Out of the Woods: Showcasing Westport’s inspiration for The New Yorker
Friday's the day! At an informal opening at the Westport Historical Society, Westporters will have another opportunity to view one of the society’s most entertaining and long-running exhibits in years.
The show, entitled "Talk of the Town," features The New Yorker magazine covers depicting iconic Westport scenes alongside matching photographs by Westport resident Michael Goss. The exhibit is based on the book, “The New Yorker in Westport,” by noted Westport authors, Eve Potts and Andrew Bentley. It will run from Friday through Monday, Oct. 26.
The official opening reception for the public is scheduled to take place at the WHS on Friday, Oct. 2, from 6 to 8 p.m. Books will be available to be purchased tonight and through Oct. 2 when the authors will be on hand to autograph the volume, which is priced at $40, at the historical society's headquarters, 25 Avery Place.
The display is one of the major accomplishments — if not the most important — in the administration of Westport Historical Society President Edward F. Gerber, who stated: "I have been fortunate to be involved with The New Yorker in Westport book ever since Eve Potts and Andrew Bentley came up with the idea last summer. Watching those two consummate professionals create, design, write and now market this marvelous volume has been the capstone of my two-year term as president of the WHS."
Longtime observers of the WHS agree that Gerber, an energetic and imaginative leader, has inspired his team of well-informed volunteers to bring a renewed spirit of appreciation by the townspeople for Westport's rich heritage. Attendance at and interest in exhibits and events has reportedly increased.
This is the second exhibition on the same theme, starting with last year’s show that drew huge crowds. The first exhibition had the same title as the new book and was curated by Potts, one of the literary giants on the society’s Honorary Advisory Council.
Potts said some of the covers are easily recognizable as depictions of places in Westport. These include Compo Beach, the Saugatuck Congregational Church, the train station and the Remarkable Book Shop. Others, Potts said, are the artists’ impressions of Westport, which still had a rural feel, with working farms, when some of the earlier covers were painted.
Potts issued a statement telling the story behind the creation of the New Yorker book: "It was a number of years before I began to tab the pages that had covers by artists whose names I recognized. One day, a few years ago, when I was at the historical society, I mentioned to Dorothy Curran that there were many New Yorker covers done by Westport artists and that I thought it would make a great exhibit. She said, 'So why don't you put an exhibit together?' And the exhibit happened — and was a great success, featuring 17 Westport area artists who had amazingly done a total of 767 New Yorker covers.
"Fiona and Andrew Bentley, whom I had never met (they came to Westport in 1991, the year I moved to Essex, Conn.) then visited the exhibit and were blown away by it. Andrew contacted me and asked if I would be interested in doing a book … Andrew deserves all the credit for making the project finally happen. He did all the graphics, made arrangements for printing and even provided space to store the 2,500 copies — actually 5,075 pounds. We had them printed in China! This has been the most enjoyable project I've ever had the privilege of working on. Fun all the way!”
Potts, the author of “Westport, Connecticut … A special place," published by the historical society, has served as its secretary and vice president. She has written more than three dozen books and is co-author of seven medical books published by Harper Collins, including “Choices,” a standard cancer reference book for lay readers.
WHS Executive Director Susan Gold said of “The New Yorker in Westport:" “It has been a gift to the Westport Historical Society. It has not only given us recognition, it has given us something to share with the town that has truly resonated with the community. We have many people in Westport who read the New Yorker magazine. Now, they live in Westport and find out that many artists who lived here were painting and illustrating their town in a national magazine. Westport is famous for its beauty, charm and cultural heritage. The illustrations featured in this book are a testimony to this legacy."
For more information about the “Talk of the Town” exhibit at the Westport Historical Society, visit http://bit.ly/1LGThzO.
Woody Klein is a Westport writer. His "Out of the Woods" column appears every other Friday in the Westport News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He is the author of “Westport Connecticut: The Story of a New England Town's Rise to Prominence,” from which some material was drawn for the New Yorker project.