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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Storytime Chugs Into Children’s Imaginations

Storytime Chugs Into Children’s Imaginations:
Pre-K read at Fairfield Museum aligns with holiday train show
(Posted to 12/15)
By Mike Lauterborn
© 2010. All Rights Reserved.

Fairfield, CT – With all the puffing and chugging sounds emanating from the high-ceilinged meeting space, one would think there were multiple trains close by whizzing around tracks. But it was the excited chatter of a small band of youngsters being entertained with train stories.

The site was the Fairfield Museum and History Center at 370 Beach Road and the event was a Pre-K morning storytime session being led by docent Barbara Lucia. The animated and engaging storyteller regaled about a dozen children and their parents and caretakers with train tales that were not of the commercial, modern norm and followed a more classic path.

“There seems to be a natural connection between children and trains,” said Walter Mathis, a museum coordinator. “They’re fascinated by the colors, numbers, the tracks, the movement. With the storytimes, we try to help them learn other train stories beyond the popular Thomas stories to help them connect.”

Besides being a docent and storyteller, Lucia is a former teacher and grandmother. She had selected a stack of books to work through but recognized that the group’s attention span might be limited. However, the youngsters were not only rapt, but very participatory.

Appropriately, the storytelling area had been set up directly adjacent to the museum’s Holiday Express Train Show displays. Sitting beneath a large wreath, Lucia began showing pictures of different trains from a book titled “Trains”.

Fairfielder Liz Holcomb and son Mason, 2, were among the visitors. “Mason loves trains,” said Holcomb. “He’s obsessed I’d say. He likes Thomas and Polar Express, so we thought we’d come out today.”

Lucia showed a picture of a locomotive and asked about the cowcatcher apparatus at the front and its purpose. “It’s to clear things off the tracks!” said Ethan Landsman, 4, brightly. Mom Eileen, who had Ethan’s little brother Cole in tow, said, “Ethan loves trains. He has the Thomas trains and was Thomas for Halloween last year. He rode his first real train last weekend with his dad, down to Rye. He was very excited.”

Lucia led the children in a chorus of “She’ll Be Comin’ Round the Mountain”, flailing her arms and acting out song elements, then launched into the book “The Little Engine That Could”, the classic written by Watty Piper and first published in 1930. The children all recited, “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can”, which Lucia said was a good attitude to have.

Other tales included “Trouble on the Tracks”, about a little boy’s cat that wanders onto his toy train tracks, and “Two Little Trains”, penned by Margaret Wise Brown, who also wrote “Goodnight Moon.”

Periodically, a child would split from the group, too curious about the train set-ups to sit still. Jack Short, 3, was one who wanted to see the displays, with dad John. “Jack likes Thomas and all his buddies. I took the day off so we could see the train show and listen to the stories.”

Another book called “That’s Not My Train” had textured pages and Lucia let the kids touch and feel them. They excitedly gathered in a tight circle around her. She then led them in singing “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad”, which elicited claps and squeals as the children participated.

“Many children are interested in how the particular trains on display work,” said Mathis. “One of the trains has a sound card in it that makes it sound like a real train.”

Mathis had no sooner said that then it came time to actually set all the trains, which had been idle in their respective displays, in motion. “What does the conductor say at the beginning of the train ride?” he asked. “All aboard!” came the reply as the train with the sound card lurched into action. It was followed by a Percy train and two others, including the popular Thomas train.

The trains circled in opposite directions, navigating the tracks, tunnels and bridges, delighting all in attendance.

Westport Bred Author Spotlights ‘Jeweler to the Stars’

Westport Bred Author Spotlights 
‘Jeweler to the Stars’:
Elizabeth Irvine Bray gives 
library talk on Paul Flato
(Appeared on Westport News 
website 12/15)
By Mike Lauterborn
© 2010. All rights reserved.

Westport, CT – It was a cataloguing job at Christie’s that first put the jeweler on her radar. Now she has unveiled a book about his life’s work and given him an official place in history.

The jeweler of note is Paul Flato and author Elizabeth Irvine Bray gave a comprehensive presentation about the colorful individual and his craft Tuesday morning Dec. 14 in the McManus Room at Westport Library, 20 Jesup Road.

Bray, 33, is a native daughter, born and raised in Westport and a 1994 graduate of Staples High School. After earning a dual degree in English and Studio Art from Carnegie Mellon University in 1998, Bray worked for a wholesale diamond dealer in New York’s diamond district. The experience sparked further interest in jewelry and she subsequently earned a graduate gemologist degree from the Gemological Institute of America.

In 1999, Bray landed a cataloguer job at Christie’s auction house and, over her nine years of employment there, she would often see Flato pieces spotlighted. What nagged at her was that there was so little information about Flato’s background as with other jewelers. Out of curiosity, she began researching him and uncovered a treasure trove of information – enough to compile a book she has just released titled, “Paul Flato: Jeweler to the Stars.”

Wearing a circa 1935 Flato brooch with a value of $35,000 on loan from a Chicago collector, Bray exposed the jeweler to an attentive library crowd of over two dozen people.

Flato was born in Texas in 1900 and ventured to New York in the 20s to attend Columbia University. He briefly apprenticed for a Swiss watchmaker then, at age 27, opened his own boutique on 57th Street catering to socialites, Wall Streeters and the fashion conscious. He was flamboyant and loud and enlisted debutantes to model his work.

He collaborated with Harry Winston, who supplied him with gems, and worked with a team of designers to create pieces with complete originality. Flato was often inspired by nature, particularly leaves, and liked to add a touch of whimsy to his creations. He was also influenced by the Surrealist Art movement in Europe, as well as earlier eras like the Victorian age. Often, he would collaborate on a design with his customers, like Standard Oil heiress Millicent Rogers Balcom.

Flato’s most famous designer was Fulco, Duke of Verdura, with whom he shared a preference for a shocking use of color. They offered a line called “Verdura by Flato” before Verdura went on his own.

In the late 30s, Flato became hard of hearing and developed a line of brooches called “Deaf and Dumb” with hand symbols inspired by sign language.

His work was being featured regularly in Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar, which brought interest from the West Coast. Hollywood director George Cukor asked him to design jewelry for Katherine Hepburn for the film “Holiday.”

Ultimately, Flato opened a boutique on Sunset Blvd. in Hollywood and became the go-to of celebrities and film producers for custom jewelry creations. His clients included leading actresses Rita Hayworth, Greta Garbo, Paulette Goddard, Vivian Leigh, Marlene Dietrich, Joan Crawford and Ginger Rogers.

Several events in the early 1940s altered Flato’s course. A robbery netted $50,000 from his boutique, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor pulling America into WWII and forcing Americans to reprioritize spending, and a $60,000 diamond on loan to him vanished from his shop. With regard to the latter, an investigation found that he had been pawning consignment pieces and he was charged with grand larceny. He traded a designer suit for prison grays at Sing Sing for a term of 18 months.

In the 50s, Winston and Verdura replaced him as the glitterati’s jeweler of choice and he subsequently left the U.S. for Mexico where, in 1970, he opened a tiny boutique. It wasn’t until 1990 that he returned to the U.S., where his work and designs had gained high ticket collector value. He passed at age 99 in July 1999.

“He defied the odds of rising from the grassroots of Texas to the limelight of Hollywood,” said Bray, “and from the shame of being imprisoned to the pleasure of being accepted again in high society. This uniquely talented legend of the twentieth century has finally found his place in history.”