Art Town: Where to find Depression-era artworks around Westport
With families to support during the Great Depression, many Westport artists generated necessary income with projects for the Works Project Administration, which provided economic relief for unemployed citizens including artists.
Over the decades Westport’s numerous WPAworks from the early 1930s were removed from their original sites — some lost, some destroyed, and some badly in need of restoration.
In the 1970s, Westport residents Eve Potts and Mollie Donovan searched throughout schools and town buildings, using early location records of the WPA murals as a guide. And they rediscovered many. Through efforts by the Westport WPA Art Rescue Committee (a subcommittee of today’s Westport Public Art Collections) and generous donations from organizations and individuals, those newly found murals were conserved, re-hung and rededicated.
Eight murals are in Westport public school buildings for students to enjoy just as they were originally intended. Today, due to security protocols, public access is limited. However, when attending public performances at Staples High School, you can view Robert Lambdin’s “Pageant of Juvenile Literature” in the lobby of auditorium/theater.
Other murals accessible to the public are:
Town Hall (auditorium lobby): Robert Lambdin’s “Spirit of Adventure
Town Hall (third floor hallway): Howard Heath’s “Westport Organized, 1835-1935”
Town Hall (first floor hallway near the Community Theatre): Howard Heath’s “Administration of a Community.”
Town Hall (first floor hallway near the Town Clerk’s office): Arthur Elder’s “Historical Map of Westport and Greens Farms, 1635-1935.”
Westport’s central fire station on the Post Road: Ralph Boyer’s “History of Fire” series.
Often mistaken for WPA art, most murals in post offices were executed by artists working for a division of the government administered by the Treasury Department.
In Connecticut, various artists created post office murals for Clinton, Fairfield, Greenwich. East Hartford and Lakeville. In 1936, Westport artist Robert Lambdin created “Stagecoach — Modern Transportation” for the Bridgeport post office.
Another aspect of WPA work in Westport was photography. Westport architectural historian Bob Weingarten utilized a trove of Westport images from the 1930s WPA to identify extant historic houses in town. These photographs of more than 100 historic homes in Westport were taken by Thomas O’Connor Sloane (1851-1940). The larger architectural survey project during the WPA included historic homes nationwide.
Readers interested in helping with Westport’s public art collections can contact firstname.lastname@example.org
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.