In Westport, painting the town for a good cause

The Carter family cut short their vacation in Virginia Sunday and raced back to Connecticut so that 11-year-old Tyler Carter could paint a window in the storefront of the Brownstone.

They did not go home to Fairfield first to unpack. Instead, they headed straight for the store on Westport's Main Street where Tyler used about five colors to create his floral-inspired painting in tempera paints. Tyler's is one of eight works of art on storefront window panes along Main Street that the public is invited to view, and cast a ballot for their favorite.

"I like painting because it's fun and you can do what you want and use your entire imagination," said Tyler, a sixth-grader at St. Thomas Aquinas School in Fairfield. Painting may be fun, but in this case it also has a purpose.

The exhibition and competition are a joint effort between Save the Children's Make a Difference community fundraising program and Westport Main Street Merchants to raise funds that will benefit children affected by emergencies around the world. Each vote requires a $1 donation online or in store. Voting will continue through Aug. 27 and the winning design will be determined by how many $1 votes it receives.

Emily Platt, a summer intern at the Westport-based Save the Children and organizer of the window painting fund-raiser, said she wanted to come up with a project that would reach out to the community, make people aware of Save the Children and support the efforts of the relief agency, which works to create lasting change for children in need in the United States and around the world.

Each window design is based on the theme Children at Play.

Leanne LeBlanc, 22, of Norwalk, painted a boy chasing a butterfly on the window at Lulumon Athletica. Skye Davis, 17, and Holly Stewart, 17, both of Westport, painted a basketball hoop and children playing the sport using a basketball that doubles as a globe on the window of BCBG MaxAzria. Tyler painted a large lily-like flower, figuring he was the child at play while painting.

Charly Malpass, 17, of Darien, who will attend the San Francisco Art Institute this fall, said she searched the Internet for an image of a baby to use as a model and chose one of a man holding up his infant. Malpass expertly layered on various colors to replicate her subjects' skin tone on the window of Shoe-Inn.

"We never had an idea to start. We just started drawing things related to sports because they have to do with team work and unity, things kids like to do, fun things," Stewart said. Their finished product includes hand prints and a bicycle carrying a banner that says Save the Children.

Stephanie Landers, of Ridgefield, and her sister Samantha Deitz, of New Milford, were assigned the storefront of Shoes `N' More so they incorporated footwear into their Child at Play theme. "The shoes are something the kids play on," said Landers, a temporary worker at Save the Children. She and Deitz created high heels and sandals and other shoes. The high heel has a ladder children can climb to slide down the front of the shoe.

"I like volunteering, helping out and giving back. Since I'm working at Save the Children I see the connections," Landers said.

Maura Cocozza, senior specialist for Save the Children's direct response marketing department, said donations from the competition will go towards supplying child-friendly space kits to children affected by disasters. Child-friendly spaces provide children with a safe, controlled, supportive and fun environment to help them recover. The kits, provided at the onset of an emergency, include beach balls, basketballs, skipping ropes, marbles, blocks, dolls and other toys.

The following downtown merchants are also participating in the art competition: Banana Republic, LF, LOFT, Oscar's and Westport Pizza.

The winning artist or group will be announced Aug. 27. People can vote for their favorite storefront window online at www.firstgiving.org/childrenatplay, or in store through Aug. 27. People can vote as many times as they wish