Art Town: 108 years of art in the library
As our town curator Kathie Bennewitz describes it, in 1912 the Westport Library was the venue for the first women’s suffrage rally, and thanks to the brave women involved, it soon became a forum for new ideas and culture in our town.
Artist’s wives became the leading force in promoting cultural organizations and events, as well as marketing their spouses’ artwork as a means of raising money for worthy causes, including the library. Same as it ever was.
Thanks to these women (some of whom were artists themselves), a tradition of art exhibitions and appreciation at the library began in earnest and continues to this day with important permanent exhibits such as the unique “Black and White Collection,” on display in the Komansky Room, the Trefz Forum, and in the McCall Family Room upstairs. It is comprised of 92 pieces of art donated by local artists, as a tribute to Westport’s renowned arts heritage.
The collection was originally assembled in 1992 on the walls of the McManus Room in the old library, by Leonard Everett Fisher and Howard Munce, after being admonished by Friends of the Library President Shirley Land for the “bare walls” they were forced to look at during their meetings in McManus.
To watch an excellent video about the collection with Munce and Fisher, search YouTube for “Black & White Works on Paper: A Collection by Westport Artists.”
“Westport prides itself on its long history and heritage as an arts town. To support that rich heritage, it was important to me that the Transformed Library provide exposure and create new opportunities for local artists to engage the community in their work,” noted the library’s Executive Director Bill Harmer.
In 2005, Library Programming Director Joan Hume enlisted Chris Timmons to take over curating exhibits on the Riverwalk Level and eventually in the Great Hall as well. By the time Timmons retired in late 2019, she had curated more than 120 exhibits.
Once the building renovation was completed, Timmons oversaw the re-installation of some 165 pieces of art and their rehanging throughout the building, noting that “the old art seemed new again to numerous patrons and brought the place back to life.”
Now. changing exhibits are constantly on display in The Sheffer Room overlooking the Saugatuck River, The South Gallery adjacent to the south entrance, and the Jesup Gallery in the Trefz Forum.
After Timmons retired last year, longtime art committee member and graphic artist Carole Erger-Fass was appointed to take her place. Originally recruited to be on the art committee by Len Fisher, she joined Howard Munce, Neil Hardy, Ellen Naftalin and Joan Miller in sourcing, curating and hanging shows, with Timmons at the helm.
“When Chris decided to retire after the library reopened, I was honored to be asked to take over the reins,” Carole said.
“Westporters are fortunate to be the beneficiaries of this ongoing collaboration of some of our best known artists with our library staff and leadership,” First Selectman Jim Marpe said.
Visit www.westportlibrary.org for current info on library access.
Miggs Burroughs is a lifelong Westport resident and full-time graphic artist since 1972. He is co-founder of The Artists Collective of Westport and a member of the Westport Arts Advisory Committee among other accomplishments.
Ann Chernow has been a Westport resident since 1968. Her artwork has been exhibited locally and worldwide. Chernow is an honorary member of the Artists Collective of Westport, member of the Westport Museum Committee and other arts organizations.