Tag Archives: WestportREADS

Kings Highway’s “Masterpiece”

Much of the town just finished WestportREADS. This year’s novel — “Exit West” by Mohsin Hamid — focused on 2 refugees who, against all odds, find life and love on the run.

A great book — but a bit much for elementary school readers.

No problem. Kings Highway just finished something very similar.

Everyone in school — all grade levels — read “Masterpiece,” Elise Broach’s mystery novel about friendship and stolen art.

Entire families were encouraged to read together at night. There were school-wide assemblies and online activities. Teachers recorded chapters on computers, so youngsters could listen at home or in the car.

There was a surprise ending: Broach herself showed up, to read the final chapter to students.

Author Elise Broach reads to Kings Highway Elementary School students.

It was a fun project for everyone. But then they took things a step further.

The school’s motto is “Kindness Happens at our School.” (The acronym is KHS — get it?!)

So when they were done, the kids donated their “gently loved” copies to the James J. Curiale School in Bridgeport. Now everyone there is doing the same school-wide reading too.

One book. Two schools. Too cool!

A bulletin board shows some of the many ways Kings Highway students read “Masterpiece.”

(Hat tip: Lauren Turner)

Pic Of The Day #681

WestportREADS ended a few days ago. But for 2 months folks of all ages read, discussed, thought about and grew through “Exit West,” Mohsin Hamid’s novel about 2 refugees who, against all odds, find life and love on the run. (Photo/Westport Library)

The Immigrant Experience Comes Home

As Americans debate a slew of important items, immigration stands at the top of any list.

Here in Westport, we’re far removed from our southern border. The Wall is an abstraction — not a reality — to most of us.

But — for one reason or another — the immigrant experience resonates with nearly every Westporter.

This month, several events shine historical, artistic, literary and nuanced lights on a variety of immigration stories.

On Friday, January 18 (6 to 8 p.m.), Saugatuck Congregational Church opens an intriguing exhibit.

“Art Across Borders” features the work of 18 area artists, from Guatemala, Uruguay, Colombia, Venezuela and Peru. All migrated to the US. Each will share his or her own story, through art. The bold, emotional exhibit is curated by Rene Soto, owner of a gallery with the same name in South Norwalk.

One of the pieces on display at the Saugatuck Church — by Jose Munoz, from Guatelama.

“Lots of people come to the US — and to this area — for better lives,” says Saugatuck Church Arts Committee member Priscilla Long. “And many of those people express themselves through art.”

Saugatuck Church has long been concerned with social justice. This show is a natural outgrowth of that commitment. The exhibit will remain up for a month. Click here or call 203-227-1261 for more information.

The following week, a different house of worship offers a different program, on a different immigrant experience.

In June 0f 1939, over 900 Jewish refugees escaping Nazi terror on the SS St. Louis were within sight of Florida. Heartbreakingly, they were denied safe haven by Secretary of State Cordell Hull. Canada also refused entry.

Jewish refugees aboard the SS St. Louis.

The captain returned the ship to Europe, where countries including Belgium, the Netherlands, the UK and France accepted some refugees. Many, however, were later caught in Nazi roundups of Jews in occupied countries. Historians estimate that a quarter died in death camps during World War II

Three passengers who survived — Judith Steel, Sonja Geismar and Eva Wiener — will be in Westport on Thursday, January 24. At 7 p.m., Chabad on Newtown Turnpike will screen “Complicit” — a film about the SS St. Louis’ ill-fated journey. The trio will participate in a post-film Q-and-A, led by its creator/producer Robert Krakow.

Click here for more information. Tickets are $25 for adults, $18 for students.

Meanwhile, all month long — and into February — the Westport Library sponsors WestportREADS. This year’s book is Exit West. Novelist Mohsin Hamid follows 2 refugees who — against all odds — find life and love while fleeing civil war.

WestportREADS activities include book discussions, a conversation with migration experts, art exploration, world dance instruction, storytelling, music, genealogy research, and a presentation by a Syrian refugee family sponsored by members of the Westport community.

Click here for a complete calendar, and full details.

What’s Your Immigrant Story?

Unless you’re an original Pequot*, every Westporter is an immigrant.

Each of us has a story about how our family got to this country.

Tomorrow — and twice more next month — you can tell yours.

As part of this year’s WestportREADS — the selection is Exit West by Mohsin Hamid, an award-winning novel about 2 refugees who find life and love on the run — the Westport Library and Westport Historical Society are collaborating on an exhibit.

