Tag Archives: Westport Schools Permanent Art Collection

Roundup: Hamlet, Holiday Giving, Casa Me, Middle School Art …

The Planning & Zoning Commission held its final public hearing last night on the proposed text and map amendment change for The Hamlet at Saugatuck.

Scaled-down versions of the original plan show less density and height.

The commission has 65 days to render a decision. It will likely be discussed next at their December 5 work session.

An original design for The Hamlet at Saugautck …

… and a revised version.


Just in time for the holidays: Westport’s Department of Human Services’ Giving Program is back.

Donations from community members are a huge help to Westport families facing financial hardship. One hundred families with school-aged children benefit each year from the program. 

This year, rising costs for food, housing and fuel has added strains to many local budgets.

Gift cards and cash donations are matched with families, who then purchase food and simple holiday gifts for their children. Beneficiaries are anonymous. 

The program enables parents to personalize their presents, and participate fully in the holiday season.

Residents and organizations can donate cash, checks or gift cards to the “Family to Family Seasonal Holiday Giving Program” online (click here). Contributions can also be dropped off at Town Hall, or mailed to the Department of Human Services c/o Town Hall, 110 Myrtle Avenue, Westport, CT 06880.

Westport residents facing financial difficulties can contact Human Services at 203-341-1050 or humansrv@westportct.gov for confidential assistance.

Questions? Email adaugelli@westportct.gov or call 203-341-1183.


CTBites’ weekly blog leads with a story about Casa Me.

The story on the new restaurant in the longtime Sconset Square corner begins:

Casa Me elevates the local restaurant scene with its exceptional Northern Italian vacation-inspired cuisine.

For months Westporters and passersby wondered what was to become of the slightly rundown restaurant in Sconset Square in the midst of a massive renovation and remodel that seemed to take forever. Rumors began to circulate… a Mexican restaurant was coming to town (another?). A Spanish restaurant was moving in. (That’s across the street.) There was also some speculation that a new concept by restauranteur Mario Fontana, owner of the Bodega restaurants both in Fairfield and Darien was going to open.

Fontana was indeed opening a new restaurant, Casa Me, but the cuisine would be distinctly vacation-inspired Italian cuisine. This time he would be joined by his wife, the lovely Pina Ferlisi, who would take on the role of Creative Director after leaving a long and successful career as a fashion director for such esteemed brands as Henri Bendel and Alexander McQueen.

Click here for the full story. For the Casa Me website, click here.

A Casa Me collage, courtesy of CTBites.


Big art is coming to Westport’s middle schools.

The Westport Public Art Collections’ new program will display large format artwork. loaned by local and regional artists.

The goal is to expand WestPAC’s mission of bringing original works to schools, to help stimulate discussion and connections with art and other curricula.

The middle school program was piloted last year when Coleytown reopened, with Eric Chiang’s “Are We Born Connected” and “History Civilizations.” 

Two artists are loaning works for the 2022-23 school year. Jay Petrow offers a large-scale canvas “So Sorry” for Bedford Middle School, while Liz Leggett’s 3 abstractions are at Coleytown.  

Both Westport artists have completed their installations. Throughout the school year they’ll speak to art classes, be interviewed by student newspapers and TV, and continue sharing their stories, experiences, and practices with students and staff.

Jay Petrow with “So Sorry.”


A reminder: Staples High School Candlelight Concert tickets go “on sale” to the public — don’t worry, they’re still free! — on December 1.Performances are Friday, December 16 (8 p.m.) and Saturday, December 17 (3 and 8 p.m.).

The event combines 80 years of tradition with a modern holiday spirit. The Symphonic Orchestra, Symphonic Band and Choral Ensembles perform Candlelight favorites like “Sing We Noel” and “Hallelujah Chorus.” Also movements from Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker Suite,” music from “Home Alone” by John Williams, and the first movement of Dan Forrest’s “Jubilate Deo.”

Set your reminders. Candlelight tickets get gobbled up fast!

Oh, yeah. Here’s the (easy to remember) link is: www.StaplesMusic.org.


The Westport Museum for History & Culture is teaming up with Verso Studios at the Westport Library for a new podcast.

“Buried in Our Past” focuses on the histories all around us, It offers a new way to look at the past, and rethink the present.

The monthly podcast is recorded at Verso Studios. It’s available on the Library’s YouTube channel, and through Apple and Spotify.

