Tag Archives: Westport Historical Society

Westport’s History, In 100 Objects

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.

Needed: African American Artifacts

In May, the Westport Historical Society will sponsor an exhibit about African American heritage in history here, and the surrounding region.

It should be educational, inspirational and fascinating.

It won’t happen, though, without actual stuff to show.

There is good material in the archives. But the WHS is seeking more documents and objects. They’re especially interested in original artifacts, from the earliest settlement of town to the present.

If you’ve got anything — letters, artwork, photos, property information, newspaper clippings, video or tape recordings, or anything else — please send an image and brief description to executivedirector@westporthistory.org.

And if you have any contact information for anyone who would know anything about Westport’s African American past, please send that along too.

A photo of the maids at the Laurence family home, around 1880. Part of the Laurence estate later became Longshore. The back of the photo identifies 5 white people who could possibly be in the photo — but does not even attempt to identify the black woman.

Memorial Set For Ed Vebell

Friends and fans are invited to pay tribute to Ed Vebell — noted military veteran, illustrator and raconteur — this Saturday (February 17, 2 to 5 p.m., Westport Historical Society). The Vebell family will be there.

It’s a fitting venue. The WHS is currently showing “The Curious Case of Ed Vebell,” a retrospective of the longtime Westporter’s life and times. He died on Friday, at 96.

The family also announces that in lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the American Red Cross. Click here for details.

On January 28, Ed Vebell attended the opening of a Westport Historical Society exhibit honoring his life and career. (Photo/Larry Untermeyer)

 

Remembering Ed Vebell

Andra Vebell writes:

My father, Ed Vebell, passed away peacefully at home last night. He was 96.

He had had congestive heart failure for some time now, but was bound and determined to make it to the opening of his show at the Westport Historical Society less than 2 weeks ago.

It was uncanny how he made it to that and then allowed himself to go. The show was the perfect sendoff for him, being surrounded by family and friends who were there to honor his lifetime of work.

In addition to Andra, Ed is survived by his daughters Renee Vebell and Victoria Vebell, and 3 grandsons: Jason Cohen, Dylan Hoy and Colin Hoy. 

In June of 2016, I posted this story on Ed. It too serves as a fitting reminder of his life:


At 95 years old, Ed Vebell could be ready to slow down.

The Westport artist has had quite a life. Here’s a quick summary:

During World War II he was an illustrator/reporter for Stars and Stripes newspaper. He’d be dropped off at a battle scene, told to find a story, then picked up 3 days later.

Ed Vebell, in Norman Rockwell-esque style, illustrates his own illustration.

Ed Vebell, in Norman Rockwell-esque style, illustrates his own illustration. The print sits atop many others in Ed’s studio.

After the war, he worked for French magazines (and covered the Nuremberg war trials). When she was 18, Grace Kelly posed for Ed. His first girlfriend was a star of the the Folies Bergère.

Two of Ed's sketches from the Nuremberg trials.

Two of Ed’s sketches from the Nuremberg trials.

Back in the States, he contributed to Time, Reader’s Digest and other publications. Specializing in military art, he drew uniforms from around the world for encyclopedias and paperback publishers. He worked for MBI too, illustrating the history of America from Leif Erikson through the Pilgrims, the Founding Fathers, and every war up to Vietnam.

Ed designed US stamps — some with military themes, some not.

One of Ed's US postage stamps.

One of Ed’s US postage stamps.

Oh yeah: He reached the semifinals of the 1952 Olympics, representing our country in fencing.

As I said, 95-year-old Ed Vebell could be slowing down.

He’s not. His latest project is selling his vast collection of uniforms.

They sprawl throughout the wonderful studio in his Compo Beach home, and in several other rooms. There are Revolutionary and Civil War uniforms, German helmets and Franco-Prussian gear. Buffalo Bill Cody’s hat is there too, in a bathtub surrounded by tons of other stuff.

He would have even more. But Hurricane Sandy wiped out his basement.

Two of Ed's many uniforms hang on a file cabinet.

Two of Ed’s many uniforms hang on a file cabinet.

Ed’s collection began years ago. He could rent a uniform for $15. But for just $10 more, he could buy it. That made sense; he had so much work, he needed plenty of uniforms.

So why is he selling?

“I’m 95,” he says simply. “I can’t keep them forever.”

Two auctions have already been held. He’s talking to more auction houses, and individual buyers too.

He knows each item. He points with pride to his Native American collection of bonnets, saddles and war shirts. He knows the differences between every tribe.

For years, he was hired for illustrations by editors out West. Why not use an artist closer by? he asked.

“We trust you,” they said.

Ed Vebell, in his Compo Beach studio.

Ed Vebell, in his Compo Beach studio.

