The Woman’s Club’s significant and ongoing support of Westport’s artists continued from the 1920s, and still remains an important aspect of their work.

Early on, many artists contributed their work creating saleable postcards of Westport scenes. The most famous, and now nationally recognized artists like Robert Lambdin, George Hand Wright and John Steuart Curry, as well as scores of others, participated.

A lengthy article from The Norwalk Hour, October 1945, headlined “Woman’s Club Art Plans,” notes a meeting about Westport’s women artists and their upcoming exhibitions. At that meeting it was decided to resume the weekly evening sketch class which had been canceled during World War II, and to launch a ceramics and small sculpture class. The article noted that a small art exhibit would be arranged for each monthly meeting of the Woman’s Club, and that a comprehensive exhibition of Westport artists was in the planning, listing the names of over 100 participating male and female artists, many of whom still worked late into their careers, like Stevan Dohanos, Howard Munce, James Daugherty, Austin Briggs, Ralph Boyer, Arthur Szyk, Vivian Testa and Jane Cukor. These art exhibitions became greatly anticipated annual events.

By 1946, the yearly fun and fundraising event was formally named, “The Yankee Doodle Fair.” When the age of illustration in Westport was golden, prominent artists would create portraits on-the-spot of Westporters, mostly of kids playing at the Fair. These were sold for a dollar apiece, with the proceeds going to charities supported by the Woman’s Club . (The illustration accompanying this article is of co-author, Miggs Burroughs, and was created at the Yankee Doodle Fair in 1956 by artist Tom Lovell.)

In 1955, Bernie Burroughs was president of the Westport Artists Club (the first WAC). They occasionally held meetings and exhibits at the Woman’s Club. The following decades continued the tradition of art and the artists being embraced by the Woman’s Club. The Yankee Doodle Fair, art exhibitions and scholarships all continued, and student participation in the visual arts was strongly encouraged.

In other words, the Westport Woman’s Club support of the visual arts has remained steadfast and true for the last 100 years.

Five years ago, the Woman’s Club’s large auditorium space was transformed into a beautiful and successful art, music and multi-media room, designated as Bedford Hall. Each year since the renovation there have been lectures, art exhibitions, concerts, and other media activities. Birthday celebrations have been held, and a wedding is scheduled!

Due to the current COVID-19 situation, the WWC had to cancel its sixth Annual Art Show which was to be held at the end of April. At this time, work by the participating artists can be virtually accessed.

For further information and to view the online exhibition, go to westportwomansclub.org or email wwc@westportwomansclub.org

Today, the WWC’s civic commitments are constant. For 109 years the WWC has continued the entrepreneurial response to where help is needed. Their dedication to the visual arts is one of the strongest of any organization in Westport. Any woman can join the Club through their website.

Thanks to Dorothy Curran and Kathie Bennewitz for their assistance with the information in this article.

Art Town is a monthly column about the visual arts in Westport. 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 a member of the Westport Arts Center, the Westport Museum Committee and other arts organizations.