The debut episode (available now) features the true story of the first Thanksgiving with guest Greg Porretta, a Julliard-trained actor and Westport Museum board member. Click below to see:


Last month, 5-year-old Daisy Jonas contracted RSV, the respiratory virus that is especially dangerous in young children. She spent 3 nights — including her birthday — at Stamford Hospital.

Her parents were grateful for the new toys given to her during her stay. Now it’s time to give back.

Daisy’s older brother — 9-year-old Levi — wants to join her in collecting toys from Westporters, for Stamford Hospital. New, unwrapped toys can be dropped off by December 18. Email biancablairjonas@gmail.com for the address; click here for an Amazon wish list.


Westport resident Dr Jim Gadzik, Westporter — a trauma surgeon at Norwalk Hospital — has a life outside of the operating room.

He can cross off one bucket list item. He’s just written a play.

“Magic: A Ballroom Musical” will be staged at Norwalk’s Wall Street Theater this Saturday (November 26, 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.).

It’s an original, Christmas-themed, family-friendly show, featuring 30 songs and 7 ballroom dances.

Jim explains: “It is the story of Pam and Bob, 2 lonely people who find love in a ballroom studio on an enchanted Christmas weekend when they are offered free lessons as a holiday gift by an intriguing dance instructor. If you like Hallmark, Disney and happy endings, you’ll love ‘Magic.'”

Click here for tickets, as well as the livestream link.



Speaking of doctors: Bob Altbaum is guest speaker at the Y’s Women’s next meeting (Monday, November 28, 11:30 a.m., Green’s Farms Church). The public is invited.

Dr. Altbaum retired last year from Internal Medicine Associates of Westport, where he spent his entire career. He joined them in 1978.

An exceptional diagnostician, he is also a Renaissance man. He teaches, hikes, snowshoes, plays tennis and pickleball, and is a keyboardist in the doctor-filled rock group DNR.  They play at places like the Levitt Pavilion, and fundraisers for pancreatic and breast cancer, Norwalk Hospital and ALS.

Dr. Robert Altbaum


Jazz does not take a holiday.

In honor of Thanksgiving, the weekly “Jazz at the Post” series moves this week to Wednesday.

Well-known pianist Chris Coogan joins bassist Don Falzone and drummer Jim Royle for 7:30 and 8:45 p.m. sets at VFW Post 399 (465 Riverside Avenue).

There’s a $15 cover, with dinner starting at 7 p.m. Reservations are highly recommended: JazzatthePost@gmail.com.

Chris Coogan


Yesterday’s “06880” Roundup included photos of 2 joyful soccer teams: Staples High School girls, and Greens Farms Academy boys.

Both won championships on Sunday: the “LL” state and New England Prep School titles, respectively.

Here’s another happy guy: Paul Marchese. He lives in Westport, but coaches the Ridgefield High School girls swim team.

Under his guidance, the Tigers captured this year’s FCIAC, state LL and state open championships.

He looks deservedly excited. But aren’t winning swim teams supposed to toss their coach into the pool? (Hat tip: Anne Pfeiffer)


“The Laramie Project” — the Unitarian Church of Westport’s weekend play — was a simple but powerful production examining the aftermath of the 1998 murder of gay University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard.

It was also timely, coming on the same weekend a man killed 5 patrons of a gay club in Colorado Springs, and wounded many others.

After the actors took their bows, the audience remained for an insightful talkback.

“Laramie Project” talkback, at the Unitarian Church. (Hat tip and photo/Jill Johnson Mann)


There have been a ton of seagulls recently at Sherwood Mill Pond.

Matt Murray snapped today’s “Westport … Naturally” photo yesterday, as they enjoyed breakfast.

(photo/Matt Murray)


And finally … following up on his photo (above), Matt Murray offers today’s musical selection:


(If you like these daily Roundups, please help keep them coming. Click here to support “06880.”)



Howard Munce Turns 100!

Westport’s famous artists — and Famous Artists School — have come and gone.

The “Mad Men” era — the real 1950s and ’60s ad agency scene, and the TV show celebrating it — are both just memories.

But Howard Munce endures.

Howard Munce, in his 90s. (Photo/Kristen Rasich Fox)

Howard Munce, in his 90s. (Photo/Kristen Rasich Fox)

In a town long known for its great artists, illustrators and painters, he’s a towering figure. Advertising director, graphic designer, sculptor, cartoonist, book author, teacher — and, above all, longtime and beloved civic volunteer — Munce turns 100 on November 27.

