Tag Archives: Westport Arts Center

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.)

Sherri Wolfgang Masters Painting

As a 12-year-old Queens girl — visiting her divorced father here in 1969 — Sherri Wolfgang fell in love with Westport.

She was a camper at Mahackeno, and later became an art counselor there. Her dad took her to Max’s Art Supplies, where she bought her first drawing pad.

The budding artist always got an “artists’ vibe” from this town. She grew up, earned a BFA at Carnegie Mellon, and embarked on a career as an illustrator.

Sherri got married, and lived in Greenwich Village. When she had kids, it was time to move to the suburbs. But she wanted a place with that same “great, creative environment.”

In 1992, Westport was that place. Through Max’s — and meeting spots like Glynn’s restaurant — Sherri met artists, illustrators and cartoonists. Stan Drake, Curt Swan and many others welcomed her in.

She formed a studio, called Dynamic Duo. She created covers for Time, Barron’s, Sports Illustrated and Business Week, and helped with ad campaigns for Coca-Cola, Burger King, IBM and MTV. She couriered her work to New York by train, just like all the famed illustrators here did.

Sherri Wolfgang, in her Kings Highway South studio. (Photo/Pam Einarsen)

In 2004, Sherri turned the studio into an art school. For 2 years she taught her craft to kids and adults.

But she missed painting. Ten years ago she started again. She’s been a full-time painter ever since.

Sherri proudly calls her style “old school.” Figure painting is not as popular today as it once was, she says, but that’s how she was trained. She loves it.

She layers oils and resins in traditional style, like the old masters. But Sherri is not da Vinci, Michelangelo or Rembrandt. Her paintings are contemporary. Many include a bit of whimsy or humor.

She paints large canvases, often in series. “Twisted” — which took several years to conceive, create and complete — portrays women who are addicted to cosmetic surgery. That doesn’t sound funny. But Sherri — who believes that “beauty comes from within” — manages to turn that serious subject on its Botoxed head.

If you recognize some of the women, you should: Sherri used herself as a model.

“Lunching in Westport,” from Sherri Wolfgang’s “Twisted” series. (Photo/Pam Einarsen)

She’s had group shows at the Westport Arts Center and Silvermine Guild, plus solo shows at Nylen Gallery here and City Lights in Bridgeport.

Now Sherri is gearing up for her biggest show yet. It opens June 1 at Bridgeport’s Housatonic Museum of Art.

Specifically, the Burt Chernow Gallery. It’s named for the longtime professor, who began his teaching career in the Westport school system. He helped found the Westport Arts Center — where Sherri spent plenty of time, in its studio days at Greens Farms School.

Sherri will exhibit 2 complete series. “Nick.e.lo.deon” celebrates the wonders of the human form. Her model was Nick Daley, a Staples High School 2012 graduate and professional dancer.

One of Sherri Wolfgang’s “Nick.e.lo.deon” paintings. (Photo/Pam Einarsen)

She’ll also show “Twisted.”

The Chernow connection to Westport’s old arts vibe is important to Sherri. Glynn’s is gone. Max’s closed too.

“I’d walk in to buy art supplies, and end up hanging out for hours with Shirley, Nina and Jay,” Sherri recalls. “That was our haven.”

When owner Shirley Mellor sold everything in August 2014, Sherri bought its iconic clock. She beat out fellow artist Miggs Burroughs by a minute. He’s still a friend, as is Nina Bentley — reminders that despite many chances, artists still live, work and thrive here.

Sherri Wolfgang (center) with Max’s Art Supplies’ famous Karron’s clock. She’s surrounded by (from left) Max’s famed Nina Royce, Rita Ross Englebardt, Shirley Mellor (owner) and Jay Cimbak.

Ten years after resuming painting, Sherri says she is in “mid-career.” She feels “lucky and honored” to be able to work in her large, bright and art-filled South Kings Highway studio.

After years of study — including lugging large books of the masters home from the Westport Library — Sherri says, “Things make sense now. I’m a more confident painter. My brush strokes are more solid. And I know when a painting is done. When it’s finished, I can walk away.”

With “Nick.e.lo.deon” and “Twisted” done — and preparations underway for her Housatonic show — Sherri is ready for her next series.

Called “American Pathos,” it’s based on what she sees as her daughters and their Staples friends begin their adult lives. (Sherri calls Class of ’12 grad Maya Schumer — a neuroscience major at Carnegie Mellon — and current junior Eden Schumer “my best works of art.”)

Those young women and their friends wear earrings and tattoos. Sherri will paint those — with Renaissance backgrounds.

Move over, Old Masters. I can’t call Sherri Wolfgang a New Mistress — but I sure can be at her Burt Chernow Gallery opening this spring.

I Am More Than …

For a few weeks now, the Westport Arts Center has been asking folks what they are “more than.”

Men, women and kids, old-timers and newcomers, well-known and unknown, politicians and business professionals, artists and athletes, religious figures and atheists — more than 500 people have responded.

