Tag Archives: Westport Library

Volunteers Vital To Keeping Town Vibrant

In the 1950s, a surge of new families changed Westport forever.

They built new homes. They needed new schools. They got involved in town affairs.

Those post-war parents picked up the volunteer reins from the men and women who had made Westport what it was in previous decades. They joined well-established local organizations, and started others. They ran for political office. They asked how this beautiful, resource-rich town could be even better; then they made it happen.

Their baby boomer children continued that tradition. Some were their literal descendants, who stayed in Westport or moved back later. Others were baby boomers who grew up elsewhere, then somehow found their way here and understood that for a community to thrive, every member who can, must contribute to it in some way.

Coleytown Capers was a 1950s fundraiser for the elementary school. It was directed, produced and acted in by dozens of parents. Many worked fulltime in entertainment and the arts. PTAs today find it difficult to recruit volunteers.

In the 2020s, Westport is changing again.

The pandemic brought a new surge of new families. They moved here for all the right reasons: the schools. The amenities. The space. The community vibe.

They are young and energetic. They are smart and creative. They are our future, and that future is very bright indeed.

But as baby boomers age, there is a concern that the civic value of volunteerism is fading.

Certainly, plenty of newcomers have picked up the mantle. They join organizations, run for office, coach teams.

But there are not enough of them.

Katie Augustyn and Haley Schulman volunteer with Food Rescue US. They deliver excess food from stores and restaurants to pantries and shelters in the area. Volunteers are always needed.

Nearly every group in town — PTAs, non-profits, town commissions — wonders: How can we get the next generation more involved?

“They do everything they can for their kids,” one current leader said. “But they don’t always do everything they can for their town.”

Last Saturday, the Town of Westport and League of Women Voters sponsored a volunteer fair at the Westport Library. (Right there, those are 3 organizations that rely often on volunteers.)

Over 2 dozen community groups had tables. Turnout was good (bad weather may have helped or hurt). Representatives offered information, answered questions and encouraged participation.

Saturday’s Volunteer Fair, at the Westport Library. (Photo courtesy of Town of Westport)

If you missed it, here they were:

  • A Better Chance of Westport
  • Center for Senior Activities
  • Club 203
  • Earthplace
  • FCJazz
  • Food Rescue
  • Friends of Sherwood Island
  • Guiding Eyes for the Blind
  • Homes with Hope
  • Levitt Pavilion
  • Staples Tuition Grants
  • Sunrise Rotary Club
  • TEAM Westport
  • Town of Westport
  • Verso Studios
  • Veterans of Foreign Wars
  • Wakeman Town Farm
  • Westport Book Shop
  • Westport Community Theatre
  • Westport Country Playhouse
  • Westport Emergency Medical Services
  • Westport League of Women Voters
  • Westport Library
  • Westport Permanent Art Collections
  • Westport Rotary Club
  • Westport Woman’s Club
  • Westport Young Woman’s League
  • Westport-Weston CERT
  • Westport Weston Family YMCA.

What a list!

Education, community service, seniors, people in need, people with disabilities, the environment, the arts, politics, entertainment, veterans, health, youth — no matter what your interest, there was something for everyone.

That’s not counting the groups that were not there: PTAs. Sports. And one that I profiled earlier this month (started — yes — by new arrivals): Bike Westport.

Imke Lohs, Adam Ganser and Markus Marty are young Westporters who started Bike Westport. The non-profit is addressing our town’s transportation crisis.

I am often asked what I think about “changing Westport.” I respond that I am excited and invigorated by all the new people. Some are families; some are young singles moving into apartments.

They’re excited to be here. They quickly learn to love this town.

Now it’s up to them — not just some, but all of them — to make their mark on Westport.

And set the standard for future surges of newcomers, in the 2090s and beyond.

PS: Adults are not the only volunteers who make this town go.

The Library will host a volunteer expo for teens on Wednesday, October 4 (4:30 to 6 p.m.), featuring local youth organizations with volunteer opportunities.

(“06880” covers all of Westport: yesterday, today and tomorrow. Please click here to support our local journalism. Thank you!)

Photo Challenge #433

Clever messages hide inside the Westport Library.

Sit in the Trefz Forum, look up and to the right, and read the words masquerading as dccorative designs.

Then turn around, and check out the clock by the children’s section. The 3 “dots” mirror the Library logo.

If you hit the men’s room (and women’s too, I assume), you’ll see tiles that look like book jackets.

Outside is a design that’s more obvious. “W-E-S-T” is spelled on one side of the lower entrance, by the Riverwalk; “P-O-R-T” is on the other (alas, the starboard side).

They’re easy to see — once you know they’re there.

Fifteen “06880” readers knew the “P-O-R-T” sculpture, which was last week’s Photo Challenge. (Click here to see). 

Congratulations to Morley Boyd, Dick Lowenstein, Ralph Balducci, Andrew Colabella, Elaine Marino, Lynn Untermeyer Miller, Wendy Schaefer, Amy Schneider, Beth Berkowitz, Mary Ann Batsell, Emily Waldman, Ivy Gosseen, Robin Babbin, Rick Benson and Janice Strizever.

Meanwhile, there’s nothing fishy about this week’s Photo Challenge. It’s right here in town, literally under our noses.

If you know where in Westport you’d see this, click “Comments” below.

