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Salon Life at Beechwood Arts in Westport

Salon life at Beechwood Arts in Westport

Gertrude Stein had her friend, American painter Alfred Maurer, hold a lighted match up to Cezanne’s paintings so that visitors could see that the paintings were indeed finished. They were, after all, framed, she pointed out. There, at 27 Rue de Fleurus in Paris, illumined by gaslight, was the controversial collection of art that spawned the most famous salon in history. Confined within the walls of Stein’s parlor, its success and survival depended on gossip and letters.

What a difference a hundred years makes. Although Frederic Chiu and Jeanine Esposito hold Gertrude Stein-like salons in their Westport home, the energy, passion, and conversation knows no walls.

Chiu, an internationally renowned classical pianist, and Esposito, a business innovation consultant as well as an award-winning painter and sculptor, have opened their home to the local arts community, including performing artists, musicians, chefs, filmmakers, photographers, painters, gardeners, and sculptors, as well as arts lovers and supporters.

“We are building a network of satellite salons,” says Esposito, referring to their recent initiative, “Salon Around the World,” which streams performances, films, exhibitions, culinary presentations, and music to host salons around the world. “We’re creating local, intimate experiences brought together technologically for a live, global community of the arts.”

The heart of this arts immersion is a 200-year-old farmhouse that sits regally on 3 acres of what was once land owned by the Jesup family. There’s the 5-bedroom house, a carriage house, a studio, and a 3-car garage. “We were looking for a slightly bigger house,” Esposito says. “We’re not big-house people; we don’t need to live in a grand house. But when we saw this house, we immediately wanted it to share with other artists and the community—we wanted to make a home for people to create, to share, celebrate, learn.”

They have also encouraged area restaurateurs to turn their space into galleries. “What better way to expose people to great art?” says Esposito, gesturing to the paintings hung on the wall of the Blue Lemon in downtown Westport. “People are here for two hours, eating dinner, looking around them.”

But they couldn’t stop there. Exhibitions and salons are streamed over the Internet, live and interactive. “We’ve had host salons in North Carolina, Boston, California, France, and even Bejing.” Esposito adds, “They’re a small but hardy group willing to host at 3 a.m.” Much of the art on the walls in their home is embedded with videos of the artists, accessible with a viewer’s smartphone.

Out in the yard stands an old and noble beech tree. “It was one of the reasons we loved the house,” says Esposito. “It seemed like it had its own soul, but it wasn’t until after we moved here that we learned that the copper beech stands for the keeper of ancient learning and the forger of new paths—which fit what we were trying to do: recreate the Parisian Salons but update them using technology.”

From inside the house comes the music of Beethoven’s 7th Symphony. Chiu is playing a melody as old as the copper beech tree that anchors this remarkable place.
The activities and events of the Beechwood Arts Community can be accessed at www.beechwoodarts.org

Henri Matisse was constantly showing up at Gertrude Stein’s house on the Rue de Fleurus. He’d bring his friends, and they’d hang around poking at Cezanne’s paintings and eating and drinking Gertrude out of house and home. Frankly, it was annoying. If it wasn’t Picasso dragging his mistress du jour over on a Tuesday, it was F. Scott and Zelda drinking the last of bourbon on Wednesday.

Gertrude and Alice had to put their collective foot down. They limited visits to Saturday nights, and the most famous salon in history was born.

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