Women of Town Hall: ‘Portrait of Progress’ will honor the history

From the voting booth to Town Hall, the Women’s Suffrage Centennial will be honored in Ridgefield next year.

The Board of Selectman approved the Women of Town Hall portrait project presented by local artist Suzanne Benton at its Oct. 2 meeting.

“We have one aim and that aim is to join the very timely 2020 Women’s Suffrage Centennial celebration here in town and honor the unsung women who work here in town hall,” Benton told the board. “All their work is crucial to the underpinnings of society and this 2020 project offers them the recognition they deserve.”

The 24 portraits that will be displayed at Keeler Tavern at a gala next year before being moved back to town hall where they will be hung, Benton explained.

They will form “a grid that depicts universality of women’s life in America,” she said.

The first portrait of suffragette Alice Paul is done, Benton said, and the rest of the portraits will depict current members in Ridgefield’s town hall.

“I’ve done Alice Paul,” she said. “The first one is done. I’ve gathered 23 other artists to do the other portraits. The artists range from a Ridgefield High senior to myself. ... I’m definitely the eldest.”

Benton said the goal was to set up a studio in town hall and have a drawing table and a stool. Over the next several months, the workers will meet with the artists to have their portrait drawn.

The original title of the project was “Portrait of Progress: From the Voting Booth to Town Hall.” The selectmen settled for a shorter moniker — the Women of Town Hall portrait project

“We’re a new organization, we started this back in April,” Benton said. “... Our request is simple: We want to become members of the Friends of Ridgefield. ... We have 100 percent support from the women in town hall.”

Experience and costs

Benton has already created a similar project down in St. Petersburg, Fla., where she spends her winters.

“We did 36 women in Florida,” she said, “we got a grant from the state which helped immensely with the costs.”

She said she wasn’t able to secure such a grant from the state of Connecticut.

“I guess it’s because we’re not diverse enough,” Benton said.

She sought nonprofit status on the Friends of Ridgefield umbrella so she could apply for local grants from the Lewis Fund, the Ridgefield Thrift Shop and the Ridgefield Rotary Club.

“We can’t apply for these if we’re not recognized as a nonprofit,” she said. “Grants and fundraising will be much easier if we say it’s deductible. ... Our status as a nonprofit can end when we mount it in town hall in October 2020.”

As for costs, Benton said the panel boards and the mounting would be the biggest expenses. She also planned to give the artists a little something as well as provide coffee and some light snacks for them and their subjects during the portrait process.

“It’s about community. It’s about getting to know these people,” she said. “These women are delighted by the attention. They’re thrilled.”

The time is now

Benton urged the project’s timeliness.

“This is the 100th anniversary, it’s the right,” she said. “Time will pass so now is the time to recognize these individuals and what they represent. Ridgefield has a real history of feminist activity and we should honor it and bring awareness to it.”

If enough money is raised, then “Portrait of Progress” could become more than just drawings hung up in Ridgefield’s town hall, according to Benton.

“We’d like to do a catalog or something that’s long-lasting that can go around. ... We have a high school student who’s interested in doing video for us and maybe it will become a template for a similar project elsewhere in the state,” she said. “... But all we’re asking for tonight is to to become Friends of Ridgefield so we can fundraise here in town and get this project off the ground here. ... We have a better chance of covering costs if we’re under your umbrella.”


While the selectmen were eager to approve the project and the nonprofit status, the talks did hit a short snag over where and for how long the 12-by-10 inch portraits would be hung.

“Where are these going to be hung? Is it permanent?” asked Pond Road resident Ed Tyrrell resident from the crowd.

Benton said that her plan was to have them hung in town hall near the tax collector’s office.

“Up in Keeler Tavern first for the exhibit and then install them in town hall,” she said. “The idea is it for it to be permanent.”

“Permanent?” balked First Selectman Rudy Marconi. “... I don’t think we’ve ever hung anything forever. There’s nothing permanent in this building other than the tribute to World War I and World War II veterans.”

“That’s prime real estate,” Selectman Bob Hebert added. “I’m not so sure.”

Benton replied that the idea was to have that prime real estate to showcase the women and the artists’ work.

“It’s a beautiful wall,” she said.

Selectwoman Barbara Manners offered the project one year on the wall — from 2020 to 2021.

“We’ll keep it there for a year and then find another location,” Marconi agreed. “At the library or the town hall annex or maybe even up at the high school.”

“It has to be an accessible place,” Benton countered. “The one down in Florida is at a college — somewhere that has a lot of foot traffic like that.”

The selectmen ultimately agreed to OK the artwork and the temporary mounting in town hall, and Marconi told Benton they would get the approval from town counsel to have the Women of Town Hall project fall under the Friends of Ridgefield umbrella.

“This holds as much water as other things we’ve covered in the past,” said Selectman Steve Zemo, who seconded Hebert’s motion to approve.

“It’s very worthwhile,” Selectwoman Maureen Kozlark agreed. “And it is a short-term program. It’s not an open-ended timeline. We’re talking about fundraising and artwork that will be done within the year. All the work will be over by next October.”

For updated activities and information about this project search “Ridgefield Suffrage Centennial” on Facebook or email Alice Hayes at alicehayes.43@gmail.com.