Two of our town’s most creative institutions — the Westport Farmers’ Market and Westport Arts Center — have teamed up to showcase the creativity of one of our town’s most important assets: our kids.

The Young Shoots Digital Photography Competition highlights images taken all summer long at the Farmers’ Market.

It’s a great place for budding (ho ho) photographers to shoot. Every Thursday (10 a.m. to 2 p.m.), the Farmers’ Market pulses with life. Fruits, vegetables, flowers, people — they’re all there, showing off the vitality of the market in colorful, imaginative ways. All photos must be taken somewhere on the Imperial Avenue premises.

“Towhead Tomatoes” — last year’s Fan Favorite winner, and 2nd place in 15-18 age group. (Photo/Margaret Kraus)

There are 3 age groups: 8-10, 11-14, 15-18. Submissions are due by August 14.

First-place winners in each category receive a $100 cash prize, and the chance to lead a food photo shoot with Bill Taibe (chef/owner of The Whelk, Ka Wa Ni and Jesup Hall). Second-place winners get $50.

Winners will also have their work shown in a gallery-like setting at Sugar & Olives (a favorite Farmers’ Market vendor).

Anastasia Davis won 1st place last year in the 11-14 age group for this shot.

Beginning August 20, the community will have a chance to vote online for their favorite images. “Fan favorites” get a 1-year membership to the Westport Arts Center, and a Farmers’ Market t-shirt.

Click here for photo guidelines and submission info.

“Starstem” by Calista Finkelstein placed 1st last summer in the 8-10 category.

Baron’s South “Arts Campus” Returns To P&Z

In May, the Westport Arts Center and a group of arts advocates presented a pre-application to the Planning and Zoning Commission.

The goal was to create an “arts campus” at the Baron’s South property. The 3-prong proposal included these ideas:

  1. The Westport Arts Center would lease and restore Golden Shadows — the main building that served as the home for Baron Walter Langer von Langendorff (“The Baron”) — retaining most of its decorative interior, for use as offices, classrooms and gallery space.
  2. The WAC would lease and restore the  Tudor revival guest house at 70 Compo Road South as additional gallery space.
  3. They would lease the 2 units at 52 and 52B Compo Road South, for use as artists’ residences.

The P&Z was not thrilled with the plan. They called the plan too intense for the “light use” for which the 32-acre property is zoned.

Many Westporters, on the other hand, thought it was great. “06880” was flooded with positive comments.

Golden Shadows: the centerpiece of the Westport Arts Center Baron’s South plan.
(Photo/Wendy Crowther)

The whole idea of a pre-app meeting is to get a sense of the P&Z’s mood. The WAC and arts advocates listened to the commissioners.

Tomorrow (Thursday, July 6, 7 p.m., Town Hall) they’ll present a formal proposal. They’ve reworked the use of the artists’ residences, and other concepts.

They also hope to show that the work they’ll do on-site will help the public enjoy all the open space surrounding the arts campus.

The meeting is open to the public.

Arts Campus On Baron’s South? P&Z Draws The Line.

The Westport Arts Center is a wonderful, vibrant place.

It’s also wholly inadequate.

Essentially one long room on Riverside Avenue — with a spectacular view of the Saugatuck River — it functions as a small studio and gallery. But it can host only one meeting, lecture, concert, class or exhibit at a time.

Given Westport’s long arts heritage — and the interest of so many Westporters, from senior citizens to kids, in art in all its forms — it’s no wonder the WAC has sought more suitable digs.

Last fall, town representatives approached the organization. Would the WAC be interested in preserving and using Golden Shadows — the main building on the southeast corner of 23-acre Baron’s South (named for the perfume developed by its previous owner, Baron Walter Langer von Langendorff) — for exhibits and performances?

Golden Shadows. (Photo/Wendy Crowther)

The town soon came back with a new question: Would the WAC like to take over the other 3 long-neglected buildings there too?

Meanwhile, a group of veteran, well-respected local artists and photographers — including Leonard Everett Fisher, Ann Chernow, Miggs Burroughs, Niki Ketchman and Larry Silver — had been meeting regularly to discuss their own idea.

These “deans” of the Westport arts scene wanted a dedicated museum-type space to preserve the town’s artistic legacy.

And at the same time, folks like Burroughs, Westport arts curator Kathie Motes Bennewitz, RTM moderator Eileen Lavigne Flug and the Westport Historical  Society’s Bob Mitchell were seeking ways to involve the WAC more fully with other arts organizations in town.

The result was a public/private partnership to create a “community arts campus” at Baron’s South.

As presented last night by 3rd Selectman Helen Garten, at a Planning & Zoning Commission pre-application meeting, there would be 3 phases:

  1. The Westport Arts Center would lease and restore Golden Shadows, retaining most of its decorative interior, for use as offices, classrooms and gallery space.
  2. The WAC would lease and restore the  Tudor revival guest house at 70 Compo Road South as additional gallery space.
  3. They would lease the 2 units at 52 and 52B Compo Road South, for use as artists’ residences.

The house next door to Golden Shadows. The plan would have leased it to artists.

“Leasing all 4 buildings to a single user is the best way to ensure minimal impact on the public open space and surrounding neighborhood,” Garten said.

“Instead of 4 separate buildings, each accessed by its own roadway and each with its own use, there will be a single integrated property.” It would function much as the baron’s estate did, decades ago.

