A History of the First Night Mural by
Co-Chairman, Totney Benson & Kassie Foss
First Night of Westport and Weston was first introduced to the area in 1994 by a committee led by Rita Smircich. Conceived as a community wide, alcohol-free event to celebrate New Years Eve, Rita had an idea to create an artwork for the tunnel between Main Street and Parker-Harding Plaza that might be completed by the Youth of Westport. Rita asked Totney Benson and Kassie Foss to design and execute the mural to be unveiled in time to celebrate the New Year.
Totney met Kassie, a new Westport resident and watercolor artist and asked her to collaborate on the art piece. Kassie, well known as architectural watercolor and pen-and-ink artist in the US and in London, loves painting historic buildings. She conceived the idea to create a mural of the two towns from a Birds eye view based on a commission she had done in London while living there. This would be, the pair believed, the perfect way to combine the best elements of the two towns! After hours of driving around with local authorities to make sure all the important sites were included and thousands of photos later, Kassie developed a scale model of the mural. Converting it to a grid pattern, she then laid it out on 8-foot plywood panels and sketched the basic design. Totney arranged for waves of local children to come to the Old Pavilion at Longshore (a dark, damp cavernous building outside the pool area that was slated to be replaced), the painting site for the mural.
Children arrived by age group over a period of several weeks to paint designated areas, followed by Kassie sketching in even more areas for the next group. Beginning with the youngest children (pre-school) and ending with the high-schoolers, with several hundred in all youth age groups represented. Painters were encouraged to be creative and paint with enthusiasm. Look carefully and you can see wonderful additions that were totally unplanned by Kassie and Totney – including “strawberry fields” and an OJ Simpson car chase in Weston – signs of the times! Each artist was permitted to sign their name to the title panel.
The mural was painted using durable paints and coated with graffiti-resistent final coating, on the advice of well-known muralist, Brechin Morgan from Norwalk. The 8 panels were completed and mounted on the walls of the tunnel for all to see.
The mural was completed with many thanks to Harkness Cram, the guide to Weston sights, to Rick Benson for acquiring, priming and mounting the 8-foot plywood panels, to Brec Morgan the muralist from Norwalk for sage advice about proper paint products, anti-graffiti sealing materials and general advice, and to the town of Westport Employees who have maintained the mural for all these years.
Click on squares to see enlarged detail of mural
A message from Rita Smircich, Former Executive Director First Night Westport/Weston, Inc. 1994-2001
The First Night Mural Project in the Parker Harding Tunnel was a massive undertaking by Totney Benson and Kassi Foss. They dedicated hundreds of hours to the project, including working with local authorities, all the schools in Westport and Weston, and the logistical aspects of getting the project completed. They spent many hours, after all the schoolchildren participated, doing the finishing touches to the Mural often in the evenings and weekends. Totney and Kassie worked flawlessly together, respecting each other’s creative ideas and talents.
As a result of their hard work, First Night Westport/Weston received a Creative Arts Award for the Tunnel Project from First Night International, the umbrella organization of all First Night celebrations.
It was an honor to work with Totney and Kassie in 1994 and thank them for fulfilling a vision of this art project. The communities of Westport and Weston (and visitors to Westport) reaped the benefit from their undertaking for a decade. The Mural Project was a small way of beautifying a part of the downtown Westport area, and now another creative and dedicated artist, Miggs Burroughs, will enrich the tunnel once again.