They say: “I am more than … a housewife … my bank account … bi-polar … gay … Jewish … a twin … middle-aged … my pretty clothes … a mailman … a bald guy … an immigrant … a nun.”

They say it graphically: with words and photos.

i-am-more-than-1

The images — dramatic and strong — were taken by Xenia Gross.

i-am-more-than-2

Last night, the WAC hosted an opening reception for those dozens of “As We Are” portraits, and hundreds more cards. They’re part of a larger “MORE Than Words” exhibit — dedicated to artistic expressions of gender, racial, religious, geopolitical and age inequality, along with the impact of bullying.

Guests at last night's Westport Arts Center opening reception viewed dozens of "I am more than ..." posters.

Guests at last night’s Westport Arts Center opening reception viewed dozens of “I am more than …” posters.

A picture is indeed worth more than 1,000 words.

Or 7.

i-am-more-than-3

The Westport Arts Center is located at 51 Riverside Avenue. The exhibition continues through March 11. Click here for more information. NOTE: A supporting event — a SlamJam featuring dance, music, rap, poetry, spoken word and song, performed by teens with something to say about empathy — is set for tomorrow (Sunday, January 29, 5 pm) at the Westport Country Playhouse. Click here for more information on that event.

Pop! Goes The Art Show

A pop-up art show doesn’t just pop up.

It takes tons of behind-the-scenes work.

This week, it was all hands on deck. The Westport Arts Center is preparing for tonight’s Westport Artists Collective Pop-Up Show. Fifteen diverse artists show their stuff, from 6-8 p.m.

westport-arts-center-pop-up

But like a true pop-up, it won’t last long. There’s an artists’ talk tomorrow (Friday, January 13, 10 a.m.).

The works are on view Saturday too.

Then — poof! — they’re gone.

Though of course many hands will be there Sunday removing them, too.

SlamJam Helps Teens Be Kind, Fight Bullies

For a few months now, the Westport Arts Center’s “MORE Than Words” exhibit has highlighted the importance of courage, resilience and empowerment in the face of bullying.

It’s emboldened a variety of voices to speak out about the positive effects of empathy and kindness, and the negative results of exclusion.

No one knows that subject better than teenagers. On January 29, their voices will be heard — loud and clear.

SlamJam (5 p.m., Westport Country Playhouse) is an evening of performances by Fairfield County teens. They’ll express how they feel about their stressful social world, and promote a kinder, more inclusive community.

Songs, spoken word, rap, dance, music and film are some of the performance art genres on tap. Performers will come from Westport and area towns — including students from Bridgeport’s All-Star Project and Neighborhood Studios.

The emcee is Ceez Liive. The very cool poetry slam-winning artist from the Bronx performed at Staples a few years ago to great acclaim. Check her out below:

The event is produced by SKATEmovement. The acronym stands for Spreading Kindness and Teaching Empathy — an anti-bullying organization that teaches teens to be role models for younger children. All proceeds go to the Southern Connecticut branch of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

These are our teenagers. They have plenty to say.

And very creative, powerful ways of saying it.

(SlamJam is appropriate for middle schoolers and up. Tickets are $40 for adults, $20 for students and seniors. Click here to order. For $150 VIP seating, including pre- and post-show events, call 203-227-4177.)

slamjam

Bullying And Cyber-Threats: The (Teen) Experts Speak

“Stricter parents make sneakier children.”

That was one of the gems offered Thursday night. The Westport Arts Center and Anti-Defamation League presented a workshop on “What Children Wish Their Parents Knew About Bullying, Cyber-Bullying and Name-Calling.” It was part of the WAC’s current “More Than Words” exhibition, about that topic.

Marji Lipshez-Shapiro — ADL-Connecticut’s director of education — led the event. But the high school panelists stole the show.

They’re the ones who delivered insights like the one about strict parents and sneaky children. The speaker above was explaining that because teenagers’ technical skills far outstrip their parents’, mutual trust makes that relationship work.

Johnny Donovan and Megan Hines — co-presidents of Staples’ Kool To Be Kind group — and fellow K2BK members Gavin Berger, Brian Greenspan, Isabel Handa, Ben Klau and Emerson Kobak — reassured the 100 parents in attendance that they’re raising their kids well. They praised the school system and town for their bullying prevention and intervention programs.

The panelists also presented some scary previews of what’s ahead.

Brian Greenspan, Ben Klau, Gavin Berger and Emerson Kobak were part of the Kool To Be Kind panel at the Westport Arts Center.

Brian Greenspan, Ben Klau, Gavin Berger and Emerson Kobak were part of the Kool To Be Kind panel at the Westport Arts Center….

Among their thoughts:

One Stapleite said that Instagram is a good way for 7th graders to start on social media. Facebook can be added in late middle school. Beware: Snapchat can be “dangerous.”

But another said, “Let kids discover social media on their own. Putting on age restrictions makes something seem taboo.”

When one panelist’s parents gave her a smartphone, they asked for her passcode — and told her they could check it any time. They don’t — but she realizes they can. “So I know the boundaries,” she concluded.

