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Tag Archives: Westport Library
If you want to know what kind of town Westport is, consider this:
On a Sunday morning — the most beautiful day of summer (so far) — 1,000 or so men, women and kids turned out to celebrate the re-opening of our library.
Plus this: The multi-year project came in on time.
And within budget.
There were brief speeches by Governor Ned Lamont and 1st Selectman Jim Marpe.
A band played. Dozens of kids jumped in for the ribbon-cutting.
Then everyone clambered up the very new stairs, to the great new entrance. As Marpe noted, the library — originally a gift from Morris Jesup — now embraces Jesup Green, named for the founder’s family.
It’s a spectacular building we can all be proud of. It will evolve and be used in ways we have not yet even imagined.
Today was a great day for Westport. If you haven’t seen it yet: The festivities continue until 4 p.m.
To all who made today possible — especially our amazing library director Bill Harmer — thank you!
Tomorrow’s fun, festive Westport Library Transformation Project ribbon-cutting ceremony just got more high-powered.
Governor Lamont has agreed to do the honors.
The event starts promptly at 11 a.m. Everyone will gather on Jesup Green, at the new “Grand Staircase.”
Andrew Wilk will introduce First Selectman Jim Marpe. He’ll say a few words, and introduce the governor.
After the ribbon-cutting, the Hartford Hot Several Brass Band will play. They’ll lead the crowd into the new Library. The Forum will be the site of the first official event: a few short words from Library board president Iain Bruce, project architect Henry Myerberg, and executive director Bill Harmer.
Then comes 5 hours of interactive fun. Bands, artists, live podcasts, a performance by world-renowned/Westport neighbor pianist Frederic Chiu, children’s music, discussions, acoustic guitar, dance, exhibits, MakerSpace demos — that and much more is in store.
See you at the Grand Staircase!
Few things in life exceed my expectations.
The Westport Library’s transformation project does.
I’ve written about the remarkable process that, over the past 18 months, has turned what was already a town jewel into a sparkling diamond.
I won’t go into all the details here. Suffice it to say that from top (expanded children’s section, more meeting rooms, wider balcony) to bottom (nestle between the stacks and the river) — with special attention paid to the main Forum floor (state-of-the-art stage, amazing people-watching pyramid, beautiful reading rooms, recording studio, brand-new café) and outside (shape-shifting stairs and entrance on Jesup Green) — the transformed library will awe all who use it. And everyone else downtown too.
The public gets its first look at it all this Sunday (June 23).
A ribbon-cutting takes place at 11, on the new Jesup stairs. After a couple of brief speeches, the library will host 5 hours of fun, interactive events.
Bands, artists, live podcasts, a performance by world-renowned/Westport neighbor pianist Frederic Chiu, children’s music, discussions, acoustic guitar, dance, exhibits, MakerSpace demos — that and much more is in store.
Community partners like Earthplace, the Westport Historical Society, Wakeman Town Farm and Westport Garden Club will welcome the library into its new home.
Click here for full details.
Then book it!
The Westport Library’s Transformation Project has been a daring adventure.
For nearly 2 years, officials masterminded a top-to-bottom (literally) metamorphosis of an already great institution. In less than 3 weeks they’ll cut the ribbon, opening it officially to the world.
Last night, a couple of hundred folks got a sneak peek.
Library officials took the bold step of scheduling — as their first event in the new space — their signature fundraiser of the year.
Booked For The Evening is a night of fine food, socializing, and honoring a noted member of the literary or arts world. Expectations are high.
The library had never tested its innovations before a live audience. High-tech video and sound systems; a beautiful Yamaha Disklavier piano that can play itself; the vaunted grandstand seating — all rolling out for the first time ever.
It was one of the best Booked evenings ever.
The stunning reception area; the new performing arts space; the flow, the ambiance, the energy — it was all there, just as the hundreds of men and women who had worked for so long on the project hoped (and prayed).
Frederic Chiu — the world-renowned pianist and longtime Westporter — gave an inspired performance.