“Liberty to Set Down: Immigrants and Migrants in Westport, Connecticut” will be displayed at the WHS from January 23 to June 30.

But to do that, they need us to provide stories, pictures and artifacts.

They’ll be collected — and images and physical objects can be scanned — tomorrow (Thursday, December 27) from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the Historical Society on Avery Place.

The other dates are Saturday, January 12 (11 a.m. to 2 p.m., Westport Library) and Wednesday, January 16 (10 a.m. to noon, Senior Center).

Everyone has a story. Don’t miss this opportunity to share yours!

* And even then, you came from Siberia.

Friday Flashback #80

The other day, “06880” celebrated the end of WestportREADS — this year’s book explored World War I — and the 100th anniversary of the “Great War” armistice with a story on military contributions of Westport artists a century ago.

This photo did not make it into the story. But it provides a fascinating peek into a local link between two wars that, today, we think of as completely distinct from each other.

As the caption notes, the photo above shows “soldiers, sailors and veterans from World War I and the Civil War.” They posed together on “Welcome Home Day.”

Three Westport Civil War veterans were there: James H. Sowle, Christopher Tripp and Edwin Davis. Sowle — in the 2nd full row, 2nd from right — presented medals to the newest veterans.

Three things strike me as noteworthy.

First, for a small town, the number of men serving seems remarkable.

Second, though Westport was still a small town in 1918, much had changed in the more than half century since the War Between the States.

Third, 50 years after this photo was taken, American would have fought — and helped win — World War II. We fought to a standstill in Korea. And then got mired in Vietnam.

There would be no more “Welcome Home Day” ceremonies then.

(Hat tip: Kathie Motes Bennewitz)

100 Years After The “Great War,” Remembering Great Artists Who Served

The page has turned on this year’s WestportREADS.  

This year’s program — in which the entire town is encouraged to read the same book, then participate in discussions, lectures, videos and more — focused on “Regeneration.” Pat Barker’s historical fiction features a British officer who refuses to continue serving during the “senseless slaughter” of World War I.

The novel inspired Kathie Motes Bennewitz to do some digging.

The town arts curator knew that when “The Great War” began, Westport was already a thriving arts colony. 

What, she wondered, was the connection between local artists and World War I? Kathie writes:

Over 220 Westport men fought in the US armed forces. Many were “doughboys,” a nickname given to soldiers in the American Expeditionary Forces.

We know from wartime draft records the names of many artists who lived here in 1917, as every man ages 18-45 was required to register. Among the residents were Karl Anderson, Edmund M. Ashe, E. F. Boyd, Robert Leftwitch Dogde, Arthur Dove, Ernest Fuhr, Ossip Linde, Lawrence Mazzanovich, Henry Raleigh, Clive Weed and George Hand Wright.

While Ashe, Mazzanovich and Dodge registered as national guardsmen with the Connecticut Militia, many others were too old to do so. So they used their talents to serve the home front in other ways.

Editorial cartoonist Clive Weed, a summer resident since 1910, made spirited illustrations on wartime events, like this one: “He Might Be YOUR Boy,” for the Philadelphia Public Ledger.

George Hand Wright drew similar illustrations.

Other Westporters — including Ashe, Boyd, Fuhr, Raleigh and Wright — created graphic posters to recruit servicemen and nurses, or urge citizens to purchase Liberty Bonds to finance the war. One example is Ashe’s “Lend the Way They Fight” (below), which shows an American infantryman hurling a hand grenade at German soldiers in a trench on the western front of France.

Hundreds of posters like this were made, raising $21.5 billion for the war effort. Here’s one from Raleigh:

In August 1918 — only months before the war ended — Anderson joined creative and patriotic forces with his Westport neighbors Mazzanovich and Linde to paint a billboard advertising war stamps, in downtown Bridgeport. The trio were filmed in action by the government for a newsreel, which was shown in movie houses nationwide.

When the war ended, younger artists flocked to Westport.

Kerr Eby, James Daugherty, and Ralph Boyer and his future wife Rebecca A. Hunt had each served as camoufleurs. They painted camouflage — a novel and demanding job.

Eby — assigned to the Camouflage Division of the US. Army 40th Engineers, Artillery Brigade in France — had it the hardest. Working on the front, he produced camouflage for artillery and troops. He also made drawings of the horrific images he witnessed on the battlefield.

Boyer and his art school friend Daugherty were both assigned to Baltimore for another important job: to execute “dazzle” painting designed to protect Navy vessels from enemy site and fire.