(Photo/Dinkin Fotografix)


Pics Of The Day #2104

Top row, from left: Old Hill, Old Hill, Old Mill Beach. Middle row: Old Hill; behind Westport Library (center and right). Bottom row: Old Hill, Hillspoint Road; Old Mill Beach. (Photos/Rowene Weems Photography)

Westport Library: 5 Stars, Top 2% In US

Westporters know that our library is great.

Now, the rest of the nation knows it too.

The Westport Library has just been honored with the highest score possible: a 5-star rating from Public Library Service’s 2022 Library Journal Index. 

It’s the only 5-star library in the Library Journal Index.

Of the 5,359 public libraries assessed last year, only 85 received 5 stars. That vaults the Westport Library into the top 1.6% of public libraries in the U.S.

“We are overjoyed to receive this distinction,” says Bill Harmer, executive director of The Westport Library.

“This recognition validates and celebrates the engagement of and high value that our community places on the services that this Library provides, and the hard work and dedication of our staff, board of trustees, and our donors and volunteers — those who enable us to imagine and execute our programs and realize our vision to make The Westport Library a community gathering space and a hub for innovation.”

The Westport Library is filled with offerings day …

Harmer also offers “a huge thank you to the hundreds of people who come to the library every day and provide the input we rely on to make sure we’re meeting the needs of Westporters, and all visitors throughout Fairfield County and beyond.”

In determining its ratings, the Journal — America’s oldest library service publication — compares institutions with similar annual expenditures. Scores and ratings are based on circulation of physical materials, circulation of electronic materials, library visits, library program attendance, public internet users, Wi-Fi sessions, library website visits, and usage of online content like databases.

The Westport Library performed particularly well in several categories, including library visits, program attendance and website visits.

“In so many ways, this confirms what we’ve long known: that the Westport Library is not only an invaluable community resource, but also one of the finest libraries in the nation,” says First Selectwoman Jen Tooker. “It is clearly one of the primary reasons Westport is the best place to live, work, and play in the region.”

… and night. (Photo/Lynn Untermeyer Miller)

The Westport Library began in 1886 as a reading room in downtown Westport, moved across the Post Road in 1908 after a donation from Morris Jesup, and moved to its current location along the Saugatuck River in 1986.

In 2019 the Library underwent a “transformation project” that reimagined the space to provide more accessibility, adaptability and flexibility.

After a drop in attendance during the height of COVID, the Library has returned to full programming. Daily attendance has surged, with more than 400,000 visitors expected in the current fiscal year.

River Of Names: Time For Tile Mural To Unite, Not Divide, Westport

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.

Please add your positive thoughts to the “Comments” section.

That’s right: Only constructive, positive comments will be allowed. No name-calling, shaming or negativity at all. Thank you.

Library Trustees Issue “River Of Names” Statement

The Westport Library board of trustees has issued a statement regarding the River of Names mural. They say:

In recent days, we have listened to, heard, and read the comments from some members of the community regarding the decision of The Westport Library Board of Trustees to not reinstall the River of Names tile wall at The Westport Library.

To address the concerns raised and to avoid any misunderstandings, below is a timeline of the River of Names project:

  • The River of Names was a fundraising effort for a Library Capital Renovation project in the late 1990s (1997-98). Contributions ranging from $100 to $1,500 were sought. Former Second Selectwoman Betty Lou Cummings and Dorothy Curran, a trustee of the Library Board at that time, co-chaired and graciously led the effort.
  • Marion Grebow of Grebow Tile Fundraising Murals was contracted to create the tiles, which were installed onto a reinforced, interior wall on the Library’s Riverwalk Level. Thus, due to how they were adhered, tiles cannot be separated without causing damage. The entire wall is approximately 26 feet long and 6 feet tall and weighs nearly 6,000 pounds.

The River of Names was hung in the lower level of the Westport Library.

  • Plans for the Library’s 2017-19 Transformation Project called for the removal of the interior wall that held the River of Names and other walls on the Riverwalk Level to create a more open, light-filled enclosure that allowed for greater use of the space and views of the Saugatuck River. A space on the second floor was designated in the plans for the tile wall.
  • Prior to start of construction, the Library hired Crozier Fine Arts, a leading art storage and logistics firm, to remove the River of Names tile wall. The wall was professionally disassembled into sections, at considerable expense to the Library, in order to remove it safely.
  • Prior to removal, the tile wall and the individual tiles were each professionally and meticulously photographed for posterity and preservation.
  • Since the transformation build started, the River of Names has been in climate-controlled storage at the Crozier facility, at the Library’s expense.
  • To make sure future generations are aware of the project, the Library created a dynamic River of Names digital platform that showcases the tile wall in its entirety. It is available on the Library’s homepage.
  • As part of the original design for the Transformation Project, the tile wall was to be reinstalled in the renovated space on the upper level, outside the Children’s Library. It would have been mounted and wrapped around a corner, where patrons could see it and enjoy it for many years. This location was unequivocally rejected by the individuals involved in the original development of the tile wall because it wrapped around a corner.

(From left): Former 2nd Selectwoman Betty Lou Cummings, tile artist Marion Grebow and historian Dorothy Curran. All were involved in the River of Names project.