The Westport Historical Society — one of the many organizations he’s served so well for so long — has the perfect gift: his own show.

“Howard Munce at 100: A Centennial Celebration” opened June 29. A gala reception is set for this Sunday (July 12, 4-6 p.m.).

Howard Munce at work.

Howard Munce at work.

It’s hard to capture a century of life — and 8 decades of professional work and life in Westport — in the walls of one building. But the WHS tries.

The exhibit is curated by Leonard Everett Fisher, Munce’s longtime friend. In his 90s himself, he’s the perfect choice to organize the show.

There are 2 parts. The Sheffer Gallery showcases Munce’s paintings, drawings, illustrations and sculptures.

The Mollie Donovan Gallery chronicles his Westport connections as a young artist (he first came here in 1935); his military service, when he sent illustrated letters to his Westport artist friend Stevan Dohanos; Munce’s Pulitzer Prize nomination for his essay on the folly of war; his role in a legendary ad campaign for Rheingold beer, and his community involvement.

The exhibit includes documentary films, interviews, photographs by Laurence Untermeyer, and a lenticular photo of Munce by Miggs Burroughs.

It’s dedicated to Munce’s wife Gerry. She died in November, but her memory is vivid to all who knew and loved her.

Howard Munce has worn many hats. (Photo by Brian Ferry for Harry's)

Howard Munce has worn many hats. (Photo by Brian Ferry for Harry’s)

Munce’s resume is beyond impressive. Trained at Pratt Institute, he was a Young & Rubicam art director beginning in the late 1940s — after World War II, when he saw action as a Marine platoon sergeant at Guadalcanal.

Munce is professor emeritus at Paier College of Art; honorary president of the Society of Illustrators in New York City, and an honorary board member of the Westport Arts Center. For over 25 years, he volunteered as graphics director for the Westport Library, and — with Fisher — co-curated the black-and-white drawings by Westport artists in its McManus Room.

But those are facts. Far more important is Munce’s humanity.

Whenever he is asked to help — donating dozens of paintings and illustrations to the Permanent Art Collection; curating exhibits for the WHS; mentoring young artists — he always says “of course.” With a sparkle in his eye, a smile on his face, and a handshake as firm as a 20-year-old’s.

Until a couple of years ago, he clambered up ladders to make sure every exhibit he oversaw was properly hung.

At 99, Howard Munce no longer climbs ladders. Then again, he doesn’t have to.

He long ago reached the top.

BONUS FACT: In 2008, Howard Munce was grand marshal of the Memorial Day parade. Here’s his speech: 


Hardie Gramatky’s “Compo Beach Figures”

Andrew Wyeth called Hardie Gramatky one of America’s 20 greatest watercolorists. Parents called him a gifted author and illustrator; his “Little Toot” books kept kids entertained for hours.

Westporters called him “neighbor.”

Though world-renowned, Gramatky loved painting local scenes. Compo Beach was a special place for him and his family. In 1971 he produced a watercolor called “Compo Beach Figures.”

Hardie Gramatky: "Compo Beach Figures"

After winning an award in 1974, the work was purchased by Joan Neff and Fred Shearer. In 1979 they presented it to the town of Westport, as a gift.

Three months later, Gramatky died of cancer.

Now, a limited edition giclée — a high-quality lithograph printed on heavy watercolor paper, with a look and feel identical to the original painting — is available for purchase. Gramatky’s family will donate net proceeds to the Westport Schools Permanent Art Collection, which owns several of his works.

That’s a great reason to order one ($200 unframed; $350 with a walnut or gold wood frame). “They make great holiday gifts” is another reason.

Hardie Gramatky at work.

Hardie Gramatky at work.

That’s the background on “Compo Beach Figures.” But Linda Smith — Gramatky’s daughter — wants to know more.

She’d love to find out about Neff and Shearer, the couple who gave the painting to the town. She’d also like to find out who posed for the paintings.

Meanwhile, for a close-up look at “Compo Beach Figures,” visit the Westport Historical Society. It’s one of 45 Westport works on display there through January 4.