This new art involved painting abstract murals on ships that would soon be loaded with troops and ammunition. Swinging from a bosun’s seat, the artist la­id the design on the side. A gang of painters followed rapidly behind, cutting in the geometric pattern with precision.

USS Leviathan in “dazzle” camouflage, 1918.

“The result was supposed to confuse and befuddle the German submarine gunner,” Daughtery said. “It could hardly do less.”

Of course, Westport’s most enduring legacy of World War I is the Doughboy statue at Veterans Green, across from Town Hall. Bennewitz explains:

Sculptor J. Clinton Shepherd was another wartime camoufleur. He served in the Illinois National Reserve and Air Corps. When he moved to Westport in 1925, the town had voted to erect a monument to honor its soldiers and nurses, who had returned from the front, and memorialize the 7 who had died.

In 1928 Shepherd received the commission. He sensitively rendered a life-sized soldier “with a pensive expression to memorialize the personal side of that ‘war to end all wars.'”

Dedication of the Doughboy statue in 1930. It was located on the grass median dividing the Post Road, between what is now Torno Lumber and the former Bertucci’s restaurant. This view looks east. The statue was moved in the 1980s to its current location opposite Town Hall (below).

(Photo/Seth Schachter)

Veterans Reflect On War — And Peace

Westport is awash in war stories.

This year’s WestportREADS library book — “Regeneration” — shines a light on a British officer’s refusal to continue serving during the “senseless slaughter” of World War I.

On January 28, the Westport Historical Society opens an exhibit honoring Ed Vebell. Now 96, the longtime resident was a noted illustrator during World War II. He’s drawn and written about the military ever since.

World Wars I and II — and Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan — come together at the WHS on Sunday, February 4 (3 p.m.). “On the Front: Veterans Reflections” offers insights into how war affects people, communities — and the peacetime that follows.

A panel of veterans — from World War II on — will provide their thoughts. But, says WHS education and programs director Nicole Carpenter — the hope is for plenty of questions and interactivity.

Ed Vebell is one of Westport’s honored — and few remaining — World War II veterans. Last May, he was grand marshal of the Memorial Day ceremonies.

“Obviously, the Historical Society’s mission is to remember where we’ve been,” she says. “But veterans are an important part of America today. Every discussion we have — whether it’s about foreign policy, healthcare, whatever — involves veterans.”

This is a poignant time in history, she notes. “We’re losing World War II veterans every day. We need to hear their voices before they’re gone.”

She hopes people will ask provocative questions — leading to an “open, progressive discussion.”

That’s important. After all, it’s what every veteran in history fought to protect.

WestportREADS “Regeneration”

The Westport Library has kicked off its annual WestportREADS program. This year’s book is “Regeneration” — Pat Barker’s historical fiction about a British officer who refuses to continue serving during the “senseless slaughter” of World War I.

It’s a complex novel, exploring the effect of the war on identity, masculinity and social structure. There’s lots to dig into, and the library has created a number of events based on the book.

For example, next Saturday (January 13, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.) is Digitization Day. Area residents can bring World War I keepsakes — your grandfather’s photo album; a stack of letters found in your great-grandmother’s attic; anything else like medals, keepsakes or objects — to the library.

They’ll be scanned or photographed by library staff members, as both a permanent record and to help create a profile of the World War I-era person you want to remember.

On Sunday, January 28 (2 p.m., Saugatuck Congregational Church) the West Point Glee Club performs music from World War I. Some may be familiar (“Over There”). But much will not.

Other organizations are involved too. One of the most intriguing is a collaboration with the Westport Arts Center and Westport Arts Advisory Committee.

On Thursday, February 1 (7 p.m., Westport Arts Center), the 3 groups sponsor a poetry event.

The assassination of Archduke Ferdinand (shown here with his family) helped set in motion events that led to World War I. Poets are invited to consider history — and current events — for the upcoming Westport Arts Center project.

Adults and high school students are invited to submit poetry, on broad themes: your interpretation of history, our current times, or the challenges we all face. Poets selected will read their work publicly.

The event is part of the WAC’s current exhibition, Ward Shelley’s “What Keeps Mankind Alive.” It features paintings that reveal how we all create narratives and stories to explain the world around us.

The deadline for submissions is Sunday, January 21. Click here for more information.

And on Saturday, February 10 (4 p.m., Westport Town Hall) the library partners with the Westport Cinema Initiative for a screening of “Letters From Baghdad.” The documentary tells the story of Gertrude Bell, a British spy and explorer who helped shape the modern Middle East after World War I in ways that reverberate today. Click here for tickets.