  • Upon the rejection of the proposed location, the builder, along with the trustees, re-analyzed the design and determined that there was no other suitable location in the building to re-hang the tile wall, according to the requirements provided by the individuals involved in the River of Names original development.
  • At that time, and for several years afterward, we explored, in earnest, both public and private locations in town to re-hang the River of Names on a reinforced wall. While one location was potentially identified, the funding to prep the space and reinstall did not exist.
  • The Library honors the donors whose names were recorded on the tile wall. Their names are listed on the new donor wall located at the main entrance that was designed as part of the recent Transformation Project.
  • In September 2019, the Library Board met and decided unanimously to keep the tile wall in storage, and cover the storage fees, hoping another location could be found. The Board informally discussed that paying to store the wall for an additional three years was reasonable.

The Westport Library (Photo/Lynn Untermeyer Miller)

  • In October 2021, as the town was reviewing its public art collection, the Board asked the Library staff to contact community partners to obtain their points of view on the River of Names. The staff reached out to representatives of the Town’s Art Advisory Council, TEAM Westport, and the Westport Museum for History and Culture. These organizations independently expressed concerns about historical inaccuracies and the lack of representation of diverse people who played a significant role in Westport’s history. These opinions have been shared publicly.
  • The Library’s Board of Trustees confirmed the decision to not reinstall the River of Names. The decision was made after years of thoughtful discussions, looking at multiple points of view and consideration of numerous factors.
  • In April 2022, members of the Board met with Dorothy Curran and Betty Lou Cummings and informed them that there was no place to reinstall the wall at the Library and reminded them that they were welcome to have it. The Library offered to pay storage through the end of the year, or longer, if they needed additional time.
  • The Library has offered and remains open to transfer ownership of the River of Names to any responsible party who demonstrates a reasonable interest.

The decision not to reinstall the tile wall was one made by the Library’s Board of Trustees and the Board alone. We appreciate that not everyone agrees with the board’s conclusion, and we understood that it might not be universally popular, but it was made in good faith based on the mission and values of the Library.

We love Westport for many reasons, and one of the things we cherish most is that Westporters are passionate and engaged. We believe that reasonable people can disagree, at times strongly, on an issue, and we support that conversation. In fact, it aligns with the Library’s stated commitment to empower the individual and strengthen the community through dynamic interaction and the lively exchange of ideas.

The Board advocates for civil conversations that are respectful and topical, not derogatory, or personal. We ask that varying points of view be shared respectfully and for the ongoing discussion to be one of learning, sharing, decency, courtesy, and growth.

We are grateful for our continued partnerships with the Town’s Art Advisory Council, TEAM Westport, and the Westport Museum for History and Culture. The Westport Library looks forward to continuing to work on our shared interests with the goals of enriching the lives of the residents of Westport and beyond. It is unfortunate that through this recent discourse, these organizations are being attacked for a decision the Library’s Board of Trustees made regarding the tile wall.

The motto of the Library is “open to all” — and we truly see it that way. That is not only those who agree with this decision or those who will disagree with a future decision. The Library is for everyone, a gathering space and a community resource. We are thankful to all who have reached out to share their thoughts constructively. Please know we have listened and regarded every opinion. And we look forward to sharing this community space — in the days, weeks, and years to come.

Westport Library Board of Trustees

Westport Museum’s “River Of Names” Letter

Yesterday’s story on the Westport Library’s “River of Names” mural was one of the longest I’ve ever posted on “06880.”

If I had included the Westport Museum for History & Culture’s 1,600-word, October 2021 letter to Library director Bill Harmer, it would have been even longer.

Here is what Museum director Ranim Ganeshram and chairperson, history educator and archivist Cheryl Bliss wrote then, as the Library was discussing next steps for the mural.

They note in detail “historical inaccuracies, inaccurate representations, and
perhaps most importantly glaring omissions of fact based on idealized Euro-centric views of the past.”

They recommended re-installation of the mural with replacement of tiles that “demonstrate history accurately.”

If the panels were not replaced, the report said that “extensive wall labels and text panels should accompany it to point out and counteract the errors and misconceptions it represents. The wall could be an object lesson about how the viewpoints of the era in which it was created was an informing factor in this Eurocentric view. Correction of the history on the digital site should follow the same format.”

Here is that October 2021 letter to Harmer:


Myself, Cheryl Bliss (chairperson, history educator and archivist), and various researchers here at Westport Museum have reviewed the Westport Library’s River of Names Tile Wall per your concerns in anticipation of its potential re-installation. It is our opinion that the wall is rife with historical inaccuracy and a myopic view of history that will be hurtful and unwelcoming to modern viewers. The details of our assessment follow.

It must first be said that projects like the Westport Library’s River of Names which endeavor to use “non-traditional” methods—in this case an art installation—to teach local history enter the realm of Public History defined by the National Council on Public History as “history beyond the walls of a traditional classroom.”

Those practicing Public History–Public Historians–span fields and disciplines and may include teachers, librarians, museum professionals, artists and many others. However, regardless of the professional discipline from which public historians may originate, they are called upon to apply rigorous methods to ensure the history presented is accurate: “In terms of intellectual approach, the theory and methodology of public history remain firmly in the discipline of history, and all good public history rests on sound scholarship.”

In the opinion of Westport Museum, The River of Names Tile Wall, does not meet the standard of sound scholarship. The Wall features historical inaccuracies, inaccurate representations, and perhaps most importantly glaring omissions of fact based on idealized Euro-centric views of the past.

