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Remembering the Kids' Wall Project

"The Kids' Wall Tenth Anniversary" exhibit at Westport Historical Society commemorates a community project powered by dedication, tenacity and a passionate group of people who, for two years, fought Town Hall to make it happen.

The six-foot-high, 44-foot long Kids Art Wall at Longshore, decorated with 32,000 hand-placed tiles, was first proposed in 1998 by Westporter Katherine Ross. An artist and a teacher, Ross envisioned a community art project to honor and celebrate Westport's creative spirit as well as bring together the artistic contributions of all middle-school children throughout the town.Ross and fellow artist and longtime friend Miggs Burroughs, hoped the Kids Art Wall could be established near the library, outside of the Levitt Pavilion. “We thought people would embrace the concept of encouraging art and creativity, while involving schoolchildren in the process,” said Burroughs.Instead, the project was greeted by resistance from the Planning and Zoning Committee and scrutinized by local bureaucrats and some community members. Those opposed said kids would skateboard on top of the wall, that the wall would add visual clutter to the location and that headlights would reflect against the wall, causing car accidents. Some opponents thought the wall might make the noise from the Levitt louder and disturb the neighborhood.“We struggled with the idea of building the wall at the Levitt for about a year and a half,” said Burroughs.

Westporters Stephen and Toni Rubin saved the day by suggesting the Longshore Pool as a location. All parties saw that, at Longshore,  a mosaic mural would be both artistic and practical. “Locating the Kids Art Wall at Longshore gave the green light to getting the project under way and, once built, the wall hid the pool’s filtration system. It was practical, beautiful and logical,” said Burroughs. “We realized that this would be the ideal place. The pool attracts kids and the wall would be decorated by kids, so we decided this would be perfect.”The next step for Ross and Burroughs was bring fifth, sixth, seventh and eight graders at Coleytown and Bedford Middle Schools on board. The wall’s theme “Life Above and Below the Sea” was discussed. Every student in each art class at both middle schools submitted drawings of sea serpents, mermaids, octopi, dolphins and every other conceivable form of marine life. “We had about 1,400 drawings to work with,” said Ross. “We then chose general outlines and compositions and drew chalk outlines onto the wall.”The wall was then divided into 64 panels for each class to fill in with materials. “The kids used a variety of media,” said Ross. “The wall has a number of little treasures, including broken tiles, quarters, beads, and little notes about water safety. Somewhere in the wall, there is even a lost tooth.”  In all, it took about three months to build and decorate.

The unveiling of the wall on May 28, 2000, for Burroughs, was a triumph. “We created what I believe is the largest piece of children’s art in Connecticut,” he says. “Every middle school kid had a part in this creative process. And each student had a hands-on experience with every single piece of tile used in the mosaic. This is a real David versus Goliath story, and I want to thank Katherine for the greatest artistic journey I have ever taken.” The exhibit at the WHS opens May 28 and concludes Sept. 4. It includes an actual-size photographic replica of the Kids Art Wall, a time line of events and interactive mosaic art opportunities. The exhibit will be held concurrently with a show celebrating Westport’s 175th birthday and an exhibit marking the 50th anniversary of Longshore Country Club’s purchase by the town of Westport.  An opening reception on May 28 takes place from 5-7 p.m. For more information, visit Westport Historical Society's website .

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