For a full list of WestportREADS activities, click here.

Julia Child, Manny Margolis And Joe McCarthy…

The Westport Library has selected the book for January’s “WestportReads” townwide program.

My Life in FranceIt’s My Life in France, by Julia Child and Alex Prud’homme. As usual, there will be creative tie-ins beyond “book talks.” Things like cooking demonstrations, recipe sharing, and Westporters’ recollections of Child’s impact on their lives.

There will also be a discussion of the McCarthy-era blacklist.

The reason is that Child’s husband, Paul, was investigated for “anti-American activity.” None was found, and he was allowed to keep his job.

Manny Margolis was not so lucky.

In 1947, he was a World War II veteran studying at the all-white, all-male University of North Carolina. A group of black students working on a voter registration drive needed a place to sleep. Manny got a nearby church to donate their basement. Then he organized a group of veterans — in uniform — to stay up all night. They made sure the Ku Klux Klan did not attack the group.

Four years later, Margolis was a Ph.D. student in international law at Harvard. He wanted to work for the State Department. But his mentor told him there were no Jews there. So Margolis got a job teaching international law at the University of Connecticut. He quickly became a very popular, and highly respected, instructor.

But the House Un-American Activities Committee sent representatives to the UConn president. They handed him a list with 4 names. “Fire them,” they said.

He did.

Margolis decided to become a lawyer. He called Yale, and asked where he could take the LSATs. The man on the phone recognized his now-notorious name. “You’re Manny Margolis?” he asked. “You’re in!”

Manny Margolis

Manny Margolis

Margolis graduated from law school in 1956. He dedicated his life to defending the 1st Amendment, civil liberties and civil rights. In 1971 — while living in Westport — he argued (and won) a Supreme Court case on behalf of Timothy Breen, a Staples High School graduate who had lost his student deferment after protesting the Vietnam War.

Estelle Margolis — Manny’s widow — plans to tell his blacklisting story in January, as part of WestportReads.

The library hopes other Westporters will too. If you’ve got a tale to tell like Margolis’ — or Julia Child’s husband — email mparmelee@westportlibrary.org.

It’s a “recipe” for a fascinating — and important — discussion.

Party Like A Gatsby

If you weren’t at Gerry Kuroghlian’s fascinating talk about F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald’s time in Westport last Saturday — well, the event was last Saturday; they were here in 1920 — you were not alone.

F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald slept -- and partied -- here.

F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald slept — and partied — here.

The only folks who heard the beloved former Staples English teacher were the lucky 20 whose names were drawn after attending WestportREADS events all last month. (The book WestportREADS read was The Great Gatsby. The talk was held in the actual home the Fitzgeralds lived in during their wild time here.)

In addition to snapshots of Westport back in the day — most of the town was farmland, Saugatuck was an isolated area populated by immigrants, Green’s Farms was the wealthiest part of town — “Dr. K” painted a vivid picture of Westport’s wild side.

  • A Marmon.

    A Marmon.

    In the summer of 1920, Scott and Zelda put most of their money into a 1917 Marmon. They set out on a drive to the country, even though neither of them had had driving lessons. They stopped in Rye, but Zelda didn’t like it. So they headed for Lake Champlain, stopping in Westport for lunch. With Zelda at the wheel they crashed into a fire plug on Main Street, near what is now Onion Alley. The car was gutted.

  • They ended up living for a few months at 244 Compo Road South. Built in 1758, it was known as a “Switch House” — a switching station for people coming from downtown by trolley to switch to another trolley to get to the beach. Obviously, if you’d just gutted your car…
  • F. Scott and Zelda partied hard, hitting all of the speakeasies around. (There were plenty.) Their favorite drink was orange juice and gin.

Kuroghlian said that Fitzgerald’s books The Beautiful and the Damned and The Great Gatsby were heavily influenced by his time in Westport. The house was strong enough to withstand huge parties, while Westport — which voted against Prohibition — was a perfect place for the hard-living couple.

Great Gatsby partyIf you missed Saturday’s discussion — or any other WestportREADS event — you’ve got one more chance. And this final chapter may be only slightly less crazy than F. Scott and Zelda’s high-flying summer.

This Saturday night, the Westport Library turns into a speakeasy. There will be  swanky gin cocktails (legal, now), live jazz and dancing.

The only way to attend is by registering online (click here). You’ll receive a password to get in.

Guests are encouraged to wear Roaring ’20s garb.

Which, according to some reports, is a lot more than F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald wore to some of their Westport parties.