Beginning with tile numbered 1 in River of Names: A History of Westport, CT 1637-1998 in bas-relief ceramic tile donor mural catalog by Dorothy Curran: 1637–Puritans and Pequots End The Swamp War.

This is an entirely misleading tile and description. There was not simply an end to the Pequot War but rather a complete massacre of native people by European colonists. The implication within the description is that “peace-loving Pequannock” were supporters of the Puritan colonists who had driven and massacred members of fellow tribes. There is no historical River of Names Historical Accuracy proof of this. Rather tribal oral history and European written history indicates that the tribespeople of the various tribes of what would become Westport (Paugusset-Sasqua-Aspetuck-Pequannok) supported the Pequot in the fight. When the Europeans prevailed, native men were slaughtered, and the women and children enslaved. The rosy view of this event is both inaccurate and extremely insensitive to the remaining tribal people in the area. The flimsy explanation that native men are depicted as white because they are “ghosts” is a paltry excuse for lack of care in the depiction of non-white individuals.

Tile #2 (Curran) entitled: 1648: Pequannock Tribe agrees to sell “Machamux” to the five “Bank-side” farmers” This persistent myth that local tribes “sold” their property to Europeans has been widely discounted by scholars of native history, colonial history, and legal history. Research into land transactions between natives and Europeans indicate that native individuals–who did not operate within Western legal constructs–were not always aware of the nature of the “contracts” to which they agreed. This simplistic representation belies a long, legally documented history of betrayal and violence of and toward native people in the area for the purpose of taking their land. Again, the indigenous people are depicted as white.

With respect to the tile #7 (Curran) 1705—Tidal mill for emerging West Indies trade; 1775—Coley Store; Tile #13 (Curran) 1790 E. (Ebenezer) Jesup Builds Wharf on Saugatuck’s east Bank; Tile # 10 (Curran) 1775 E. (Ebenezer) Coley builds saltbox home, shop and wharf. The West Indies trade specifically refers to the Transatlantic Slave Trade in which local farmers and millers produced goods to sell to West Indian slave plantations. These plantations provided the greatest source of income for men like Coley and Jesup—who were among those who owned the greatest number of enslaved people in the town. This is not indicated anywhere on the wall or the write up. Last, the Coley store was not a residence as depicted in the tile and in the tile’s description,

Tile #17 (Curran) 1810 tile referring to the Captains Sherwood (triplets) also omits that the triplets conducted regular business with the American Southern Slave plantations after the end of slavery in the British West Indies. The reference to the 1814 Saugatuck Manufacturing Company focusing on cotton twine and cotton goods fails to consider that cotton from Southern Slave
plantations, came into Westport on trading vessels. Without this product of slavery mills such as this one would not have prospered.

The description of Tile #19 (Curran) 1832 founding of Saugatuck Congregational Church refers to the1818 Connecticut Constitution—but does not make it clear that this document was created in part to disenfranchise non-white voters specifically and legally by including a race requirement. This was a specific response to the enfranchisement of formerly enslaved men emancipated during Connecticut’s Gradual Abolition (1784-1848).

Tiles #18 & #20 ( about the Kemper Tannery and Saugatuck Manufacturing Company do not indicate that immigrants and child laborers were employed at this site while “1840’s, 1850’s & 1860’sEmerging diversity of religious worship” only refers to Christian religious institutions. The write up about Louise Lortel omits what is perhaps considered her greatest legacy—the opportunity she gave to the Black performers in the era of segregation. The description refers to the towns “diverse cultural heritage” although there is virtually no representation of non-Europeans on the picture tiles of the River of Names Wall.

Descriptions of the building of the Westport Bank by Horace Staples and later refurbishment of the property at large (National Hall) on tile #24 (Curran) fails to indicate that the National Hall portion of the building referred to the 2nd floor where a theater was located. Minstrel shows, caricaturizing African Americans, were a popular attraction at this theater. The wall features other details of historical inaccuracy such as the tile depicting Washington’s visit to Marvin Tavern in 1789 on tile #11 (Curran). As a point of fact, Washington only rode white horses, however he would have been travelling by carriage during this presidential tour. Further, in 1789 he was President and made a point of wearing civilian clothing—not his Continental Army uniform as portrayed on the tile.

The tile #35 (Curran) referring to the first automobiles in the town misses the opportunity to talk about the Toquet Motor Company here in Westport which produce a motor car earlier than Ford.

The information about Westport Museum (Westport Historical Society) on tiles #68 (Curran) is inaccurate. The original building on this site was a 2nd period colonial style, like the building currently across the street. The ocular windows in the current structure are not unique as stated—two other Italianate houses on Main Street feature them. The tile referring to the Bradley Wheeler barn refers to the statues on our property as sculptures—they are, in fact, miniature golf statues, made for use on a private miniature golf course. They are not sculptures.

In conclusion, the River of Names represent a singular view of history, that is an exemplar of the time in which it was produced: A time in which a Eurocentric lens of the past, devoid of the complexity of the eras it purports to depict was acceptable. The omission of provable facts that could offer context to the actual history was the norm for the time the River was installed but it is inappropriate given the call upon public historians to present a holistic and accurate view of history.