In keeping with the theme of the night — and the Transformation Project’s emphasis on creativity — there were wonderful touches.
The audience voted to see an alternative (happy) ending to Prokofiev’s “Romeo & Juliet” ballet, performed by dancers Marlon Grigsby and Harlee Trautman, as Chiu inaugurated the new piano.
Chiu then played a movement from Philip Glass’s “4 Movements for 2 Pianos,” with his protégé Timo Andres.
There were video — and live — tributes to the honoree.
Then, the finale: Chopin’s “Rondo in C Major, Opus 7 for 2 Pianos.” Chiu did something he’s never done, in his long career: He accompanied himself. The magic came courtesy of the Yamaha; one part was recorded weeks ago.
It was a warm, varied and community-minded evening. It flowed easily, and flawlessly.
This morning, everyone who was there is talking about Frederic Chiu — and the newly transformed Westport Library.
It will be booked — by proud, pleased patrons — for decades to come.
(The ribbon-cutting and opening ceremonies for the new library are Sunday, June 23. Festivities begin at 11 a.m., and last until 4 p.m.)
In its 21 years, Booked for the Evening — the Westport Library’s signature fundraising event — has brought many big names to town.
Tom Brokaw, Martin Scorsese, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Patti Smith, Alan Alda and others have enlightened and entertained us, on the cramped main floor.
But now the library’s Transformation Project is almost complete. Stacks of books have been replaced by a Forum — a dramatic event space framed by a state-of-the-art stage and screen.
This year’s Booked for the Evening is the first chance for the public to see the transformed library. Organizers needed an extra-special honoree, someone as compelling as the new space itself.
They did not have to look far. Frederc Chiu — the internationally acclaimed, award-winning virtuoso pianist, collaborator, innovator, entrepreneur and Westporter — will inaugurate the Forum’s stage.
And he’ll do it using a spectacular new piano, with a great back story. But more on that later.
Chiu has performed on 5 continents, in all 50 states, and with orchestras like the National Symphony in Washington DC, the China National Symphony and the BBC Concert Orchestra Symphony. He has collaborated with friends like Joshua Bell.
But he’s also our neighbor.
Chiu’s introduction to Westport came in 1986, when he won the prestigious Young Performers International Competition (now named for Heida Hermanns) here.
In the 1990s he lived in Paris. Whenever he played in New York, he visited his friend Jeanine Esposito here. After they married, Westport — with its arts heritage, and proximity to New York and Europe — seemed like a perfect place to be.
Chiu loved the Westport Library. He researched music and travel. He checked out CDs, DVDs and books. And whatever he could not find, the staff tracked down through interlibrary loans.
Esposito, meanwhile, helped then-director Maxine Bleiweis develop the next phas of the MakerSpace.
Current director Bill Harmer has impressed the couple too. Recently, he announced that the library will be the winter home of Chiu and Esposito’s Beechwood Arts Immersion Salon series.
“Today, libraries are community hubs” Chiu notes. “They’re places to create bonds, where people can communicate. And they’re accessible to all.”
Chiu is excited that the Westport Library is expanding that mission by including the arts in its transformation. Audio and video production have dedicated spaces, next to the impressive new stage.
On Tuesday, June 4, Chiu’s Booked for the Evening performance debuts not only that stage, but also the library’s new Yamaha Disklavier piano.
It’s an astonishing instrument. Besides its marvelous sound, the piano is a technological marvel. It can play 50,000 songs (like a player piano). It also connects with any other Disklavier anywhere in the world.
And with its video capabilities, it allows Chiu to do something he’ll showcase on Tuesday: He can play a duet with himself. He’s chosen Chopin’s only work for 2 pianos.
That’s just one piece of Chiu’s performance. He’ll play with Timo Andres, an award-winning young pianist/composer.
He also brings his interactive production of Prokofiev’s popular “Romeo and Juliet: The Choice” ballet to the stage. At the end, Booked guests vote for either the tragic conclusion, or the composer’s little-known happy ending.
But back to that Yamaha piano. It’s a gift from Stacy Bass and her brother, David Waldman. It honors their mother, Jessica Waldman, who died in January.
