Staples houses art from local and famous artists

Staples houses art from local and famous artists

Greta Bjornson, News Page Editor

Thanks to the Westport Schools Permanent Art Collection (WSPAC), the hallways of Staples have more than the classic trophy cases, lockers and colorful posters of any American high school. Instead, they are also home to lenticular art and New York Times photography hanging on the walls.

Staples and the rest of the public schools enjoy over 1,500 works from both local artists, like photographer Lynsey Addario, as well as from the world-famous, such as Pablo Picasso. The collection was founded in 1964 by Burt Chernow and serves to remind students “that art can be an integral part of their lives and that it is an important part of their town’s cultural heritage,” according to the Westport Public Schools’ website.

Kathie Bennewitz, co-chair of WSPAC, became involved with the art at Staples and the other public schools after working in the Netherlands on art education programs at the American School of the Hage and was drawn to the WSPAC because of its cultural ties in Westport.

Bennewitz explained that the art she helps curate through the collection brings vibrancy and excitement to school.

“I was at another school in Connecticut a few years ago, and it felt so empty and void of life because it did not have any artwork on its hallway walls,” she said. “Some people do not  have original art in their homes either, so to come to a school filled with color, life and images that connect to what they are learning is really special.”

Miggs Burroughs is one of the artists who brings contributes color and life to the school. Many may be familiar with his piece ‘Brothers,’ which hangs outside the Staples Guidance office. It is a lenticular work, so it shifts from an image of one man in a city to a man in a field depending on the viewer’s stance. Burroughs became involved when working with the former head of WSPAC, Mollie Donovan.

“When I started out, I was known as an illustrator, having done some TIME Magazine covers and a United States Postage Stamp.  [Donovan] asked if I would like to donate one of my illustrations, which I was honored to do,” he said.

Students have had the opportunity to interact with some of the art that has been donated. Sammy Troy ’15 did a project with the WSPAC pieces in Staples while in English teacher Sue O’Hara’s sophomore honors English class.  The project had each student select and learn about a work of art.  Then students learned to group the art and arrange the works. The final assessment came from an essay that the students wrote explaining how the different works were connected.

“Some students even interviewed their artists to get an inside perspective on all the aspects of a piece or the meaning behind it,” Troy said. “It helped us build a connection between art and writing that a lot of us were not familiar with.”

Burroughs hopes that students will continue to challenge themselves and others through the pieces of WSPAC.

“For students, art will only be as meaningful as the personal stories they are willing to bring to the work that hangs in their school,” he said. “Hopefully, this collection will prompt students to share their own ‘truths’ through art and to appreciate its profound impact on us all.”