We have no doubt that those who worked on this project when it was installed did the best they could, given the level of their research skills and the information that was available to them. Further, the way the tiles are presented was, no doubt, acceptable at the time they were made.

Certainly no one is at fault for being a product of their own era and viewing the world through that lens. However, as is often the case as time marches on, new information and new viewpoints come to light. When historical data makes it clear that a misrepresentation of fact has occurred it is the obligation of any institution engaging in public history to correct those errors.

Most of all, and perhaps most importantly, the singular view of history represented on these tiles present a one-note image of the town that has never been true. The wall effectively erases indigenous people, African Americans, Jews, and others who were part of the story—from the beginning—even when that story was not pretty. It is hurtful and diminishing to our diverse citizenry—both within Westport and visitors from outside of the town—to see a proudly whitewashed display of this kind without explanation.

Within our field of public history there is constant discussion about how to deal with monuments, statues, history books, panels and other items that have since proven to be false in their information or offensive in their presentation. It is our opinion that should the River of Names be re-installed, the tiles that represent history should be replaced entirely with ones that demonstrate history accurately. Should the panels not be replaced, extensive wall labels and text panels should accompany it to point out and counteract the errors and misconceptions it represents. The wall could be an object lesson about how the viewpoints of the era in which it was created was an informing factor in this Eurocentric view. Correction of the history on the digital site should follow the same format.

Last, we suggest that you might want to contact Dr. Matthew Warshauer in the History Department of Central Connecticut State University. He has done extensive work around revealing hidden and erased histories, particularly as it relates to non-European populations in Connecticut. I believe he may be best placed to give advice on this matter. Should you choose to contact Dr. Warshauer please feel free to share this assessment with him.

Ramin Ganeshram               Cheryl Bliss
Executive Director                Chairperso

Library Won’t Re-Hang Tile Mural; Westporter Responds

In 1998, amid great fanfare, the Westport Library unveiled the River of Names. It quickly became a beloved attraction, on the lower level.

To help with its renovation, nearly 2,000 donors had contributed $350,000. Award-winning artist and sculptor Marion Grebow created a 6 foot-by-26 ceramic mural.

Eighty-four tiles depicted important events in Westport history. Over 1,000 more bore the names of individuals, families and organizations who also helped fund the Library expansion.

The River of Names. Picture tiles depict historic Westport events. Other tiles include family and organization names. For smaller donations, names were engraved on the “books” at the top and bottom.

In 2017, preparing for a new “transformation” project, the River of Names was professionally removed, and stored in a climate-controlled warehouse. Library officials worked with Grebow and others to find a new spot for the mural.

But the artist did not want it to “bend” on 2 walls. No suitable site could be found that was long enough, and able to support its weight.

Each piece was digitized. The mural is now available online, with accompanying narratives. (Click here to see.)

In addition, each donor’s name was put on a plaque. It hangs on the main floor.

In the quarter century since the River of Names was commissioned, Americans have looked at our history through a new lens — one that seeks to acknowledge formerly overlooked groups, and right past wrongs.

And in just the 5 years since the mural was stored, statues and monuments have been removed. Buildings and foundations have been renamed.

In accordance with its motto — “Open to All” — the Library consulted with 3 groups: the Westport Arts Advisory Committee, Westport Museum for History & Culture, and TEAM Westport.

All found significant issues with the River of Names’ depiction of town history. (The WAAC’s Diversity Task Force report appears at the end of this story.)

The Westport Museum of History & Culture says that this tile about the Swamp War is inaccurate and misleading; it was actually a “slaughter.” In addition, “the flimsy explanation that native men are depicted as white because they are ‘ghosts’ is a paltry excuse for lack of care inthe depiction of non-white individuals.”

Major events, like the presence of hundreds of enslaved people, the existence of a Black neighborhood at 12 1/2 Main Street — and the never-explained fire that destroyed it — were not included.

The history of Indigenous people was portrayed inaccurately — including, significantly, the massacre that ended the Great Swamp War, and the “sale” of Machamux by the Pequannock tribe to the Bank-side Farmers. Native Americans were portrayed as white.

There was no acknowledgement of the presence and achievements of non-Christian communities (or earlier restrictive covenants). No tile depicted Rev. Martin Luther King’s appearance at Temple Israel, and the congregation’s strong support of the civil rights movement.

Eight months ago, Library officials offered to work with Dorothy Curran — a longtime local volunteer with a passion for history, who had been a driving force behind the River of Names project — and others.

The goal was to gift it to someone, or some group, willing to find a new home for the mural, or continue paying for its storage. The Library has been responsible for those fees since 2017.

A deadline of this month was set.

Library trustee Scott Bennewitz, who serves as vice president, says there has been “very limited response,” and no offers to house the mural, or pay for storage.

Recently, the 19-member board of trustees voted unanimously to terminate the storage contract. The mural may be disposed of by January 15.

Though this tile depicts a “diversity” of religions, groups assessing the River of Names say it presents a very Christian-centric view of Westport’s history. There are no tiles for other religions.

“This decision was not made in a vacuum,” says Library director Bill Harmer. “A great deal of research and discussion went into it.

“The bottom line is, the mural is no longer appropriate. It is exclusive, obsolete and offensive, in ways no one could conceive of in the 1990s. It does not represent the inclusive Westport of 2022.”