(To order a giclée, click here — then scroll down. For more information, email: wspac06880@gmail.com. To answer Linda Gramatky Smith’s questions, email: linken2467@aol.com,)

Susan O’Hara’s “Strokes Of Genius”

Reports of the death of Westport as an artists’ colony are greatly exaggerated.

Over 1500 paintings, photos and etchings comprise the Westport Schools Permanent Art Collection. They hang in every school, Town Hall, the library — even the fire station.

Until now, though, all they’ve done is hang.

Since February, 2 sophomore Honors English classes have given life and meaning to nearly 4 dozen pieces. They’ve culled their favorites, researched the art and artists, learned how galleries work, written in-depth analyses — even recorded audio commentary, downloadable with smartphone apps.

The result is a remarkable show that sprawls through 3 Staples High School floors. It’s a superb example of kids making connections between many disciplines. And of teenagers understanding the rich history of the art they never realized surrounded them all around town.

(From left) Kathie Bennewitz, town art curator; English teacher Susan O'Hara, and illustrator Leonard Everett Fisher are eager to tour the show.

(From left) Kathie Bennewitz, town art curator; English teacher Susan O’Hara, and illustrator Leonard Everett Fisher are eager to tour the show.

Susan O’Hara — who teaches the 2 classes that dove into this project — wanted her students to realize the importance of writing about and for their community.

Their work was intense. They explored over 400 works of art in the Permanent Collection. They visited the Yale University Art Gallery and Yale Center for British Art. They met with museum educators.

They organized their final 47 selections into 11 thematic groups. Before writing they interviewed artists, researched scenes they recognized, delved into town history, uncovered documentaries made about local artists, even interviewed art teachers to learn about techniques.

Katharine Ross and Miggs Burroughs -- 2 of the artists featured at Staples High School.

Katharine Ross and Miggs Burroughs — 2 of the artists featured at Staples High School.

Some artists’ names were vaguely familiar to students when they started. Others were completely unknown. Now they are intimate parts of the teens’ lives: Lynsey Addario, Ward Brackett, Miggs Burroughs, Burt Chernow, Ann Chernow, Stevan Dohanos, Leonard Everett Fisher, Isabel Gordon, Robert Lambdin, Howard Munce, Katherine Ross, Tracy Sugarman, Al Willmott, Lucia Nebel White.

Yesterday, many of those artists attended an opening reception for “Strokes of Genius.” They toured the halls, and admired the walls.

They peered in to read what the students had written. Monique Medina, for example, noted that Dohanos’ downtown scene was called “Crisis on Main Street” not only because a little girl’s ice cream cone was dripping; more ominously, World War II loomed.

Amy Perelberg described Willmott’s drawing of the Compo Beach playground as conveying not just the relaxing, light spirit of the shore, but also representing colors that make our entire town brighter.

90-year-old Lucia Nebel White and Linda Gramatky Smith -- daughter of the "Little Toot" artist -- admire Al Willmott's Compo Beach playground painting.

90-year-old Lucia Nebel White and Linda Gramatky Smith — daughter of the “Little Toot” artist — admire Al Willmott’s Compo Beach playground painting.

In our security-conscious world, Westporters can’t just stroll into Staples to see this great show. However, in October — as part of the 20th anniversary of the Westport Art Awards — the public can tour it.

An online version is being developed, so the project will live on once the show closes in December.

Just as — thanks in part to Susan O’Hara and her multi-dimensional sophomore students — Westport’s arts heritage continues to live.

Staples principal John Dodig uses his iPhone's QR code reader to listen to audio commentary on Stevan Dohanos' "Crisis on Main Street."

Staples principal John Dodig uses his iPhone’s QR code reader to listen to audio commentary on Stevan Dohanos’ “Crisis on Main Street.”

Saving Mr. Staples

For a 208-year-old guy, Horace Staples looks pretty good.

Some say he’s never looked better.

For years his portrait — painted in 1934 by Samuel Brown, as a WPA project — hung in a deserted corner of the school he founded.

When the new building — a gazillion square feet larger than the one he donated in 1884 — opened a few years ago, Horace Staples was placed in a prominent spot. He smiled enigmatically — a philanthropic version of the Mona Lisa — right outside the main office.

Earlier this year, principal John Dodig — who loves the school as much as Horace did — noticed the founder was flaking. In fact, his paint had begun deteriorating in his “youth.” Previous conservation treatments failed.

