Tag Archives: Westport Schools Permanent Arts Collection

Kathie Bennewitz: Westport’s First “Town Curator”

You never know where life will take you.

Who knew, for example, that swimming and lifeguarding would help propel Kathie Bennewitz — 35 years later — to her new position as Westport’s 1st-ever town curator?

Yet that’s what happened, after Kathie Motes moved to Westport in the summer of 1978 — just before her senior year at a new school, Staples High.

Kathie Bennewitz

Kathie Bennewitz

Kathie joined the swim team, took art classes, and befriended Ellise Fuchs, whose father Bernie was a world-famous illustrator. Kathie posed for him, pretending to receive a medal for an Olympic scene.

At Princeton, she majored in art history. “I’m not a fine artist,” she claims. “But I love the process, and the way art reflects who we are.”

One summer, lifeguarding at Compo, she met Scott Bennewitz. He was a beach security guard — and a fellow Princetonian.

They married, and lived in Dallas, Minneapolis and Holland. She’d earned a masters in art history. Everywhere they moved, she worked in museums.

Eight years ago, they came to Westport. Kathie volunteered with the Westport Schools Permanent Art Collection. She says that meeting co-founder Mollie Donovan “changed my life.”

Kathie learned how deep and broad Westport’s arts history is. And she realized the impact of men like John Steuart Curry, and institutions like the Westport Country Playhouse, on this town.

"Blues Piano Players" -- one of the 7 wonderful works by Eric von Schmidt that make up "Birth of the Blues." They hang in the Staples auditorium.

“Blues Piano Players” — one of the 7 wonderful works by Eric von Schmidt that make up “Birth of the Blues.” They hang in the Staples auditorium.

She also met volunteers like Eve Potts — Mollie’s sister. “Their commitment, passion and enthusiasm for this town, and its arts community, is infectious,” Kathie says.

She worked professionally at Greenwich’s Bush-Holley House and the Fairfield Museum. A year ago, she became an independent curator.

She also was appointed tri-chair of the Permanent Art Collection, and served on the Westport Arts Advisory Committee. The 2 organizations gave her a broad perspective on the arts here.

So, when a group of people — including Ann Sheffer, David Rubinstein, Leslie Greene, Carole Erger-Fass and Joan Miller — floated the idea of a town curator, she was intrigued.

So was First Selectman Gordon Joseloff. “We already have a town historian, Allen Raymond,” Kathie notes. “This is a natural counterpoint.”

The doughboy statue on Veteran's Green is part of Westport's art and sculpture collection.

The doughboy statue on Veteran’s Green is part of Westport’s art and sculpture collection.

In her new post, she’s responsible for advising the town on the care of its art and sculpture collection. Westport owns several hundred works of art, displayed in Town Hall, the Senior Center, Parks & Rec headquarters — even the Fire Department. Statues include the Minuteman and Doughboy on Veterans Green.

Kathie will also serve as liaison to the 1,100-piece Permanent Art Collection, and the Westport Library, with its own murals, paintings and illustrations.

“So many other communities lose their treasures,” she says. “But thanks to Burt and Ann Chernow, and so many others, we have ours. They’ve created a platform we can spring off of, and do even more.”

That “more” includes plenty. Kathie envisions self-guided tours of the schools’ collections. A “museum on the street,” with Howard Munce’s Remarkable Book Shop work displayed outside that old store (most recently Talbots). Robert Lambdin’s “Battle of Compo” mounted near the cannons.

She’ll be involved in the rehanging of art at Town Hall — something last done in 1976.

Kathie would also like to open up hard-to-see parts of the town’s art collection — like the amazing fire station mural — to the public.

“Pageant of Juvenile Literature” — a 1934 work by Robert Lambdin — hangs in the Westport Library’s Great Hall. This is part of that mural.

“Pageant of Juvenile Literature” — a 1934 work by Robert Lambdin — hangs in the Westport Library’s Great Hall. This is part of that mural.

