Tag Archives: Westport Museum for History & Culture

Roundup: Jazz, Food, Black History, More


Outdoor entertainment returned to MoCA Westport last night. A socially distanced crowd enjoyed Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Alexa Tarantino Quartet.

More concerts will be announced soon.

Outdoors at MoCA.

With food insecurity still a serious issue, the Westport Woman’s Club Food Closet is grateful for a nice donation from Westport National Bank.

Any organizations or family can donate food to neighbors in need. Bring non-perishable donations to the WWC 44 Imperial Avenue) from 9 a.m. to onoon on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. If the clubhouse is locked, call 203-227-4240.

Monetary donations are also welcome. Click here, or send a check made out to Westport Woman’s Club to WWC, 44 Imperial Avenue, Westport, CT  06880.

At the Westport Woman’s Club food pantry (from left); Wendy McKeon, WWC food closet co-chair; Robin Clark, WWC member and Westport National Bank vice president; Selma Blue, WNB head teller.


The “hidden history of Black Westport” will be visible to Westporters next Saturday (September 12, 9:30 to 10:30 a.m.)

As a follow-up to the Westport Museum of History & Culture’s “Remembered: The History of African Americans in Westport” exhibit, guides will lead tour groups (maximum of 10 people) throughout downtown.

They’ll describe local history, from enslaved people to soldiers, sailors, activists, artists, and respected residents, through existing buildings and long destroyed sites.

Tickets are $10. Reservations are required; click here to register. Foe moew information, email programs@westporthistory.org.


Aarti Khosla needs help in providing chocolate hearts to every Westport and Weston educator, as a show of thanks for all they do. 10% of all proceeds benefit another educational institution: Mercy Learning Center.

Click here to purchase hearts ($8 each). You can also stop by Aarti’s store, Le Rouge Chocolates (190 Main Street).

 


The final (and 15th) #FridayFlowers are on display at the Compo Beach lifeguard station. The Westport Garden Club — sponsor of the summer-long floral project — is grateful to the guards, and everyone at Westport Parks & Rec — for keeping our beaches safe and fun.

Pictured below (from left): David Levy, Noah Ross, Mia Parkes, Ella Thompson and Avery Tucker.

(Photo/Topsy Siderowf)

RTM representative and Westport Writers Workshop founder Jessica Bram undergoes brain surgery at Yale University Hospital this morning.

Doctors will drain excess hydration to reverse motor, cognitive and memory impairment resulting from a recent fall.

Jessica sends affection and high regard to the Westport community, past and current writing students, RTM colleagues, and Webb Road neighbors.


And finally … today is National Be Late for Something Day. I’ll have a song for you later. Maybe.

Roundup: History Museum Stays Closed; MoCA Reopens; Main Street; More


Cultural institutions are reopening around Connecticut. However, the Westport Museum for History and Culture will remain closed.

Executive director Ramin Ganeshram says it’s not because they want to. Instead, she wrote in an email to members, “we have to.”

One reason: the “antique building with small rooms and an aged HVAC system” lacks the air filtration or cross-ventilation needed to host more than 1 or 2 visitor at a time.

In addition, a “major structural failure in the center of the building that was left unaddressed for many years and exacerbated by aspects of the way the building was used” will take “a lot of time and a lot of financial resources to ultimately fix.”

However, Ganeshram said, the COVID closure has allowed staff to “fix both the structural failure and work to save collections and archives that had not been properly assessed, catalogued or preserved for many decades.”


MoCA Westport is reopening. The big day is Wednesday (July 8).

In anticipation, they’ve released a short film showcasing the current exhibition: “Helmut Lang: 41.1595° N, 73.3882° W.”

The video from Douglas Tirola and 4th Row Films offers a first-person experience of walking through the exhibition, and provides background on Lang’s inspiration for the works. Click below to see.


Last night was gorgeous. The temperature was just right. It was Friday — the start of the weekend.

It was the perfect night for a picnic, meeting friends, or sunset watching at Compo Beach. It hardly mattered that there are no grills or picnic tables, and the concession stand is closed.

