Margie Friedman, daughter of Westport artist Steffi Friedman, stood near the “Pas de Deux” sculpture by her late mother to greet guests at Saturday’s dedication ceremony for the artwork in the Staples High School courtyard. / Photo by Gary Webster

By Gretchen Webster

WESTPORT — Artist Steffi Friedman’s sculpture of two dancers, “Pas de Deux,” has a new stage in the courtyard of Staples High School. 

A fixture on the lawn of the late artist’s home on Yankee Hill Road for years, the statue was dedicated at Staples on Saturday in an event that had been delayed more than a year because of the Covid pandemic. 

“Pas de Deux” was donated to the Westport Public Art Collection (WestPAC) by the artist’s family after her death in 2019 “in gratitude of Westport’s cultural legacy and Staples High School’s commitment to visual and performing arts,” her daughter, Margie Friedman explained. 

The Staples High School courtyard was the setting for a dedication ceremony on Saturday for the sculpture of two dancers by Westport artist Steffi Friedman. / Photo by Gary Webster

In her will, Steffi Friedman had specifically wanted to bequeath some of her work to the town of Westport, where she had lived since 1952.

The decision to place the sculpture of two dancers in the Staples courtyard outside the high school’s auditorium was made together by the artist’s family and a committee from WestPAC, Town Curator Kathy Bennewitz said. Because of the artistic subject of the sculpture, and the high school’s reputation for art and drama, “Staples was a logical choice,” she said. 

“It’s just fabulous, my mom would have been thrilled to have it here,” commented Margie Friedman, who said that she and her two brothers, Gerry Friedman and the late Larry Friedman, were all Staples graduates. “My mother lived in Westport for 67 years.”

Steffi Friedman was a survivor of the Holocaust, her daughter said. “Her art was really about solace, and Westport was her town.”

Along with her parents and sister, Steffi Friedman left Germany two weeks before Kristallnacht, the infamous attacks on German Jews carried out by Nazis in November 1938. She lived in Amsterdam and Panama before immigrating to Kew Gardens, N.Y., according to her obituary. She graduated from the Pratt Institute and worked as a commercial artist prior to marrying and moving to Connecticut. 

Steffi Friedman’s work is in several private collections, galleries and museums. In Westport, other sculptures by Friedman are on display in the courtyard of Temple Israel, Earthplace and the Westport Library.

Former students of the late artist Steffi Friedman attended the dedication ceremony for her “Pas de Deux” sculpture Saturday. From left: Judith Evans, Joyce Fama, Frankie Davies and Fay Stevenson-Smith. / Photo by Gary Webster

Saturday’s dedication program, attended by about 50 people, included a performance by two dancers from the Westport Academy of dance: Grace Bergonzi, a member of the Staples class of 2013, and Carl Ponce Cubero. Poetry was read by Westport poet Diane Lowman and other speakers included Frank Derico, executive director of Neighborhood Studios where Steffi Friedman taught classes for several years, and Selectwoman Jennifer Tooker. Several of Steffi Friedman’s former art students also attended the ceremony.

New additions to the town’s collection of artworks are not placed on town properties that often, making Saturday’s ceremony special, Bennewitz said. 

The sculpture, “Rock, Paper and Scissors”by Kevin Box, was the last artwork placed on a public site, dedicated on the grounds of Westport Library in 2020, she said. Two other sculptures from the town’s collection are also located in the Staples courtyard, making it a sculpture garden: “All the World is A Stage” by Henry Bertoia and “Untitled” by Harvey Weiss.

The Westport Public Art Collection includes more than 1,800 artworks in a variety of media, all created by artists with homes and studios in the Westport/Weston area. The works are displayed in Westport town buildings, and public schools. 

The art collection can be browsed on the Westport Library’s website here.

Dancers Grace Bergonzi, a 2013 graduate of Staples High School, and Carl Ponce Cubero, both from the Westport Academy of Dance, performed at Saturday’s sculpture dedication ceremony. / Photo by Gary Webster