In the alley between Main Street and Bedford Square are floodgates no longer in use. David Waldman — the developer of the mixed-use center between Main Street and Church Lane — asked the WAAC how the gates could look more attractive.
The arts organization commissioned 5 artists to turn them into a history of our town: Westporters Eric Chiang, Jana Irejo and Rebecca Ross, Norwalk’s Hernan Garcia and Iyaba Mandingo of Bridgeport.
At 1 p.m. on Saturday, October 16, the WAAC will unveil their 5 paintings at the Main Street entrance to the Bedford Square courtyard. The works include early life among Native Americans, and Black life and culture here.
A “concept slide” of what the floodgate art might look like. These are not the finished pieces.
A professor at North Carolina State University College of Art and Design, and a noted collagist whose colorful, culturally symbolic work incorporates themes from his extensive travels to Ghana, he’s no stranger to Westport.
In 1964 he came to Westport through an American Friends Service program that brought 35 Southern students to the North to promote integration. Joyner lived with the Ader family.
After graduating from Staples High School he headed to Iowa State University on a football scholarship, transferred to North Carolina A&T, then earned a Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina-Greensboro.
Joyner’s, and other newly acquired art, will be part of the WPAC’s first-ever public showing of dozens of works at MoCA Westport. The event opens January 28, and runs through March 13.
Charles Joyner’s mixed media work “Village @ Ntoso” has been acquired by the Westport Public Art Collections.
For nearly 50 years, a spectacular mural hung just inside the main entrance to Saugatuck Elementary School, on Bridge Street.
Created by Westport artist Robert Lambdin as a WPA project, “Pageant of Juvenile Literature” greeted every visitor to the school. (It was also stared at by generations of mischief-makers, as they waited for meetings with the principal.)
Lambdin is well known for other murals, including a pair called “Saugatuck in the 19th Century” (one originally in a Saugatuck bank, now at Town Hall; the other at Westport Bank & Trust, preserved by the current tenant Patagonia), and “Spirit of Adventure,” which hangs over the entrance to the Town Hall auditorium.
But, says town arts curator Kathie Motes Bennewitz, “Pageant” was Lambdin’s masterpiece. Its complexity, and the wide variety of characters he painted, “touch everyone who sees it,” she says. “People just get pulled into it.”
The left side of the 7-foot high, 20-foot high mural depicts an array of classic fictional characters: Minerva, Huck Finn, Alice in Wonderland, Winnie the Pooh, Don Quixote, Robin Hood, Robinson Crusoe.
A closeup of the Robert Lambdin mural… (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)
Lambdin included himself too — as Long John Silver.
One of his models was Janet Aley, who now — near 90 — still lives in Westport. Another model was Howard Brubaker — great-grandfather of Westporter Brian Crane — who went on to become editor of Colliers.
The right side of the mural portrays great historical figures, like Leif Erikson, Joan of Arc, Pocahontas, George Washington, Clara Barton, Davey Crockett and Abraham Lincoln.
… and the right side.
The middle section shows the history of writing, from ancient Egypt to a quill pen, then a typewriter.
When Saugatuck Elementary School closed in 1984 — due to declining enrollment — the Bridge Street building was unmaintained. Weather and vandals took their tolls.
In 1992, the town decided to convert the old Saugatuck El to senior housing. The murals were slated for demolition.
But a group of art-lovers — including Mollie Donovan, Eve Potts and Judy Gault Sterling — set out to save the work. Within a month they raised $40,000. That was enough to remove the mural, conserve it, and reinstall it at its new home: The Westport Library.
For nearly 25 years, the Robert Lambdin mural hung above the Westport Library’s Great Hall. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)
Opened just 6 years earlier, the library was an inspired choice. Hanging above the Great Hall, the mural — with its representations of literature and history — was visible to all.
Plus, back in the day Lambdin had actually been a Westport Library trustee.
More than a quarter century later though, the library is in the midst of its own renovation. A suitable spot could not be found, during or after the project.
Bennewitz and members of the Westport Public Art Collection searched for a large wall, with plenty of foot traffic. They — with architect Scott Springer — found it, at Staples High School.
Which is how, the other day, the enormous mural was removed from the library, transported, and reassembled near the auditorium lobby. Hung proudly — and even closer to the public than at the library — “Pageant of Juvenile Adventure” will be seen by thousands of students every day, and folks of all ages at plays, concerts and other events.
Moving the mural was no easy task. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)
Bennewitz praised many groups, for making the move possible. Town Hall, the Westport Library and Westport school system worked together, coordinating manpower and equipment. Support also came from the Westport Arts Advisory Committee and Friends of WestPAC.
The mural was installed during school vacation. Students have not yet seen it. But everyone who passed by during the installation was impressed.
That includes Staples custodian Jeff Allen. A former Saugatuck El student, he remembers the mural well. He’s proud to see it back up in the school where he now works.
Staples custodian Jeff Allen admires the artwork.
He and many others will be in attendance this Friday (March 2, 2:45 p.m.). A rededication ceremony will include brief speeches, appropriate music (“House at Pooh Corner”) — and students, teachers and others dressed in costumes. (First Selectman Jim Marpe will portray Abraham Lincoln.)
Anyone who remembers the Lambdin mural from its original location at Saugatuck Elementary School is particularly welcome.
Of course, everyone who loves art, literature and history is encouraged to be there too.
BONUS FUN FACT: Robert Lambdin was not the only Westport WPA artist. During the 1930s, 17 local artists produced 34 artworks, and 120 photos.
Robert Lambdin’s “Pageant of Juvenile Adventure,” in its new home.
The Westport Public Art Collection has been around for over 50 years. It’s grown to over 1,500 works — paintings, watercolors, drawings, prints, cartoons, photos, sculptures and murals — by international artists (Picasso, Warhol, Matisse, Mothewell, Miro, Christo, Calder) and, just as importantly, giant Westport names like Stevan Dohanos, Hardie Gramatky, Leonard Evertt Fisher, Miggs Burroughs and Ann Chernow.
But a “Friends” group was formed only last year.
Now they’re planning their 1st-ever fundraiser. Set for Thursday, June 8 (7 p.m., Rive Bistro), it includes a special exhibit of art from the collection — including all those masters listed above.
There’s also an auction of fantastic works — like Larry Silver’s classic “Beach Showers” photo — and a chance to meet and mingle with our town’s top artists.
Larry Silver’s famous “Beach Showers.” (Photo courtesy of Bruce Silverstein Gallery)
Funds raised will help conserve, maintain and display works in the Public Art Collection.
If you’ve ever been inside a Westport school — or any other public building — you’ve been impacted by the collection. It hangs in hallways, libraries, classrooms, lobbies, offices and conference rooms. It inspires, provokes, soothes and challenges students, teachers, library-goers and Town Hall visitors.
Students in Staples High School’s Inklings classrooms are inspired by photos from prize-winning photographers (and alums) Tyler Hicks, Lynsey Addario and Spencer Platt.
The Public Art Collection is one of those Westport treasures that surround us every day. Most of us seldom think about how the art got there — or what it takes to keep it alive and fresh.
But members of the Westport Permanent Art Collection — and their Friends group — do. That’s why they want to see you at Rive Bistro on June 8.
(For tickets and more information, click here. To learn more about WestPAC, click here. For a searchable online database of works in the collection, click here.)
Westport artist Stevan Dohanos’s Saturday Evening Post cover has special significance. The models were all Staples students. The Westport Permanent Art Collection recently restored the original artwork.
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