Nearly everyone heeded the social distancing signs. Many wore masks. And nearly everyone seemed grateful to be outdoors, with other people, again.

(Photo/Dan Woog)


The Main Street planters are all in place. The Westport Downtown Merchants Association project was created to provide more room for shoppers.

This was the scene yesterday morning. Come on down — there’s plenty of space!


Speaking of flowers: This week’s Westport Garden Club #Friday Flowers decorations are at Nevada Hitchcock Park *the corner of Cross Highway and Weston Road).

Two great factoids: The park honors Hitchcock, a founding member of the club. And the flowers — from the gardens of Andi Turner, Janice Yost and Topsy Siderowf — are pollinators. This is National Pollinator Week.

(Photo/Topsy Siderowf)


Meanwhile, the Pop’TArt gallery downtown had a low-key opening last night for its new “Scheherezade: The Shapes of Stories” sculpture exhibition. It will be up for the next month.

It’s outdoors — to the delight of at least one young, budding art lover.


When COVID forced shutdowns and program closures, STAR went to work.

For the past 68 years, the organization has provided services and support to individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and their families.

During the pandemic. STAR’s 45-minute Zoom classes kept clients and their loved ones connected and involved.

Westport participants have included Yvonne O’Kane, who taught cupcake decorating; artist Miggs Burroughs, State Senator Will Haskell, and Wakeman Town Farm. There’s been live music too, along with virtual dance parties.

Kudos to STAR, for this innovative, important programming — and to all who help make it work. Click here for more information.


And finally … Happy jUNe Day!

Roundup: Reopening; Juneteenth; Renters’ Rebates; More


Phase 2 of Connecticut’s reopening plan began yesterday with indoor restaurant dining, fitness facilities, all personal services and many other business sectors allowed to welcome customers again.

2nd Selectwoman Jennifer Tooker says that business owners are “empowered to make the decision to open their doors. If they do, the ReOpen Westport team is working diligently to support them through this complicated process.  We are taking this seriously. It is our goal to build confidence throughout the entire community during this reopen period.”

For a complete list of Connecticut’s Phase 1 and Phase 2 business sectors and rules, click here. For ReOpen Westport Advisory Team information and FAQs, click here. To contact the ReOpen Westport Advisory Team, email reopenteam@westportct.gov.

While local COVID-19 transmission rates continue to be low, Westport Weston Health District director Mark Cooper says, “following safety protocols like wearing masks, maintaining social distance, and good hygiene practices are all critical. I urge residents to use common sense and to take advantage of testing, especially if experiencing symptoms.”

St. Vincent’s Behavioral Health Center on Long Lots Road is a local testing site option with open time slots. Call 860-972-8100 for an appointment.

2nd selectman Jennifer Tooker


The Westport Museum for History & Culture and TEAM Westport are partnering for a special Juneteenth Zoom program.

Tomorrow (Friday, June 19, 5 p.m.), theater professor and playwright Kyle Bass discusses his play Possessing Harriet. It’s the story of enslaved woman traveling with her captors from the South to upstate New York, who finds refuge in the home of an abolitionist where he meets his young cousin Elizabeth Cady (later Stanton).

Bass will also discuss his play in progress about his ancestors Tim & Lill Bennett. They were slaves in Westport, in a home on Compo Road South.

The event is free, but registration is required. Click here to join.

Kyle Bass (Photo/Brenna Merritt)


Elderly and disabled Westport residents can apply for the Connecticut Renters’ Rebate Program. Qualifications for the program include:

  • Age 65 as of December 31, 2019, or totally disabled and collecting Social Security disability income.
  • The maximum gross income for the program is $37,000 for a single person, $45,100 for a married couple.
  • One year of residency in Connecticut is required. People renting an apartment, room or mobile home, or living in cooperative housing, may be eligible for this program.

The application deadline for the Renters’ Rebate Program is September 28.

Qualifying Westport residents should call the Human Services Department for an appointment: 203-341-1050.


Carol Alexander took this photo at Old Mill. She writes:

As more people come to enjoy this beautiful neighborhood beach, we need to treat it with respect. Please clean up before you leave!