The Civil War holds a special place in Ed’s heart. Years ago, he staged entire battle scenes in a Weston field. Models wore Yankee and rebel uniforms. Ed took photos, and worked from them.

He did the same with cowboys and Indians. “Those were great shows,” he recalls. “We had horses, riders, muskets and tomahawks. We entertained the whole neighborhood.”

It may be time to sell all those uniforms. But that’s not Ed’s only project.

At 95, he’s just finished two more picture books.

So now he’s looking around for his next one.

Ed drew this in 1944.

Ed Vebell drew this in 1944, in Italy.

 

Opening The Door To History

The front door of Wheeler House — the Westport Historical Society’s downtown home — has not been used for 20 years.

Now the Avery Place door is open. Visitors stroll through the parlor of the 1795 home, en route to the exhibits in the back.

The “new” entrance debuted today. A large crowd enjoyed the opening of “The Curious Case of Ed Vebell.” The must-see show chronicles the incredible life of Westport’s beloved 96-year-old illustrator.

He sketched World War II, including the Nuremberg Trials. He drew Wheaties box covers, Muhammad Ali and Grace Kelly. He fenced in the Olympics.

Ed’s done much more too. See it all.

And when you’re there, check out the welcoming — and wide open — front door.

Veterans Reflect On War — And Peace

Westport is awash in war stories.

This year’s WestportREADS library book — “Regeneration” — shines a light on a British officer’s refusal to continue serving during the “senseless slaughter” of World War I.

On January 28, the Westport Historical Society opens an exhibit honoring Ed Vebell. Now 96, the longtime resident was a noted illustrator during World War II. He’s drawn and written about the military ever since.

World Wars I and II — and Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan — come together at the WHS on Sunday, February 4 (3 p.m.). “On the Front: Veterans Reflections” offers insights into how war affects people, communities — and the peacetime that follows.

A panel of veterans — from World War II on — will provide their thoughts. But, says WHS education and programs director Nicole Carpenter — the hope is for plenty of questions and interactivity.

Ed Vebell is one of Westport’s honored — and few remaining — World War II veterans. Last May, he was grand marshal of the Memorial Day ceremonies.

“Obviously, the Historical Society’s mission is to remember where we’ve been,” she says. “But veterans are an important part of America today. Every discussion we have — whether it’s about foreign policy, healthcare, whatever — involves veterans.”

This is a poignant time in history, she notes. “We’re losing World War II veterans every day. We need to hear their voices before they’re gone.”

She hopes people will ask provocative questions — leading to an “open, progressive discussion.”

That’s important. After all, it’s what every veteran in history fought to protect.

Ramin Ganeshram: Historical Society Can Look Backward, Move Forward

Ramin Ganeshram has been an editor for companies like Ziff Davis and Hachette. She was a cultural strategist for a major market research firm, a New York Times stringer, and a researcher and writer on culture, history, food and travel. And she’s a professionally trained chef.

Now Ramin has a new gig. This week she takes over as the Westport Historical Society’s new executive director.

It’s the next, entirely natural fit for the New York native and Columbia Journalism School grad.

Ramin Ganeshram (Photo/JP Vellotti)

Her father was Trinidadian, her mother from Iran. “They met in Brooklyn!” she laughs.

They assimilated into America. In fact, Ramin says, the only time her parents nodded to their cultures was around food. As he cooked, her father told stories.

She started writing about food 25 years ago. “It wasn’t as hip and trendy as it is today,” she says of that genre. “But shopping and cooking is really about history and anthropology.” Her writing focused on those elements of food.

She’s been a Westporter for nearly a decade. She and her husband, JP Vellotti, moved here for the schools — and so their daughter Sophia could learn her dad’s family’s history. (They’ve been in the Norwalk/Rowayton area for generations.)

Ramin wanted to be near a beach, no more than an hour from New York — with a downtown she could walk to. They fell in love with an old house on Evergreen Avenue. The seller grew up in it, and was thrilled that Ramin and JP would not tear it down.

Soon after moving, Ramin organized a fundraiser for Haitian earthquake victims. It raised $10,000.

That led to more volunteer work. She attended meetings of TEAM Westport — the town’s multicultural committee — and after a year, was appointed a full member. She welcomed the opportunity to address Westport’s diversity (or lack thereof).

She applied for the Historical Society executive director position knowing that “I don’t come to museum history and curation in traditional ways. But I love history. I’ve done a lot of research. And I have a strong business background.”

Ramin believes the WHS can be “a more expansive organization. Sue (Gold, the previous executive director) was amazing. But all businesses have to look at how they manage themselves.”

Right now, Ramin says, the Historical Society is “a consistent and well-thought-of part of the community. Lots of people go to lectures and exhibits. Lots of kids go to the camps. It’s high-quality, very professional, and and it fulfills its mission incredibly well.”