Donors contributed with “good will,” he notes. “Everyone who participated had good intentions. We are grateful for their generosity. and acknowledge all of them, on a plaque in a very prominent place.”

“The Library is not a town organization, but we do receive substantial funding from it,” Bennewitz adds.

“We should align ourselves with the town’s values. There’s a new plaque behind Town Hall, and others downtown, that depict a better view of our history than before. The Arts Advisory Committee has a DEI statement that we align with also.”

“We think this is a reasonable path forward. We still hope we can work with Dorothy, or any other reasonable party, toward funding.”

Individuals or groups interested in the River of Names should contact Library board of trustees president Jeremy Price: price.jeremy@gmail.com.

Dorothy Curran disagrees strongly with the Library decision. She writes:

Most Westport Library users remember the River of Names historical bas-relief ceramic donor tile mural.

Until the Library’s 2019-20 renovation, it graced the Riverwalk level hallway. Admirers included nearly 2,000 donors, who in 1997-98 contributed $350,000 to commission award-winning artist and sculptor Marion Grebow to create the work, along with the tens of thousands who visited each year, often accompanied by awed children or grandchildren, or envious out-of-town visitors.

The 84 “picture tiles” and their brief captions offered a glimpse at 4 centuries of local history. If one stood close to the mural at the far end, looking west across the surface toward the Saugatuck, the light shimmered on the gleaming white bas-relief wave tiles, just like moonlight on the river.

The River of Names hung in the lower level of the Westport Library.

With patience and trust, since 2019 — when the Library hired a fine arts firm to remove the River of Names to safe, temporary storage to facilitate a new round of construction — these admirers have awaited its return.

After all, isn’t this work a Library-owned asset? Doesn’t the Library receive 75% of its annual budget from town taxpayers, and do right by its donors and patrons?

However, in a letter last week to Stephen Nevas (attorney for mural artist Marion Grebow) attorney Alan Neigher (on behalf of Jeremy Price, president of the Westport Library Association board of trustees) conveyed that the Library was terminating its River of Names storage contract and ordering that the popular work of public art — a 6’2″ x 26’4″ historical ceramic donor tile mural with 1,927 donor surfaces on 1,162 separate tiles — be “disposed of,” no later than January 15, 2023.

One of the 1,162 River of Names tiles.

Isn’t this the same River of Names ceramic bas-relief mural that the Library paid a fine arts firm to remove in 2019 and store temporarily, in a fine arts storage facility, until library renovation and construction were complete?

Isn’t this the mural with 84 bas-relief historical picture tiles depicting 4 centuries of iconic moments, architecture and themes from the history of what today is Westport? The one with 50 rows and 29 columns of 2′ x 6″ gleaming white “wave” tiles (993 in all)? And 85 5″ x 12″ bookshelf tiles, each with 10 book spines, bearing donor names?


One of the tiles shows Stevan Dohanos’ Saturday Evening Post cover of the World War II memorial outside the old Town Hall.

But this also is the same mural that the Library executive director and board then said could never return to the renovated building, because their plan never asked for a single flat wall for it.

Instead, near the children’s section, as consolation they offered a digital database flat screen display of the individual River of Names tiles so that young patrons could search for tile photos by donor name or subject. It now is dark.

And then — after construction was complete, and immediately following town approval on October 13, 2021 of a new Diversity, Equity and Inclusion policy — the Library sought to banish its return on the grounds of DEI content failure, with correspondence solicited from the Westport Museum of History & Culture, TEAM Westport and the Westport Arts Advisory Council.

In general, these organizations noted that 84 briefly captioned images were not a comprehensive, inclusive history of Westport. Of course, they never were meant to be. And the tiles depicting Native Americans relied on photographic source material from exhibit curators at the Mashantucket Pequot Museum, before it even opened to the public.

The River of Names includes tiles for the original Westport Library, built in 1908 on the Post Road (now next to Starbucks).

Then, on the Library website, the text reference for Marion Grebow’s 3-dimensional ceramic donor tile mural initially became “the tile wall,” with no artist credit. Now it is “River of Names Interactive.” What does that mean? Where is the artist credit, or the history or meaning of this work’s creation?

According to Marion Grebow’s attorney, he “has been warned that unless her family agrees to pay for storage or immediately takes custody of the 26 foot ceramic wall, it will be destroyed no later than January 15, 2023.”

What would Marion Grebow think?

In 1997-98, former Second Selectman Betty Lou Cummings and I, as an RTM-appointed Westport Library trustee, were volunteer co-chairs of the River of Names Community Capital Campaign. We worked very closely with Marion Grebow on every detail of every one of the mural’s sculptural images and 1,927 donor spaces.

(From left): Betty Lou Cummings, Marion Grebow and Dorothy Curran.

In 2019, despite her concerns for the mural’s structural fragility, it was cut by experts into 6 pieces and removed to storage, as the library renovation commenced.

Meanwhile, Marion was battling terminal cancer. Knowing that her end was approaching, she planned her own graveside service. In February 2020, a few weeks before the COVID lockdown, Betty Lou Cummings and I stood on the peaceful frozen hillside of Umpawaug Cemetery in Redding as a lone soloist rose to sing one song in the frigid air. Apparently it was Marion’s favorite: “Moon River.”


