Kids at the Westport Historical Society's holiday art class Monday not only expressed creative ideas about civil-rights icon Martin Luther King Jr., but had their vision nurtured by an artist whose original work was displayed in King's home.
Roe Halper, a 52-year resident of Westport, was the guest instructor for youngsters at a King Day workshop Monday morning. Along with encouraging their creativity, Halper shared her experiences of meeting King and his wife, Coretta Scott King, when they came to Westport in 1964.
"Warm, caring," Halper said of the Kings. "I mean, he had a tremendous voice ... but he looked you in the eyes, very warm."
Halper and her husband, Chuck, also visited the Kings' house in Atlanta, Ga. She recalled that it felt homey, with an area devoted to displaying their children's art work.
Halper recalled that during that visit, Coretta King was apologetic because they had both a washing machine and a dishwasher. "'The people we're trying to help ... I don't want to feel that we're better than they are,'" Halper remembered her saying.
The Kings' children still have the three-piece woodblock carving that Halper gave them.
On Monday, Halper spent time teaching a new generation artistic skills. Once again, some of the ideas the Kings espoused were used to motivate the youngsters' creativity.
"I didn't know that he made people not violent," said a 7-year-old named Ruby, 7, of King's message of non-violence. The girl drew a picture of what it might feel like to be denied a seat bus seat because of a person's skin color.
"I really like the bright colors and that makes me feel at peace," she said.
"I think it's fun and interesting, learning about what happened," said Camden Teed, 10.
"I like when she was telling the words and you could draw it, so you could just throw your feelings on the paper," she said.
"She's great," Elizabeth DeVoll, education director at the historical society, said of Halper.
"Westport is full of so many talented, creative people," DeVoll said, adding that she hopes to encourage others to come and share their expertise at future workshops.
"Our youth programs are created to excite our children to learn more about their local history," said Susan Gold, executive director of the historical society, "but also American history that affects them on a larger scale."
"We want to have children be open-minded and curious about their history, to discover more."