Playwright/director Tazewell Thompson is familiar to area residents. In 2006 and ’07, he was artistic director at the Westport Country Playhouse.

When his opera “Blue” premiered last summer at the Glimmerglass Festival, New York Times critic Anthony Tommasini called it “one of the most elegant librettos I’ve heard in a long time.”

Thompson wrote about a black family — the father of a police officer — that is torn apart when the son is killed at a protest by another officer.

“Blue” has now been named Best New Opera by the Music Critics Association of North America. The Times calls the honor “sadly timely as the nation is roiled by unrest over police brutality and race relations.” (Click here for Thompson’s story on how he wrote the opera. Hat tip: Nina Sankovitch.)


As an Ivy Film Festival screenplay staff member, Brown University senior Elena Levin reads scripts from undergrad and grad students across the country. Each spring, the staff holds a screenwriting workshop for high schoolers.

Now the Westport resident is bringing the experience to her home town.

Elena offers an “Intro to Screenwriting Workshop” for rising high school sophomores, juniors and seniors (no experience required). It meets outdoors at 4 p.m. every Wednesday in July for 2 hours. By the end of the 5th session, everyone will have written — and workshopped — a script.

Click here for more information. Questions? Email elena_l_levin@brown.edu.

Elana Levin


And finally … Patti Smith has power. She knows that people have it too.

Remarkable Guy: The Sequel

When the Westport Museum for History & Culture jettisoned the nod-to-local-history name of its Remarkable Gift Shop — it’s now the much-more-meh The Shop at Wheeler House — it thankfully did not also toss out the Remarkable Guy.

That’s the wooden, Edward Gorey-inspired dancing figure that greeted folks browsing for books, posters and other Westport-themed gifts at what used to be called the Historical Society, on Avery Place.

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

The Remarkable Guy had been exhibited at the WHS thanks to the Kramer family. Sid and Esther Kramer owned the Remarkable Book Shop, a long-lived, much-loved funky bookstore on the corner of Main Street and Parker Harding Plaza, a few feet from Wheeler House. (Westporters know it now as the long-vacant Talbots building.)

WMHC officials tracked down Sid and Esther’s son Mark. Executive director Ramin Ganeshram emailed him that the Remarkable Theater — the new organization that hopes to bring a theater to Westport, staffed by people with disabilities — had asked for the “wooden die cut image.”

She suggested Kramer take it from the museum, and give or lend it to the theater for their events. (It is of course still in the early planning stages).

She noted that because the Remarkable Guy had never been “formally gifted or accepted into the collections,” it was not the museum’s right to lend.

Though the museum did not have the funds to ship the Remarkable Guy to Kramer, who lives in Massachusetts, they promised to keep it safe until he could retrieve it.

Or perhaps, Ganeshram said, he could officially donate it to the museum. Then, however, it could not be lent to anyone, because of insurance complications. She noted, “It is our understanding that the figure was brought to the museum but never intended to be an ‘artifact’ per se.”

Kramer worried that the museum might not treasure the Remarkable Guy.

A solution arose when Kramer’s longtime Westport friend Pam Barkentin offered to keep it in Westport, so it can be loaned when appropriate.

Chris O’Dell — whose O Living Experience builds high-quality, high-efficiency new homes and renovations — quickly agreed to move the Remarkable Guy to Pam’s garage. gratis.

Chris O’Dell (left), O Living Experience owner, and employee Chuck Hilman volunteered to move the Remarkable Guy.

That’s where he sits now, safe and sound.

And waiting to be loaned, to lend a bit of local history to organizations that appreciate and cherish him.

Pam Barkentin is keeping the Remarkable Guy safe for Mark Kramer.

RTM Committee To Discuss Museum, Arts Funding

In light of the current debate over the role of town funding of the Westport Museum of History & Culture, it’s fortuitous that a public discussion of that very topic is planned.

The Representative Town Meeting’s Library, Museum and Arts Committee meets next Wednesday (January 29, 11 a.m., Town Hall Room 309).

Among the agenda items: “the appropriation of town funds to various arts and museum councils and arts programs, as proposed in the
Selectman’s proposed budget.”

The Westport Museum for History & Culture — previously known as the Westport Historical Society — has received town funds for years.

History Museum Billed Town For Employees’ Time; Marpe “Surprised” And “Concerned”

In late 2018, organizers announced the end of Westport’s First Night celebration.

Recognizing a need for family-friendly New Year’s Eve activities, the Westport Historical Society filled the breach. In just a matter of days, executive director Ramin Ganeshram and her staff organized “First Light.”

Performances, horse-drawn carriage rides, face painting, a digital caricaturist, a henna artist, food trucks, a bonfire — it was all there. And (despite the rain), it was greatly appreciated.

A true New England horse-drawn sleigh ride.

This year, the Avery Place institution — now called the Westport Museum for History & Culture — continued the new tradition.

This year’s First Light included horse-drawn carriages, a live band, short films,  tarot reader, henna tattoos, teen game night at Toquet Hall, stargazing with the Westport Astronomy Club, ballroom dance instruction — and that warm bonfire.

As with previous First Nights, and last year’s First Light, attendees wore buttons for admittance to all events. They cost $10 online, $15 on site.

Ganeshram gave credit to the town of Westport, for helping support the event.

That support includes police officers, fire fighters, logistics — and funding.

On December 11, Ganeshram asked for town assistance “from the fund formerly attributed to the First Night Celebrations.” She detailed “projected costs as they exist to-date for the First Light Festival on New Year’s Eve.”

The organization’s spreadsheet showed that the horse and carriage would cost $1,300. The band was $250, the tarot reader $200; Branson Hall rental $200; marketing materials and buttons $100.

There is also a line item that reads “(1630-2130 hours x at holiday rate (#82.50 per),” at a total cost of $1,213.

In addition, the Museum requested that the town reimburse half the cost of the salaries of 5 Museum employees. They were projected to spend anywhere from 30 to 80 hours each on First Light activities, at fees ranging from $11 to $25 per hour.

The employees work in several areas for the Museum, including programs, operations, marketing, administration and administrative support.

Four of the employees would be reimbursed by the town for half of their hours worked: $750, $600, $600 and $500. The administrative support staffer was projected to work 30 hours at $11 per hour, for a total of $330. The Museum requested $330 from the town for her salary, but confusingly also said they would contribute $330 to it.

The total reimbursement request to the town for Museum employees’ salaries was $2,780.

Executive director Ramin Ganeshram was listed as spending 20 hours on First Light, at $50 an hour. Her $1,000 was covered fully by the Museum.

The bonfire at Veterans Green. (Photo/Dan Woog)

The invoice was sent December 26, and received at Town Hall 2 days later. A check for the full amount requested — $5,943 — was issued to Westport Historical Society, Inc. on December 30.

I asked 1st Selectman Jim Marpe about the use of town funds to cover salaries of Museum employees. He responded:

For nearly 30 years, the Town of Westport co-sponsored “First Night,” a family-friendly, substance-free New Year’s Eve celebration that offered an array of musical and variety performers, kid-oriented activities, bonfires, carriage rides and even fireworks.

This event took place through a combination of volunteers under the volunteer leadership of enthusiastic residents such as Barbara Pearson-Rac and her husband Frank, the late Bill Meyer and Allen Bomes, donations from local business and fund-raising organizations, and also town funding in the range of $7,000.  First Night also sold admission badges to help fund their budget, and the town provided some of the venues for various events.

The First Night concept was very popular around Connecticut and New England for many years, but in recent years, Westport became one of the few towns to offer this NewYear’s Eve option. Unfortunately, it became virtually impossible to stage a fireworks show in the downtown area, and rising costs and the dwindling number of volunteers began to limit the variety of entertainment options.

Fireworks were once a First Night tradition.

While the Town budgeted $7,000 to support the 2018 to 2019 New Year’s Eve First Night (last year), it became clear in the early fall that we would not be able to conduct the First Night event as we had in prior years.

The then-named Westport Historical Society stepped forward and offered to produce a mini-version of First Night called First Light.  The town approved the use of a small portion of Veterans Green for a bonfire, and provided financial support to underwrite the carriage ride and other out-of-pocket costs for performers as well as Fire Department oversight of the bonfire activity.  It was (and is) our belief that a substance-free, family alternative to celebrate the new year is a good thing for Westport and its residents of all ages.

