Betty and Ralph Sheffer Gallery
The Sound and The Saugatuck
In the Mollie Donovan Gallery Watershed Moments
How has Westport’s locale—its position at the junction of Long Island Sound estuary and the tidal Saugatuck River—shaped town history? What does that history teach us? What does it tell us about today and tomorrow? At the Westport Historical Society, from May 25 to September 1, prepare to be blown away by the breadth, depth and, at times, sheer beauty of the answers in two stunning new exhibits, The Sound & The Saugatuck, and Watershed Moments. Also expect to leave with a fresh appetite for oysters and respect for their vital role—and ours–in maintaining clean local water at a time that just 15 of Connecticut’s 36 coastal towns remain open for shellfishing. For now, Westport is one of the 15, but that status may be in jeopardy.
The opening reception for the exhibits, on May 25th from 5 to 7, also celebrates formal dedication of The Mollie Donovan Gallery, as the Little Gallery now will be known. The beloved and much-missed Donovan–for decades a tireless volunteer and arts advocate–mounted, documented and publicized over 50 exhibits at the WHS before retiring and passing away in 2011.
The main exhibit, The Sound & The Saugatuck, in the Betty R. & Ralph Sheffer Gallery, invites visitors to begin their journey on the upper Saugatuck River, as it flows to the Sound, guided by the hand-painted murals of Sue Kirby and Janine Brown and enhanced by brilliant color photography, including aerials and wildlife, by Larry Untermeyer, mounted by Anne Levine, Ellen Naftalin and Janine Brown, and an array of maps, historic images and artifacts. Thanks to guest curator and marine science education expert, Rindy Higgins, assisted by David Park, Brian O’Leary, Dorothy Curran and Katie Chase, the journey is both a guide to watershed and shoreline landmarks and a voyage through time, going back over 9,000 years and melding geological, natural, economic, political, demographic, social, waste management and conservation history into the narrative. The route includes the glacial and Amerindian eras, Dutch exploration, Puritan settlement, Yankee maritime commerce and early hydropowered manufacturing, the damming of the upper Saugatuck to create a water reservoir, commercial shellfishing, residential development, conservation and modern recreation.
Research on the Saugatuck watershed, including data from HarborWatch, document recent changes and indicate the need for management and preservation efforts, including residential best practices, which are summarized. Raking It In, a booklet of articles by Rindy Higgins, originally printed in The Hour newspaper, supplements the exhibit by demonstrating shellfishing’s role in local history, including economic and culinary prosperity.
Following The Sound & the Saugatuck’s high tide of historical facts, the place to go for the low tide “takeaways” is the Mollie Donovan Gallery, where the adjunct exhibit, Watershed Moments, curated by Brian O’Leary, distills 9,000+ years of coastal history into simplest terms. Highlights include a dramatic display, to scale, of the glacier that filled the Connecticut landscape with stone, along with—on loan from the Bradley-Punzelt Collection–arrowheads found in the late 1800s on the families’ onion farms by Compo Beach.
The Westport Historical Society is a private, member-supported, non-profit 501(c)(3) organization that receives no taxpayer subsidies. Major support for The Sound & The Saugatuck, and Watershed Moments comes from annual sponsors, including lead sponsor, BNY Mellon Wealth Management, along with the Betty R. & Ralph Sheffer Foundation, Janet & Fred Plotkin/The Ruth and Adoph Schnurmacher Foundation, Berchem Moses Devlin, Weichert Capital Properties & Estates and Fountainhead Wines.
Additional Exhibit sponsors include Aquarion Water Company, Resnick Investment Advisors; Green Village Initiative; Mica Corporation; Martayan, Lan, Augustyn Fine Antique Maps; Saugatuck Harbor Yacht Club; Westport Rotary Club; Friends of Sherwood Island and CleanTechpmg, LLC.
Special lectures and field trips will accompany these exhibits at a variety of times throughout the summer at the Westport Historical Society.
Want to know more about Long Island Sound and the history of Sherwood Island? Come visit the Nature Center, attend relevant lectures, programs and events at Sherwood Island Nature Center: