Curator named to manage town's art collections
A picture may be worth a thousand words, but the new curator of Westport's municipal art holdings will speak on behalf of a thousand pictures.
Kathleen "Kathie" Motes Bennewitz, a professional art curator and historian, was appointed Westport's first official town curator last week by First Selectman Gordon Joseloff. Working closely with the Westport Arts Advisory Committee, Bennewitz will be responsible for advising the town on its extensive collection of fine art and sculpture, which includes more than 1,000 pieces.
A graduate of Staples High School and Princeton University, Bennewitz has been involved with both the town and school art collections for a number of years. Bennewitz hopes that, in her new role, she can increase the connection to, and value for, the town's collection for both adults and students.
"How do you build awareness and appreciation for what you have," she said. "That would be a starting point."
"We want people to look," she said. "We want people to stop, to see and to learn."
Bennewitz said that traveling around the state for sporting events with their twin daughters -- Elizabeth and Mary, 16 -- she and her husband, Scott, have often been struck by the lack of artwork hanging inside public buildings in other communities.
"Art has always been part of the fabric of my family," she said, referencing early years in Alabama. "My dad worked for IBM for over 30 years, but he loved to paint and draw, and we would set up easels in our garage when I was a kid and have oil painting classes. It was just something you did. There was always a creative element ... There were always art books ... There was always music on."
Bennewitz hopes to see Westport's extensive art collection used as a teaching tool. "Art does tell the story of history," she said. "It helps put facts in a cultural and social context, and that has guided me throughout my museum work, and it's something I hope I can bring to this position."
"Some of these artists are definitely people who are from the area, and we also have artwork by people who are luminaries of art history, and they can definitely be teaching tools," she said.
Joseloff said he established the position "to ensure that there is someone in charge of overseeing the important job of maintaining and preserving the town's art treasures."
"This used to be done on an unofficial volunteer basis by the late Mollie Donovan," he said, but he feels the role is too important to just be on an "ad hoc basis."
"Kathie will do very well in the job," he said. "She has been the unofficial fill-in since we lost Mollie."
Bennewitz credits Donovan for pioneering work with Westport's school arts collection, which was originally started by art teacher Burt Chernow.
"Mollie, she was just an inspiration," she said, "in terms of the town's artistic heritage and the power this art has in the schools."
Bennewitz said Eve Potts, Donovan's sister, co-curated with her and continues working on behalf of the collection.
Potts, meanwhile, said Bennewitz is a perfect fit for the official curator's role. "Her background really makes her perfectly suited," she said.
"And she's a doll," she said. "She really is."