In anticipation of this year’s (2019 to 2020) New Year’s Eve, we budgeted another $6,000 in case the now-named Westport Museum of History & Culture decided to conduct another First Light event, which in fact they did with some expansion of their offerings and venues.

Face painting was a popular activity at this year’s First Light celebration. (Photo/Dan Woog)

It was always the intention of that money to cover the costs of outside services such as the carriage rides, musicians and other performers and marketing material which the director of finance and I approved.

I was surprised to learn in the past week that the Town’s support was also used to cover a portion of the salaries of several Museum employees.

It was never our intent to subsidize the costs of non-town employees, and I’m concerned about the potential inappropriate use of town funds for this purpose.

I have asked our director of finance to look into this matter immediately, and to determine the appropriate course of action regarding this payment.

As I noted earlier, I believe that events like First Night and First Light are good for our community and add to our reputation as a family friendly community, particularly when they are supported by volunteers and non-for-profit organizations such as the Museum.

The town has always been willing to consider financial or in-kind support of specific services for events that serve the whole community, but it has never been our intention to subsidize the salaries of individuals who work for those organizations.

Westport History Museum: A Remarkable Story

When the Remarkable Book Shop closed, Westporters mourned the loss of a quirky, comfy store that for decades epitomized Main Street.

When former owners Sidney and Esther Kramer gifted the Westport Historical Society the right to use the name — and their Edward Gorey-inspired logo — for its gift shop, Westporters rejoiced.

The Remarkable name lived again — and on Avery Place, just a few yards from the original store. Not everyone who shopped for books, maps and posters about Westport knew the significance of the Remarkable Gift Shop name, or the delightful logo, but that didn’t matter.

Those who did, smiled.

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

But they — and the Kramer family — are not smiling now.

Besides renaming both the Historical Society itself (it’s become the Westport Museum for History & Culture), and the main exhibition room (the Sheffer Gallery now honors Daniel E. Offutt, III Charitable Trust), there’s a new name for the gift shop.

Gone is the Remarkable name. Gone is the Remarkable guy.

“It’s a makeover!” the website trumpets. “New space. new stock, new name!”

Are you ready for the great new name? Nothing says Westport like …

“The Shop at Wheeler House.”

PS: Neither Wendy Posner nor Mark Kramer received any notification from the Westport History Museum that their parents’ naming gift had been expunged.

Westport Museum Posts Statement

Eagle-eyed “06880” reader Amy Bauer has discovered a statement from Westport Museum for History & Culture board chair Sara Krasne. In it, she addresses the controversy following the renaming of the Sheffer Gallery, after receiving a large donation from an estate.

Krasne’s statement — under the heading “Statement From Board Chair” — appears far down on the home page of the museum’s website, underneath information on upcoming events. She says:

I asked Ann Sheffer if this statement accurately represented her conversation with Krasne. Ann said:

Although I appreciate the apology from Sara about not contacting me personally before issuing the press release about removing my parents’ names from the WHS exhibit hall, our conversation in no way clarified what the Historical Society plans to do to rectify the situation.

I have also had a conversation with Dick Orenstein, the trustee of the Daniel Offutt estate. We had a very productive discussion about responsibility to donors both historic and current, and I am awaiting his report after he has had a chance to talk with Historical Society board members.

Unfortunately, there are a number of other issues regarding recent policies that should be addressed as well. I don’t feel that there is yet any acknowledgement of this, or openness to discussion within the affected parties and the community at large.

 

Historical Society: Over 2 Years, Quiet Anger Grew

I did not want to publish another story about the Westport Museum for History & Culture (the former Westport Historical Society).

The long-appreciated Avery Place institution has taken a public pummeling, since Monday’s story about the renaming of the Sheffer Gallery in honor of a large contribution from a charitable trust. I ran subsequent stories when former volunteers spoke out. Readers added hundreds of comments. Current museum officials did not respond.

Westport Historical Society (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

I thought Westporters had had their say, and Museum representatives did not want theirs. I did not want another story. It would seem to be “piling on.”