In November 2021, the Westport Arts Advisory Committee Diversity Task Force presented this report to the Library:

River of Names is a tile wall created in 1996 in the context of fundraising for the Westport Library. While the piece aims to tell the chronology of our town, factual historical events and the diverse populations of Westport that played a significant role in the story of our town were omitted. We highlight these omissions because the commission claims to have weaved our town history into the piece, yet it is incomplete.

Also of concern is that at least one tile depicts the face of a white patron inappropriately overlaid in scenes of indigenous people. The importance of historical storytelling grounded in fact is vital to our growing efforts to come together as a society and embrace diversity and inclusion. As River of Names is not an accurate depiction of Westport’s history, it is inappropriate to be displayed in 2021 Westport.

Yet this tile wall provides a learning opportunity. We believe the digital file should remain on the Westport Library website as a tool to understand the importance of diversity and inclusion initiatives and how the perception of history over the past 25 years has evolved.

We suggest that the River of Names web display include an addendum, written by a town historian, to add historical omissions and to explain the context of the time in which the wall was created. This would be a responsible and thoughtful approach to embracing this well-intentioned, yet anachronistic work.

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We Give Thanks For …

What are you thankful for?

That’s the question I posed last week.

Plenty of “06880” readers responded. Family, friends, community, health — the emails poured in.

When we all sit down tomorrow for Thanksgiving dinner, we’ll give thanks for many things. Among them:

The minute the moving truck left us on our first day in Westport in 1999, our friends Dee and Herb Appleman took us to the Library. I felt instantly at home, and have been devoted to it ever since. My sense of belonging grew as I met people through WestportREADS, guest lectures, hands-on workshops, art openings, concerts, contests, student performances, and PJ Story Time. (Do they still do this? My daughter is now 25!) My heartfelt thanks to all the staff, volunteers and fellow devoted patrons of the Westport Library. (Kerstin Rao)

(Photo/Lynn Untermeyer Miller)

  I am thankful for another year that has seen our efforts to Save Old Saugatuck — a neighborhood of homes and history — from destruction at the hands of an uncaring developer. We’re a community, not a commodity. (Carolanne Curry)

I am thankful to have a home in Westport, even if only part time. It is about the place, but more about the people, plus a focus on all the arts, the shoreline, the physical beauty, the diverse intellects and energies. (Rosalie J. Wolf)

The family of teen non-speaker Wynston Browne’s epiphany that he is not intellectually disable, but a fully verbal “speller,” gifted, and readying to contribute to the world. (David Browne)

I am so thankful for the Westport Senior Center. They offer many classes and lectures that keep our senior minds active and social. With the Senior Center, old age would become boring and depressing. (Scott Kuhner)

Closed today.

 Grateful to still have the love of my life after her aorta spontaneously “dissected” last February (and the surgeon who saved her!). This is the still largely unacknowledged connective tissue disorder that stole John Ritter and Jonathan Larson. ERs must learn to more quickly detect this hidden killer that masks as a “non”-heart attack. (Anonymous)

I’m thankful my sisters and mom live in Westport, so I can visit often. (Laura Lehman)

I am thankful to be able to honor the Osage Nation land that I am privileged to live on. I honor the Osages who died while trying to live on this land in Oklahoma, and other parts of this area. I have gratitude for the growin powers of rich soil, rain and sunshine, and for farmers and thosoe who work in the food chain to bring the food that we eat. I honor the indigenous peoples whose lives we have shattered so that we white folks can celebrate “Thanksgiving.” The Native Americans call it “thanks taking.” (Lucy Weberling, Staples High School Class of 1961)

I’m thankful to h

Our family is so grateful to the teachers who have taught our children over the years!  All the way from the first preschool teacher (who taught us parents as well as our child) to the teachers at Staples who have taught them subjects we parents could never teach them.  We are deeply indebted to every one of them — the incredibly inspiring music and art teachers, Science Olympiad coach, paraprofessionals who added so much friendliness to the days, school psychologists, incredibly patient custodians who helped countless times to look for lost items, principals who learned everyone’s name, librarians, cafeteria workers, nurses, secretaries who looked after the children and us parents and made such significant differences so many times over.  There are so many people who worked way harder than their job description required and were so generous with their time, caring, empathy in addition to their commitment to impart knowledge and love of learning. (Anonymous)

The late head custodian Horace Lewis was just one of the many Westport Public Schools employees who earned our profound thanks.

ave grown up in Westport in the 1950s and ’60s. I am thankful I went to Berkeley in 1967. I’m thankful I had the chance to travel around the world a bit. I’m thankful for all the friends I have made and kept. (“With lovers and friends I still can recall/Some are dead and some are living/In my life I’ve loved them all.”) I’m even thankful for the grief. I am thankful I met my husband 44 years ago, and that we now live here in Westport. It turns out for me, you can go home again. (Ellen Naftalin)  

While having my family healthy, happy and in town for the holiday is always my most joyous celebration, this particular season I am proud the concerted efforts to extinguish our democracy by a minority group of fascists has been wholeheartedly rejected by my fellow Americans. The voters of this nation have restored my faith in our ability to self govern. I am proud to witness the endurance of democracy. The 4th of July 2023 holiday should touch everyone’s heart a little more than usual. It will for me, and for this I am also thankful. (Joseph Vallone)

