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Woog's World / Is Westport still an artists' colony -- or not?

Updated 4:33 pm, Thursday, September 26, 2013
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A number of people liked my "Woog's World" column two weeks ago. They called it an intriguing look back at Westport's fabled past as an artists' colony, with honest insights into why we can no longer claim that mantle.

Others did not like it at all.

Ann Chernow -- a longtime working artist -- wrote, "If you've seen Martin West's films `A Gathering of Glory' and `Years in the Making,' you've seen how intense and fine those artists are. Many of them express feelings about community."

Chernow noted that when the Board of Education reclaimed Green's Farms Elementary School from the Westport Arts Center -- where a number of artists worked -- many painters, illustrators and sculptors added studios to their homes or properties.

Some took on debt and mortgages so they could stay here.

Chernow took issue with my characterization of those studios as being located in "basements and yards." They are, she said, "really fine, working studios."

I know they are. I've been in them. They're testaments to artists fulfilling their passions -- wherever their studios are located.

Chernow added, "Our art scene includes the wonderful Westport Schools Permanent Arts Collection in every building. This gives students the opportunity to live with `real' art, and has changed the lives of many students."

Chernow also praised Kathie Bennewitz, Westport's first art curator. "What other town around here HAS an art curator?" Chernow asked. "That's an amazing addition to this community."

Proving that Westport remains filled with working artists, Chernow sent a list. She knows it's not complete.

But here are just a few of the men and women creating art (and taking artistic photographs) every day here: Miggs Burroughs, Serge and Marina Clement, Alberta Cifolelli, Leonard Everett Fisher, Kristin Fox, Steffi Friedman, Barbara Gray, Niki Ketchman, Helen During Klisser, Roe Halper, Sue Malloy, Norma Minkowitz, Howard Munce, Philis Raskind, Charles Reid, Naney and Dale Reinker, Katherine Ross, Tom Sachs, Larry Silver, Larry Untermeyer, Ed Vebell and Jean Woodham.

I know some of these artists. I wish I knew more. Their work is outstanding. In some cases, it is internationally renowned. They make us all proud.

Chernow also includes writers. After all, they're artists too. (Hey, I'm an artist. Who knew?)

The list includes Sari Bodi, Ina Chadwick, Susan Granger, Jane Green, Susan Goodell, Woody Klein, Carol Mack, Judith Marks-White, Andra Vebell, Mary Lou Weisman and Hans Wilhelm -- plus "many more."

Actors and directors? Gary Betsworth, Scott Bryce, Patsy Englund, Cindy Gibb, Fred Hellerman, Jim Mapes, Jim Naughton (and family), Barbara Rhoades, Carole Schweid,

The musicians' list includes Robin Batteau, Frederic Chiu, Paul Alan Levi, Melissa Newman, Leslie Orofino, Igor Pikayzen, Constantine Popescue, Emilie Roberts, Fran Southworth, Cathy Waldman, Jens Wendelboe and countless others.

Chernow gave me props for mentioning the series of events planned throughout October, celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Westport Arts Awards.

But referring back to her list -- which she said could be multiplied "maybe tenfold or more" -- she chastised me for "implying there isn't an art scene here."

I'm sorry if Chernow got that impression.

As an artist myself -- that's Chernow speaking, not me -- I know that Westport is filled with creative, expressive men and women.

I am proud our school system not only encourages, but nurtures, young artists, with a wide array of courses, a very professional and dedicated staff, and a series of programs that celebrate every conceivable form of artistry.

But I differ with Chernow's characterization of my characterization of Westport.

The point I tried to make was that we no longer have the sensibility of an "artists' colony."

I wrote that virtually no young artists live here: "It's hard these days for anyone to afford to be here, let alone `rising artists' in their 20s and early 30s."

I said that the writers who lived here, and occasionally used Westport as inspirations, have not been replaced by a new generation. It's the same, I wrote, for actors and dancers.

It all comes down, I guess, to whether having working artists (and writers and musicians) in town is the same as calling it an "artists' colony." That phrase, to me, means an environment in which artists of all ages work, collaborate, socialize, and influence all the non-artists around them.

We were an artists' colony when artists (of all types) flocked here to live among other artists.

We were an artists' colony when Famous Artists, Writers and Photographers Schools were headquartered here -- because, after all, this was where the famous artists, writers and photographers were.

Are we an artists' colony today? I don't think so, but maybe.

Yet check the ages of the artists on Ann Chernow's list. We may not be one for long.

Dan Woog is a Westport writer, and his "Woog's World" appears each Friday. He can be reached at dwoog@optonline.net. His personal blog is www.danwoog06880.