But then I got this email, from a Westporter who spoke with multiple WHS sources. It’s filled with other questions and concerns. It’s been vetted by people with long and deep knowledge of the WHS and WMFH&C.

Much of this information has been talked about quietly in town, for a couple of years. Now — in the aftermath of this week’s controversy — it too becomes part of the public discourse. The resident writes:

The average Westporter has to be confused and questioning the current explosion of outrage towards the Westport Historical Society.

How did the renaming issue cause over 200 “06880” followers to take time to express outrage? Did this outburst of frustration and anger arise out of nowhere?

No. Distress over the recent direction of the WHS has been going on for a while. There has been little public outcry, but much angst and a sense of hopelessness.

One of the early chapters of the outrage began when the new executive director dismissed — by email — a senior employee, after 20-plus years of service to the gift shop. She was told it was being phased out.

But within weeks the shop was reopened, staffed by a younger employee.

A wide collection of books on sale at the Westport Historical Society, in 2014. (Photo/Larry Untermeyer)

Concurrently, most longtime “period rooms” were eliminated. At the same time, many donated pieces of Westport historical value (not necessarily monetary worth) were sold or trashed — summarily and quietly, without donor notification.

The next chapter was longer and more painful. Individual by individual, longtime board members, volunteers and large donors were quietly pushed out.

Many people who had given so much over so many years were shown the door. They were too proud, too humble and/or too civil to push back in a public forum.  They stayed in touch as one by one they went down — but they did not go public.

The advisory board experienced the same treatment.

As the next chapter evolved, certain groups that supported and enhanced the WHS were pushed aside. This included some artists who had exhibit commitments in writing and were already being promoted in the media. Despite their hurt, they too stayed quiet.

Residents became the next focus. Last year, people who were used to accessing archives and files of the WHS –and amazingly, town officials too — were suddenly told it was now necessary to schedule in advance. In addition, they would have to pay $40 an hour.

Then came the unilateral renaming of a Westport institution. Quickly, and with surprisingly little outcry, the Westport Historical Society was to become the Westport Museum for History & Culture. That opened the door to government funding, negating much of the need for local volunteerism and donations.  Both were pillars of the WHS, which gave the WHS purpose and strength.

The latest, but not the final, chapter came this week with the revelation of the renaming of a section named for a longtime Westport family that donated countless hours, as well as generous funds, for decades.

Now it is to be renamed for a new donation from a well-meaning foundation, which could not have imagined that the quiet revelation of the news would release the outrage built up over the past 2 years.

One can hope that this is the last chapter that returns the WHS to its constituency: its volunteers and its participants. WHS, are you listening?

Erasing History?

I did not think I’d be posting another story on the Westport Museum for History & Culture’s decision to replace the name of the Sheffer Gallery (honoring a family with a long history of philanthropy and volunteerism) with that of Daniel Offutt (whose trust recently gave a large gift).

However, a number of “06880” readers remarked on the irony of a “historical society” turning its back on history.

Now, it appears the exhibition space is not the only place they’re doing that.

For years, the website (interestingly, it’s www.westporthistory.org) included information about many previous exhibits. One reader — who recalls that it went back to 2000 or so — found the descriptions and photos very useful when he was pitching his own exhibit idea, and again in the planning stages once it was accepted.

Now, the “Exhibits” page shows only 3. All were mounted under the current executive director and her staff.

In addition, the “Media” tab shows articles only since December 27, 2017. That one — the oldest — is headlined “Historical Society Names New Executive Director.”

The Westport Historical Society received excellent press coverage over many years. You wouldn’t know it, though, by looking at the website. That history is gone.

Also gone: a list of advisory council members. It was there Tuesday.

In addition, the list of board members on the same page was substantially shorter than the day before.

Yesterday, what appeared to be a link to the advisory council was no longer working. Like the organization’s history prior to 2018, the advisory council too is now invisible.

NOTE: Some readers have wondered why they have not heard the Westport Museum’s side of the story. No one has responded to the Comments section in an official — or even unofficial — capacity. And not a single staff member has contacted me, on or off the record.