The donation has special meaning for Stacy, who helped start Booked for the Evening 21 years ago.
“My mother was passionate about theater and music,” Stacy says. “David and I wanted to give something to the library that really represents her. The piano will be part of the stage. She will live on every day.”
Last week Chiu sat at the piano, in the still-unfinished Forum, and smiled.
“I’m being honored, and I’ll be onstage. But the soloist is always the instrument and the music. I do my best to put them out front. I’m of service to great music, and a great piano.”
Chiu notes that when the piano was invented more than 300 years ago, it “brought music to the masses. It was as much an innovation as the printing press and computer were, for bringing information to the public. Playing it is unlike any other activity people can do.”
No one plays better than Frederic Chiu.
And there is no better choice for Booked for the Evening, to inaugurate the Westport Library’s new age of arts and innovation.
(For more information on the June 4 Booked for the Evening, including tickets, click here.)
Yesterday, the Westport Library responded to criticism of its decision to replace the River of Names mural — the massive artwork filled with 1,162 tiles depicting Westport history and residents — with a digitized version.
Part of the reason, officials said, was the objection of 3 of the original organizers of the 1997 fundraising project to hang the artwork on 2 adjacent walls, rather than as one long piece.
This morning, the 3 — Dorothy Curran, co-chair of the River of Names capital campaign, and author of a book accompanying the project; Betty Lou Cummings, chair of the same campaign, and Marion Grebow, the artist who created every individual tile — respond to the library’s response, and the “06880” comments that followed.
Much has changed in the 22 years since our project began.
The important parts have not. The much-celebrated artistic and financial success of our Westport Public Library Community Capital Campaign project, the creation of a 6’2’-by-26’4” oblong bas-relief ceramic tile donor mural, with 1,927 donor surfaces on 1,162 separate interlocking tiles, loosely arranged in 50 columns and 29 rows, bounded by bookshelves with 10 book spines each, endures.
At one level the work was a timeline, running from 1637 to 1998, showcasing 80 colorful, randomly placed historical tiles and 4 historical theme tiles at the corners.
993 gleaming white ceramic river tiles, contoured as bas-relief waves, and bearing donor names or messages in blue calligraphy, were the dominant visual pattern.
Each donor’s process of selecting a location and parsing a message was highly personal.
Names marked with a star symbol flagged Westport-area authors.
Names marked with a heart symbol conveyed love.
If one stood close to the finished wall and peered across the 26’4”-long mural surface, truly, to the eye, the ceramic tiles became a shimmering river.
For the moment, however, the mural endures only as a memory.
To accommodate its exciting “Transformation” project, the Westport Library had the mural removed in sections by fine arts professionals and placed in storage. The 8’8”-wide hallway where it resided no longer exists.
We all want the 6’2”-by-26’4” mural back.
But where? And how?
The Westport Library is proposing to “bend” it, sideways, outside the Children’s Library, so that one part of the mural would face west and one part would face north.
Artist Marion Grebow went back to her design to be sure, but the 6’2” high x 26’ 4” long mural, an interlocking design, has no vertical seam. The thick ceramic tiles cannot simply be folded in a straight line to “bend around a corner.”
So which donor tiles should be cut in half? And – given the fragility of the medium—would cutting shatter the divided tiles? And what happens to the jagged edges at child level?
And would the result still be beautiful? And honor the pride that each donor had in each tile? And honor the artist who conceived and wrought a different, unified work on a single vertical plane?
We welcome the opportunity to review the new, detailed, tile-specific, mural schematic that the Westport Library envisions. To date, we have not seen it.
Separately, we applaud the library’s planned interactive digital display of the mural tiles, with separate online access. It’s is a great idea for teaching, reference and entertainment. But it’s no substitute for the sheer beauty, the interplay of light, volume, form, color, texture and meaning, that one experiences when viewing the original work of ceramic bas-relief mural art.
Also, a “tile-by-tile” digital view of the mural falls short of the work’s larger purpose and metaphor: a visual river of donor names, overlooking the actual Saugatuck River.