Ramin’s vision is for the WHS to extends its reach, and become more integrated into the community. “A historical society can be seen as aimed at only pockets of people — history-minded older people, young children. I want us to be more expansive.”

She’d like a better social media presence, interactive programs to accompany exhibits, “virtual” exhibits on the website, and livestream talks.

“I want the Westport Historical Society to be a place people want to come to and enjoy — a place where they know they can have an ongoing conversation.”

Ramin Ganeshram wants to make the Westport Historical Society a welcoming place for all. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

Challenges include “the perception that historical societies in general are just repositories of old information,” and — of course — funding.

With enough money, Ramin says, the WHS can even do outreach to nearby under-served communities.

She’s spending her first week getting to know the staff and volunteers. She’s excited about the exhibit opening in May — it’s on Westport’s African-American history.

Ramin looks forward too to meeting directors of other non-profits: the library, Westport Arts Center, area historical societies.

So what’s been her favorite exhibit, in the hall she now oversees?

“The Danbury raid,” she says without hesitation. “I love that Revolutionary War era of history. It’s great there’s still a tangible link, with the Minute Man monument at Compo. It was mounted beautifully, with amazing artifacts.”

And, the multi-talented, food-oriented new director admits, she had a small part in the display: “I did something on colonial kitchens!”

Drew Friedman: One In Half A Million

Drew Friedman was a pillar of downtown Westport. A major landowner, a founder of the Westport Downtown Merchants Association and landlord of restaurants like Onion Alley, Bobby Q’s and Acqua, he influenced much of Main Street.

His holdings once included the original Westport Public Library building on the Post Road between Main Street and Parker Harding Plaza (now Starbucks and Freshii). He also owned Post Road property beyond downtown. And was a presence in Weston too, as the owner of Cobb’s Mill Inn.

He died in February 2016, at 86.

Drew Friedman and his wife Laura Papallo Friedman, at Cobb’s Mill Inn. (Photo/Patricia Gay)

Now Friedman is back in the news.

In his will, he left $500,000 to set up a “Drew Friedman Community Arts Center.”

But it’s not a place.

It’s a foundation.

Friedman’s former business partner Nick Visconti asked artist/photographer Miggs Burroughs — whose “Tunnel Vision” project is installed next to and across from some of Friedman’s former properties — and Visconti’s sister Louise Fusco to join him on the foundation board.

Their mission is to give $50,000 a year to one or more worthy artists and/or arts organizations and activities in Westport or Weston.

Nick Visconti, MIggs Burroughs and Louise Fusco announce the fulfillment of Drew Friedman’s dream.

So far, money has gone to Homes With Hope, CLASP Homes, the Westport Arts Center and Westport Historical Society. It will help fund art classes and activities for under-served students and young adults. This spring, an art exhibit will showcase all their work.

In addition, the foundation will award 2 scholarships, of $7,500 each, so high school students with need can attend an arts college, or art classes at a community college.

A special gala at the Westport Woman’s Club on May 17 will celebrate the arts program — and artists’ — great accomplishments.

Though not an artist himself, Friedman married one. His wife Bobbie created memorable works of art on canvas, and in clay and bronze, in a beautiful studio he built at their Westport home.

Now Bobby Q’s, Acqua and Cobb’s Mill are all gone.

So are Drew and Bobbie Friedman.

But thanks to his generosity and foresight, the arts — and artists — in Westport and Weston will live on for years.

(Candidates for Drew Friedman Community Arts Center scholarships should click here for more information.)

Pic Of The Day #221

Remarkable guy at Westport Historical Society (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

Historic Homes, Modern Videos

Westport’s first schoolhouse was built in 1812. With YouTube still 2 centuries in the future, you’d figure kids would have had few distractions, and could pay attention to the teacher.

On the other hand, with 37 students in one class, youngsters probably found other ways to goof off.

That first schoolhouse is now a private home. It — and 6 others — are featured on the Westport Historical Society’s upcoming Holiday House Tour (Sunday, December 10, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.).

The WHS honors the past — but its other foot is planted firmly in the present. So they’ve taken to YouTube to promote this annual fun fundraiser.

The video below offers tidbits about that original schoolhouse. (It’s also the location of what may be Westport’s first swimming pool. Who knew?)

This one shows a Cross Highway home, dating back to 1764. A century and a half later — which is more than a century ago — it was owned by George Hand Wright, a renowned artist and one of the founders of Westport’s “arts colony.”

This quick video only hints at the wonders of “Duck Haven.” It doesn’t show where it is — but we all drive past it often. We see the front from one direction, the back from another. And we all wonder what’s inside.

On December 10, you can explore the interiors of all 3 houses — and 4 more.

They’re all worth touring. It’s a chance to see Westport’s historic past, decorated beautifully for the 2017 holidays.

(Click here for more information, and tickets.)