Horace Staples, before undergoing treatment…

Dodig notified Carole Erger Fass, co-chair of the Westport Schools Permanent Art Collection. She and co-chair Kathie Bennewitz called Peggy Van Witt, an art conservator in Kansas City.

Peggy, a former Westporter, had recently conserved the damaged portrait of another, equally famous school namesake: Edward T. Bedford. She was happy to help. Off Horace Staples went, to the Midwest.

Peggy unpacked him, and was not pleased.

“I just removed Mr. Staples from the box, and examined him closely,” she wrote to the WSPAC. “He is severely delaminating.”

Doesn’t it suck to delaminate?

“In a previous restoration the tacking edges were trimmed,” she explained. “He was glued to a panel which was then nailed to a stretcher bar. This makes it more complicated.”

Peggy had 2 choices: “inject him with an adhesive from the front, or remove him from the panel and put him on the vacuum table.” She ran a battery of tests, then treated him.

…and Horace Staples today.

Soon — all spiffed up — Mr. Staples was back in Westport. Once again, he hangs proudly outside the main office.

And — just like Horace Staples 128 years ago — Peggy Van Witt is a very generous soul.

She waived her $1,247 conservation treatment fee.

All of Westport — and the no longer delaminating or flaking Horace Staples — thank her.

Honoring Permanent Art

Giants of the Blues — Westport artist Eric von Schmidt’s sprawling, 7-canvas work chronicling the roots of American music — should hang in the Smithsonian.

Instead, it graces the Staples auditorium foyer.

Westport artist Stevan Dohanos's Saturday Evening Post cover -- part of the Schools Permanent Art Collection -- has special significance.  The models were all Staples students.

Westport artist Stevan Dohanos's Saturday Evening Post cover -- part of the Westport Schools Permanent Art Collection -- has special significance. The models were all Staples students.

And that powerful piece is just 1 of over 1,000 paintings, sketches, cartoons, busts, murals and photos that fill the classrooms, hallways, offices and conference rooms of every Westport school and public building.  For 4 1/2 decades the Westport Schools Permanent Art Collection has brought art into children’s lives, while paying homage to our town’s rich art history.

Now, the Westport Historical Society returns the favor.  Starting this weekend, and running through the end of the year, the WHS will showcase the collection, with a pair of shows.  Special treasures will be shown in the Betty & Ralph Sheffer Main Gallery, while cartoons and comic strips grace the Little Gallery.

An opening reception is set for this afternoon, from 3-5 p.m.

The Westport Schools Permanent Art Collection began modestly.  In 1964 Green’s Farms Elementary School art teacher Burt Chernow asked a few local artists to donate works.  Ben Shahn gave a pencil sketch — and the rest is history.

Westporter Curt Swan drew the "Superman" comics for many years.  This illustration is part of the Westport Schools Permanent Art Collection.

Westporter Curt Swan drew the "Superman" comics for many years. This illustration is part of the Westport Schools Permanent Art Collection.

Today’s 1,000-plus artworks include paintings by Pablo Picasso, Alexander Calder, Robert Motherwell and Christo.  There are cartoons by Charles Schulz, Al Capp, Whitney Darrow, Dik Browne, Mel Casson and Mort Walker, and photos by George Silk, Alfred Eisenstaedt, Philippe Halsman and Victor Keppler.

Over 150 local artists, past and present, are well represented.

The collection is curated by a committee of dedicated volunteers — including the indefatigable Mollie Donovan, who signed on 45 years ago expecting to work for a month or two, plus an an energetic group of young mothers.  The group collects, studies, catalogs and displays the work — and keeps all artwork up to date on a computer database.

The Westport Schools Permanent Arts Collection is such an ingrained part of our town, we don’t even think about it.  But we should.

The next time you’re in a school — or the library, Town Hall, or even Red Cross headquarters — look at the art that surrounds you.  Admire it; think about it — and understand how it got there.

Then, sometime between today and the end of the year, wander over to the Historical Society and check out the exhibits.  Forty-five years ago, Burt Chernow’s wanted to expose children to art.  Today, every Westporter is enriched by his vision.

Westport artist Hardie Gramatky donated this "Little Toot" book cover to the Westport Schools Permanent Art Collection.

Westport artist Hardie Gramatky donated this "Little Toot" book cover to the Westport Schools Permanent Art Collection in honor of beloved Green's Farms teacher Lucy Gorham.