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Friday, April 20 News

Panoramic mural of Saugatuck donated to town as TD Bank closes office

When TD Bank officials decided to close its Saugatuck branch office, they started getting calls. But the callers weren't about the bank's closing. People wanted to know what might happened to the mural that's been displayed at the building since 1970.

"We have a mural at every local branch," said Maureen E. Hanley-Bellitto, TD Bank senior vice president. She said it's the bank's way to connect with a community. "We choose a photo of an old theme in town," she said.

But, she added, she began to wonder, after the calls, "What's different about this one?"

The difference, she found out, is that it wasn't a reproduction, but actually an original painted late in the career of Westport artist and illustrator Robert L. Lambdin, that depicts the Saugatuck section of town in the early 19th century.

The 6-by-10-foot oil on canvass mural was commissioned in 1969 by Westport Bank & Trust Co. and installed in 1970 in the "brand new Saugatuck motor bank (that's a bank with a drive-through)," said town Curator Kathleen Bennewitz, who also received calls about the mural's fate when it was disclosed that the bank branch would be closing.

She said TD Bank inherited the mural when it took over the Westport Bank & Trust. But TD's sale of that building broke the continuum of bank ownership and it wasn't certain what would happen with a new owner.

Bennewitz, who is also a member of the Westport Arts Advisory Council, said that group has been instrumental in saving a number of murals in town. "Our tradition in doing that is a long one," she said. So with the bank's closing, Bennewitz said it was "time to save another mural."

It was former First Selectman Gordon Joseloff who approached TD Bank and asked them to donate the mural to the town, said Hanley-Bellitto.

And so the process began and culminated last week with the Board of Selectmen approving the bank's donation of the mural -- valued at $25,000 -- to the municipal art collection.

The day after the selectmen accepted the gift, the mural was taken down from the niche it was installed in years ago when the bank branch expanded. "When you looked at it, it looked like it was in the wall," Bennewitz said.

When they realized it would be taken down, there was concern it might be on plaster, said Hanley-Bellitto. But after some investigation, they found it was actually mounted on plywood and hung on two L hooks, she said. "It just had to be removed from the latches," she added.

Now that's the mural has been taken down, it needs some restoration, a little sprucing up, before it's publicly displayed at Town Hall because of some dirt and scratches it acquired from being on display in a public place. "We had to get the right conservator" for that job, she said.

In accepting the donation, Selectman Helen Garten said the mural is "a great way to remember Saugatuck's past."

"This is a gift that keeps on giving and will be enjoyed by generations to come," added Selectman Avi Kaner.