Way Back When: George Hand Wright’s Westport
At the turn of the 20th century, Westport was entering the brave new world of technology and art.
In 1906, an electric trolley replaced the horse drawn omnibus in service for at least four decades that made stops in downtown Westport, Greens Farms, Saugatuck and Compo Beach via the Norwalk-Bridgeport line, which ran mainly along the Post Road (U.S. 1).
The Toquet Touring Car was being made by Westport’s Toquet Motor Car Company in 1905. And in 1906, the 10-year-old Westport Reading Room and Lending Library were improved by Morris K. Jesup, who funded the impressive brick and granite building that employed elements of classic Greek and Roman architecture in the heart of downtown, next to the Saugatuck River.
Artists also found their place in Westport of the early 1900s. In 1907 George Hand Wright, a prominent engraver, illustrator and painter purchased the house at 93 Cross Highway for himself and his wife Anne Boylan. In fact Wright often joked that the bulk of the renovations he did at his home which built in 1764 were one specifically to accommodate the many guests who had come to visit them in the country.
Wright’s open-door policy extended to fellow artists who also flocked to the small seaside town among them Arthur Dove, Robert Lawson, Karl Anderson and others. Together they formed an art colony that would become an integral aspect of Westport’s culture for almost an entire century.
Known for a body of work that spanned both the mundane and the dramatic, Wright imbued his subjects with a sense of dignity whether they were poor Quebec farmers, people of color in New Orleans and the Caribbean, or those engaged in simple rituals of daily life around Westport.
Wright’s work offers a view into the yesteryear of the town — including engravings of beachgoers enjoying a day at Compo Beach just as they do now, a young girl drawing water from a well, or a housewife retrieving her mail from the post box on Cross Highway.
Westport Historical Society’s exhibit “Vision & Dignity: The Art of George Hand Wright” explores the artist’s body of work and his contribution to the Westport Art Colony. It opened Aug. 15 and will run through November.
For more information visit westporthistory.org. The Westport Historical Society has been a cultural and educational organization dedicated to preserving, presenting and celebrating the history of Westport since its founding in 1889.