From poet S. J. Miller: “Autumn leaves falling/Winding their way down/Like the first foliage of the first fall/Praise for the colors/Praise with elation/God’s recreation/Eden recalled.” I’m so grateful for the rhythm of life: Divine order. For the diversity we experience in our daily lives and the faith that carries us through. One truth, many paths. (Susan Joy)

The coaches of the Police Athletic League football program, along with the Staples varsity team, having the best year in ages. Big game on Thanksgiving! (Adam Vengrow)

I am thankful for life. I nearly died in 2020. My surgeon told me a year later that he gave me a 1% chance of survival. He told my sister and brothers “She will die.” I had sepsis, and my entire system was crashing. I was intubated, on a feeding tube and God knows what else. I was out of it for 2 months. One of my brothers urged my twin sister to “pull the plug.” The doctors dubbed me the “Miracle at Meriden.” I will spend Thanksgiving by myself, but that’s okay. I usually decorate for Christmas on Thanksgiving, which gives me something useful to do. (Barbara Sherburne)

I’m thankful for today. I’m thankful for family, friends, health and home. I’m thankful I’m an American. (Claudia Jensen)

Old friends — and there is double meaning to that. Friendships that go back more than half a century are indeed special. I am also thankful to have spent the second part of my childhood and a significant part of my adult life in a place with so much beauty, along with such wonderful local resources and history. And I am thankful to have had so many wonderful and special teachers and coaches, like Jack Finn at Coleytown Junior High School, who gave a late bloomer like me a chance to blossom and pursue my passion. (Fred Cantor) 

The 1966 Coleytown Junior High School soccer team. Fred Cantor is in the 2nd row, 2nd from left (white shirt); coach Jack Finn is in back.

I’m thinking a lot about how good my life is. A childhood friend just died of a brain tumor. I think about how random it is to get sick, and die. No guarantee for longevity. I have my health, my family, many activities that I enjoy, a satisfying volunteer life. I can’t think of anything that I need or want. I try to help those less fortunate. So my Thanksgiving is a day to reflect, and be grateful for all the blessings in my life (Jalna Jaeger)

For many years I walked most mornings with a close friend, at Old Mill Beach. I’m grateful for all my years in Westport, for the many friends I made, and for the wonderful school system and great teachers. About 3 years ago I was struck with a lung illness that changed my life in a flash. I’m now on oxygen 24/7, and spend most of my time at home. I’m grateful my condo has no steps, and that I have a nice-sized patio. I’m grateful I can have outdoor visitors 8 months a year. Some friends even visit in the winter. I’m grateful for my 2 air purifiers with HIPA filters. I went through a period of denial (believing I would get better), mourning, and am now working on acceptance. I miss traveling home to see childhood friends. I am so grateful that friends and neighbors still stop by to visit. I’m grateful to my part-time helpers, and all the delicious healthy food I can order from The Pantry. Also on my gratitude list are my reflexologist and Pilates/gyrotonic teacher. who come to my home to work with me. (Anonymous)

Our family, including our puppy, our friends, those passed and present, and for my ability to think critically, learned in part at Staples High School. (Charlie Taylor)

I’m thankful for my family, for the new friends I have made this year and the old friends I still have around me. I am thankful for the new generation that has come to Westport to keep us going in the right direction. (Bobbi Essagof)

I’m grateful for the feeling of gratitude itself. It helps me my life in perspective, and to be caring and empathetic to the world around me. (Rindy Higgins)

I am so grateful to have discovered Westport. After having experienced a full life, living in many places in the world, I have settled in a place where I am surrounded by civic-minded, passionate people — farms and farmers’ markets, great dining, and all surrounded by water, with which I have a deep spiritual connection. Thank you Westport, for the many comforting things you offer. (Claudia Sherwood Servidio)

(Photo/Claudia Sherwood Servidio)

I am profoundly and enduringly grateful to the friend (who we now consider family) whose generosity of spirit motivated him to save my husband Robert’s life by donating his kidney. Robert and I fell in love as teenagers, and just celebrated our 44th wedding anniversary. Now we will be able to live, love and grow old together thanks to a living donor who unexpectedly stepped forward without even being asked. Whatever brought us together when he happened to see me crying is a miracle. Forever we will be thankful for this act of kindness, compassion and sacrifice. (Robin Frank)

Photo Challenge #410

Several “06880” readers quickly nailed last week’s Photo Challenge.

Phil Kann’s image showed the soundproofing — aka “baffles” — on the Westport Library’s south wall, near the Trefz Forum stage and Verso Studios.

But they didn’t get the whole story.

As Phil notes, the acoustic foam actually includes certain letters. And the letters spell out a phrase.

His photo showed the letters “ET.” (Click here to see.) They’re part of the words “MAKE – MEET –WORK –REA D.”

“Brilliant crypto messaging,” Phil says.

And that’s just part of a number of hidden designs incorporated into the Westport Library’s Transformation Project. As is true with so much about one of our town’s favorite places: There’s far more there than meets the eye.

Seth Schachter, Martin Gitlin, Ken Kantor, Scott Brodie, Clark Thiemann, Will Gibson and Paul Cahill all identified the baffling. Next time they — and you — are there, “check out” the entire wall.

This week’s Photo Challenge takes us back outside. If you know where in Westport you would see this ineffective and abandoned-looking gate, click “Comments” below.

(Photo/Johanna Keyser Rossi)

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