Parents should teach their children that the cyber world is not private. Middle schoolers “don’t know that innately.”

Some parents limit their kids’ technology use by making sure phones, laptops and other devices are charged each night in the kitchen — or parents’ rooms. One K2BK member was actually relieved by that rule. “I would’ve gotten no sleep in middle school if I could have texted all night,” he said. Another explained, “It’s not healthy to be distracted all the time.”

...And so were Johnny Donovan, Megan Hines and Isabel Handa.

…And so were Johnny Donovan, Megan Hines and Isabel Handa.

Stresses on tweens and teens are real. “Don’t say ‘get over it,'” one of the panelists noted. “That doesn’t help at all.”

As for bullying: Classmates and older kids are not the only perpetrators. “The meanest thing anyone ever said to me was by a teacher,” one boy noted.

When should parents call other parents about an issue between their children?

“It ends at elementary school,” one girl said. “After that, kids need to learn to fight their own battles.”

“It’s never too young to encourage your child to have her own voice,” another member added. “But you still have to let them know you’ll always be there for them.”

Bullying can take place in person, or in cyberspace.

Bullying can take place in person, or in cyberspace.

Megan gave a particularly powerful presentation. Speaking personally — as someone who does not take Advanced Placement or Honors courses, and who has been called “stupid” because of her passion for fashion merchandising — she spoke articulately, and at times painfully, about her journey to believe in herself.

Ultimately, the panelists agreed, raising a child who can stand up to name-calling; who does not bully, and who can navigate the complex world of cyberspace, is a comes down to trust.

“My parents gave me the stage,” one of the Staples students said. “And they let me tell my own story on it.”

Monica Lewinsky In Westport: More Than Just Words

When I heard that Monica Lewinsky will speak in Westport on October 6 — as part of the Westport Arts Center’s bullying exhibition — my first thought was: “Huh?”

But that’s the whole idea. For nearly 20 years, she’s been defined by what happened between her and the President of the United States.

Lewinsky is no longer a 24-year-old intern. She’s a 42-year-old woman who spent 10 years in self-imposed silence (several of them outside the country).

Now she’s speaking out. She talks about a subject she knows too well: internet shaming.

Lewinsky has tried to move beyond her image as the young woman in a stained dress. She’s now a social activist, contributing editor to Vanity Fair — and ambassador to BystanderRevolution.com.

Lewinsky has first-hand knowledge of the “culture of humiliation.” She is an expert at the effects of cyberbullies.  Anyone — and everyone — can become, like her, a target of the digital playground.

Her 2015 TED Talk — “The Price of Shame” — has been viewed millions of times. In it, she describes losing her reputation instantly — and globally — via the internet. “Public humiliation as a blood sport has to stop,” she says.

In Westport, Lewinsky will build on themes underlying the Arts Center’s exhibit. It examines the topic of bullying within a broad cultural context that considers how perceived imbalances of social, physical — or political — power can be abused to marginalize others.

Sadly, it seems just as relevant in 2016 as it was in 1998.

(Monica Lewinsky’s talk at the Westport Arts Center at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, October 6 includes a panel discussion. For more information or to purchase tickets, click here or call 203-222-7070.)

 

Westport Arts Center Offers A Bully Pulpit

Whether you’ve got a school-age kid or not, these days it’s tough to avoid hearing about bullying. Its causes, its effects, how to change it (or whether we’re overreacting) — bullying everywhere, from our schools and the media to the presidential campaign.

Soon, even the Westport Arts Center will tackle the topic.

WAC - More than WordsAn exhibition called “MORE Than Words” opens September 9. Utilizing artists, speakers, panels and films, it examines bullying within a broad cultural context. The exhibit focuses on courage, resilience and empowerment in the face of bullying, and considers how imbalances of social, physical and political power can marginalize others.

The WAC show includes artistic expressions of gender, racial, religious, geopolitical and age inequality, and includes cyber-bullying. The goal is to inspire dialogue and change.

Recognizing that the best responses to bullying are community-wide, the WAC has enlisted the help of important local organizations. They include the Westport Country Playhouse, Westport Library, SKATE/K2BK, Neighborhood Studios of Bridgeport, Anti-Defamation League and Norwalk’s LGBT Triangle Community Center.

Also involved: Athlete Ally and the National Charity League.

WAC exhibition - Jenny Holzer

Jenny Holzer’s piece in the “MORE Than Words” exhibition.

The exhibit was conceived by board member — and father of 2 young girls — Derek Goodman.

“We’ve all dealt with bullies,” he says. “At the same time, a number of well-known, influential artists have used their work to address it. We hope we’ve put together a platform to open dialogue, so that people in Westport feel comfortable discussing it.”

As the WAC partners with a variety of local organizations, he says, the town has an opportunity to take a leadership role in the battle against bullying.

“We’re not the experts,” he notes of the Westport Arts Center. “But we’re honored to put together a show for experts to help lead the conversation.”

(An opening reception is set for September 9, from 6-8 p.m. The exhibit runs through October 29. For more information on “MORE Than Words,” click here.)