A gift to Westport that was Years in the Making
During a reception held at Green's Farms Elementary School, representatives from the schools, libraries, historical societies and arts organizations, such as the Westport Permanent Art Collection, were on hand to congratulate the production team.
The documentary, called Years in the Making, the brainchild of Chernow, a local artist, originated four years ago when she realized that renowned artists living in Westport were perishing without there being a permanent record of their creative thought processes, inspirations and craftsmanship for future generations.
Four years later, a film documentary and a set of 50 DVDs, is available to the public to use for educational, historical and artistic purposes.
"These archives can be used by the schools' teachers -- art teachers, history and English," Chernow said during the reception. "They don't have to be shown all at once. A teacher could review them and present excerpts to their class."
Chernow added that she would be happy to assist educators in learning how they could incorporate the film's information into their curriculum.
"These are extraordinary people," Chernow noted. "Everyone is different and their art is very different."
The DVDs offer not only a biographical sketch of each artist but, perhaps more importantly, show the artists at work.
Kristen Rasich Fox, one of the interviewers, described the artists' studios as their "inner sanctum." She felt privileged to discuss what they create and how they create it.
However, the team, which also included interviewer Ada Lambert, realized from the onset the magnanimous scope of the project.
As director, West's passion for archiving Westport's history, especially its longstanding reputation as an artist's colony, is evident. Calling this the "most important project I've ever undertaken," West espoused a commitment to archiving as a way for future generations to know and understand the town's rich history.
"This is what drove me for the months and months and months I worked on it, sitting in front of the editing screen," he said, smiling.
In the past, people could only read about, see photographs of and view art in person. However, in Years in the Making there is a sense of what the artist is feeling and seeing as he or she creates a body of work.
The documentary is currently being viewed -- and has won two top prizes -- at independent film festivals, including the Connecticut Film Festival in Danbury.
Plans are underway for it to be available on public television stations throughout the United States and at the Smithsonian Institute.
Longtime Westport resident and artist Roe Halper said that she appreciated the archives on both a professional and personal level.
"For me, as an artist, I was delighted to be interviewed and show my work. However, personally, this is also a way for me to leave a legacy to my offspring," Halper explained.
In fact, she was so enthusiastic about the project that when she first heard about it, Halper asked Chernow if she could be included, even though she was only 69 years old at the time.
Halper said that she moved to town in 1960 because of Westport's reputation as a community of artists. "I wanted to be part of it," she said.
Enid Munroe, another artist interviewed, also said that she moved to Westport in the mid-1950s because of its connection to the arts.
"We followed friends here from New York, but I knew it was an artist's colony. The artists were here."
Describing Chernow as a "visionary," Munroe noted that she has never seen anyone pursue such an important project as "simply a goodwill gesture."
"She and Martin were always on top of everything," Munroe said.
She also praised the project's collaborators, Fox and Lambert.
"They couldn't have done it without them. They were all a fabulous team," Munroe added.
First Selectman Gordon Joseloff gratefully accepted the gift, saying that he too shared a passion for archiving Westport's history. He also suggested that each school purchase a DVD player so that the archives could be viewed despite future advancements in technology.
Donovan said, "Thank you Years in the Making committee, for not only realizing that Years in the Making had an important story to tell but then finding the funding, writing the script, producing Years in the Making and then gifting it back to Westport and Weston for their archives."