For some, standing by the old McManus Room entry and looking back across the gleaming ceramic bas-relief mural tiles, imparted an unforgettable visual experience of strong sun or moonlight shining on the river waves, and all donor tiles merging like water to become one donor community.
Note that an outdoor installation is not a feasible alternative. The clay and grout used require a climate-controlled indoor location.
Yes, the mural is heavy. It was built to last in a ground-floor location. For re-installation, this is a routine engineering issue that architects are trained to accommodate.
Westport Library, we know you’re big on flexible space. Railroad cars move on wheels. So could the heavy mural. It also could be a multi-purpose wall. For example, when needed for a performance, a multi-media screen could descend in front of it.
Bottom line, this is Westport! We believe that the library and its architect can resolve the River of Names mural re-installation in a way that will satisfy everyone. The simple answer:
- Find or build a flat plane interior wall, illuminated by natural light, in the WPL
- Mount the mural on it
- Open champagne.
Westporters reacted with fury to yesterday’s announcement that the River of Names mural will not be re-hung in the Westport Library.
Most of the dozens of readers responding to the “06880” story expressed chagrin that the 26-foot long, 6-foot high mural — whose 1,162 tiles represent 350 years of Westport history and memorials to families, and which was commissioned as a 1997 fundraiser — will reappear only in digitized form.
Some commenters asked for their tiles back. Others wondered if the mural — removed during the Transformation Project — was already destroyed.
Some readers also wondered why no library representatives stepped forward to respond.
This morning, they did.
Original plans for the transformed library included a spot for the River of Names, say director Bill Hamer and board of trustees president Iain Bruce.
It was to be located on the upper level, outside the children’s library near new meeting rooms. It’s a high-traffic area, just beyond the elevator and at the top of stairs. The mural would be well-lit, visible from the main level — and in an area where new generations of youngsters could learn Westport’s history from it.
Library officials presented the idea to 3 key River of Names stakeholders: Betty Lou Cummings, who conceived the project; Dorothy Curran, who shepherded it through, and Marion Grebow, the artist who created every tile.
They objected adamantly. The reason: It would wrap around a corner, on an “L”-shaped wall. They believed that would destroy the “river” design. They insisted it be remounted on one straight wall.
“We were sensitive to their feelings,” Bruce said. “We did what we had to do all along: We took it down.”
The wall on the lower level of the library no longer exists. The mural had to be removed and stored in one piece. Individual tiles cannot be taken apart.
The library hired Crozier Fine Arts, a professional moving and storage company. They carefully took the mural down (including the wall it is permanently part of). They preserved it, and are storing it in Ridgefield under climate-controlled conditions.
The cost to the library is $30,000 so far.
After the 3 originators told the library it could not be rehung on 2 walls, town arts curator Kathie Motes Bennewitz searched for a spot in another building.
However, Harmer says, “it can’t just hang on any wall. It’s very, very heavy.” To accommodate the mural, an existing wall would have to be demolished and rebuilt, or reinforced — at an expense considerably more than it cost to remove it. No town body was willing to pay.
“The library is committed to cooperating with any town agency or other body that wants to install the tile wall on its premises,” Harmer says.
However, an outdoor location like the Levitt will not work. The tiles were not made to withstand New England weather. If they got wet and froze, they would shatter.
“It was never our intention to have an irate public,” Bruce says. “A digital version seemed most logical, once we could not hang it in the library, and no one stepped up with an appropriate alternate place.”
“It was not sledgehammered,” he continues. “It is being carefully stored.”
In fact, Harmer says, the wall outside the children’s library was designed — and has been built — with the mural in mind.
“We told Betty Lou and Dorothy yesterday that it could still go there,” the director says. “We’re sorry we came to a crossroads. We’ve invested a lot of money and hours into trying to do the right thing. It’s a question of balancing the wishes of the original sponsors against our desire for an appropriate space.”
Bruce adds, “If they came back tomorrow and said they supported our original proposal, we’d do whatever we could to make it happen.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.