The Westport Library’s Transformation Project is exciting and dynamic. When the official opening takes place June 23, users will enjoy an entirely new experience. Space, usage, programs — all have been reimagined.
But the 2-year renovation has brought changes to some old favorites. More than 150 works of art were removed, reappraised, cleaned, photographed and stored professionally. Some will be back on the “new” library walls.
Others found homes in various town buildings. For example, Robert Lambdin’s 1935 WPA mural “Pageant of History” was relocated to Staples High School.
But what about the River of Names?
That was the 26-foot long, 6-foot high tile work that hung on the lower level, just outside the McManus meeting room.
The River of Names, in the lower level of the Westport Library.
Conceived by Betty Lou Cummings, shepherded along by Dorothy Curran, and commissioned in 1997 as part of a capital campaign, it raised $300,000. All 1,162 tiles were individually created and drawn by artist Marion Grebow.
Some portray historical events, like the founding of Westport, onion farming and the arrival of the railroad.
Others feature favorite places around town: the Compo Beach cannons, Minute Man monument and Staples High School. Some cite local organizations and businesses.
Most show the names of nearly 1,000 families. They honor parents, children and pets. They note when the families came to town, and where they lived.
One of the tiles shows Stevan Dohanos’ Saturday Evening Post cover of the World War II memorial outside the old Town Hall.
Tile donors were promised the River of Names would exist in perpetuity.
Yet finding a new home in the transformed library was difficult.
Fortunately, the library has a 21st-century solution.
An interactive River of Names will be an innovative feature of the new building.
A 43-inch touch-screen digital mural will be on view — and very accessible — on the upper level.
The new River of Names will link historic depictions in the mural to additional information about Westport’s 350-year past.
Another tile shows the YMCA’s Bedford building, constructed in 1923. It’s now the site of Bedford Square.
Iain Bruce — president of the library’s board of trustees — acknowledges the challenge of finding an appropriate location for the mural in the renovated space.
However, he says, the mural — and the entire Transformation Project — has forced the library to reassess how to make its collections and materials more accessible and engaging for everyone.
The new digital mural offers “maximum accessibility, interactivity, and continuity for our community today and for generations to come.” It includes descriptions, narratives, maps and photos. Audio and video clips will be added in the future.
Before the original mural was taken down, Miggs Burroughs photographed and documented each tile. It was removed and stored by a specialized company.
The River of Names includes tiles for the original Westport Library, built in 1908 on the Post Road (now next to Freshii) …
Ann Sheffer — chair of the River of Names Task Force Committee — says she is “thrilled that all this will be available to many more generations of Westport.” She calls digitization “a truly 21st-century demonstration of the role of libraries in preserving our heritage while charting our future.”
The River of Names will be accessible not only to library patrons, teachers and students, but everyone around the globe, adds Kathleen Motes Bennewitz, Westport’s arts curator who consulted on this project.
Like the original mural River of Names, the digital version is ultimately a home-town product.
Square Squared — a Westport company — was the developer. The firm provides creative solutions for print and digital designs, and audio and video production.
Michael Bud — a Square Squared partner — was introduced to the Westport Library years ago, by his mother, a Coleytown Elementary School teacher. He enjoyed story hour and picture books; later, he researched science fair and other projects there.
He was in high school when the River of Names project was installed, and remembers the buzz. Now his 2 children are frequent library visitors.
Soon — thank to Dad — they’ll be able to access the River of Names, digitally.
Along with the rest of Westport.
And the world.
… as well the current library, opened in 1986, and soon to be “transformed.” (Tile photos courtesy of Fotki.com)