She is eager to get started. But she won’t be alone.

“I’m a team player. I enjoy working with people in groups. We need everyone’s help.”

Among those helping: Marie-Neloise Egipto, a Staples senior who will do her spring internship with the Permanent Art Collection.

“I’m honored to serve the town,” Kathie says. “This is different from the other positions I’ve held. It really validates all the decades of work done by the Mollies, the Eves and the Anns who have advocated for, and celebrated, our arts community and legacy.

“Very few communities have the public, school and library collections that we do. Westport should be very, very proud.”

Just as we all should be proud that Kathie Bennewitz is our 1st-ever “town curator.”

Deck The Halls With Westport Artwork

In 1964, Green’s Farms Elementary School art teacher Burt Chernow donated 100 works — from friends and fellow artists — to the Westport schools.

He envisioned a “museum without walls” where youngsters were surrounded by a visually stimulating arts environment — a part of their daily lives.

Today, the Westport Schools Permanent Art Collection includes over 1,000 paintings, drawings, cartoons, photographs and sculptures.

It’s hung in hallways and offices of every building. It’s available to teachers and students, for integration into lesson plans, presentations and projects.

Stevan Dohanos' "Christmas in Westport" is one of many local works in the Permanent Arts Collection.

Stevan Dohanos’ “Christmas in Westport” is one of many local works in the Permanent Arts Collection.

There are Miros and Picassos, Christos and Warhols. There’s Stevan Dohanos’ famed “Westport Post Office at Christmas”; Mort Walker’s Beetle Bailey comic strip, and good ol’ Horace Staples.

The collection is the envy of museum curators and directors, who only wish they had the works Westport has — and the halls, walls and classrooms of our schools to display them.

Green's Farms School is filled with works from the permanent collection.

Green’s Farms Elementary School is filled with works from the permanent collection.

Of course, it takes money to maintain this wonderful collection. And though we’re all besieged by end-of-the-year pleas to fund worthy causes, this is a great time to ask for donations.

Susan Malloy and Ann Sheffer — longtime Westport arts patrons and philanthropists — have offered a $5,000 matching grant.

Horace Staples hangs outside the main office of the school that bears his name -- though usually without a Christmas hat.

Horace Staples hangs outside the main office of the school that bears his name — though usually without a Christmas hat.

Chances are, you’ve wandered through Westport schools, and wondered about the intriguing artwork that seems to be everywhere you look.

Now that you know where it comes from, and how it gets there, why not do your part to make sure it stays there.

(Checks made payable to “Westport Schools Permanent Arts Collection” can be sent to Linda Gramatky Smith, 60 Roseville Rd., Westport, CT 06880. To donate via credit card, send card number, expiration date, street address and phone number to Linda Smith; she will call you to finish processing the donation.  Questions?  Email kmbennewitz@gmail.com or LinKen2467@aol.com, or call 203-227-5203).

22 ½ Main Street: The Sequel

This morning’s post on 22 ½ Main Street unleashed a torrent of interesting comments on the undocumented history of blacks in Westport.

It also brought this painting:

An accompanying note from alert “06880” reader Carole Erger-Fass says:

This painting by J. Clinton Shepherd is in the Westport Schools Permanent Arts Collection.

According to Mollie Donovan it was painted during the time he lived in Westport with his family, from the mid 1920s to the late ’30s. In our catalog it is called “The Waffle Shop,” but in the Westport Historical Society post in 2004 for Black History Month it was called “Main Street.”

Maybe your readers will remember the place?

The painting actually spells it “Waffle Shoppe.”

And J. Clinton Shepherd was more than a talented painter in Westport’s artists’ colony.

He also sculpted the doughboy statue that was dedicated on November 11, 1930. It stands now on Veterans Green, opposite Town Hall — just a few yards from long-forgotten 22 ½ Main Street.