However, P&Z members gave the arts campus plan a frosty reception last night. A pre-app meeting is intended to give applicants a sense of what the zoning board feels about a plan. Commissioners insisted that the concept is too intense for the “light use” zoning of Baron’s South. It’s zoned as “passive recreational open space.”

Arts advocates were unsure last night what their next step will be.

Back to the drawing board they go.

A view into Golden Shadows’ central parlor shows a chandelier and handsome circular staircase. (Photo/Wendy Crowther)

The town currently owns 72 Compo Road South, on the eastern edge of Baron’s South. This was planned to be gallery space.

Arts Center Walls Come Alive

The Westport Arts Center is a handsome space. Its walls are often filled with intriguing, inspiring and/or challenging exhibitions.

But yesterday and today, the art came alive.

Three local artists — Randi Davis, Liz Leggett and Tammy Winser — are creating large-scale paintings. In real time.

And anyone can watch.

Their works are 10-foot-by-10-foot “Mad Men”-themed paintings of 1950s advertising offices and home interiors.

Randi Davis, hard at work.

They help recreate the scenes, lounges and spaces from that era. And they’ll be displayed May 20, at the WAC’s “Martini Madness” gala — helping transform that venue back in time.

“Martini Madness” pays tribute to the role Westport played during the creative heyday of the mid-20th century. This town was filled with artists, illustrators and “Mad Men” admen.

The painting event — which runs through 5 p.m. today — and May 20 gala are organized in conjunction with the WAC’s current exhibition, “Main Street to Madison Avenue.” Examining the interplay between art and advertising, with homage to Westport illustrators, it runs through June 23.

(For more information, click here or call 203-222-7070.)

“Main Street To Madison Avenue” Opens Tomorrow On Riverside

When the Westport Arts Center announced its next exhibition — “Main Street to Madison Avenue,” honoring Westporters’ involvement in advertising and art over the last 70 years — folks flocked to offer items.

Children, grandchildren and surviving spouses scoured studios, attics and basements to find sketches, paintings and storyboards. WAC officials had expected some interesting submissions. But they were stunned at how much had lain around, unnoticed and untouched for years.

One of the people was Miggs Burroughs. A noted artist and photographer himself, he hauled in his father’s portfolio. In the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, Bernie Burroughs was one of those Westporters whose drawings helped influence consumer habits around the country — and eventually the world.

Miggs had not looked at some of his father’s work for decades. The Arts Center staff was fascinated by it.

After a couple of hours, Miggs casually mentioned Bernie’s van Heusen ad campaign — which Andy Warhol later appropriated.

That fit in perfectly with the “Main Street to Madison Avenue theme.” In addition to paying homage to Westporters, the show examines nationally known artists who were influenced by the iconic design and aesthetic of that era.

And when Warhol used Bernie Burroughs’ work, his model was Ronald Reagan.

“That’s the whole point of this show: making those connections,” WAC executive director Amanda Innes says.

“Van Heusen 356,” by Andy Warhol — based on work by Bernie Burroughs.

Miggs had another surprise for the WAC curators. He said that as a child, he’d go to the Westport station with his dad. When the train pulled in, Bernie would hand his portfolio to the conductor — along with some cash.

The conductor delivered it to Bernie’s New York ad agency. That was common practice, Miggs said.

“Conductor,” by Bernie Burroughs, is part of the Westport Arts Center show.

“That’s a great story about trust,” Innes says.

“But it also shows the anonymity of these artists. They created the work, but they didn’t sign them. They weren’t invited to ad meetings. They didn’t even own the art — the agencies did.”

Part of the reason for this show, she says, is to “honor the men who created so much of this iconic imaging and branding.” (And yes, everyone in this show — like nearly all of Madison Avenue then — is male.)

The Arts Center show opens tomorrow (Friday, April 21, reception from 6 to 8 p.m.). On display is original art and advertisements from illustrators like Bernie Burroughs, Al Parker and Bernie Fuchs. Hung alongside are works by artists like Andy Warhol, Walter Robinson and Richard Prince, who appropriated so much of that material.

Westport artist Bernie Fuchs painted this for Pepsi. He also created art for Coke. Both are displayed in the WAC show.

Innes has had a great time — and an excellent education — mounting the exhibit. For example, hearing it was in the works, Harold Levine headed over. He spent 2 hours regaling Innes about his career.

He had a lot to talk about. In addition to co-founding (with Chet Huntley) a legendary ad agency, he knew Warhol when the struggling young artist asked him for work.

Sadly, Levine will not be there tomorrow. He died in February, at 95.

But that gives you an idea of the kind of show it will be.

Part of Jonathan Horowitz’s “Coke/Pepsi,” on display at the Westport Arts Center. He draws upon the work of Andy Warhol — who in turn appropriated advertisements drawn by Westport artists.

Simultaneously, the WAC will showcase 30 works by high school students. The show is juried by treasured Westport artists Ann Chernow and Leonard Everett Fisher.

Tomorrow evening, a Westport student will receive the Tracy Sugarman Award — named for another of our most famous artists.

That award — and the entire show — is a great way to tie our artistic/advertising past in with our consumer culture present. It’s also a chance to highlight the next generation of local artists.

Some day, some may gain fame for their paintings. Some may toil anonymously, but have their works seen by millions.

And — like the professionals featured in the new Westport Arts Center show — some may do both.

(During tomorrow’s opening reception for “Main Street to Madison Avenue,” the video room will run a loop of advertisements — including some from Harold Levine’s agency. The show runs through June 22.)