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As reported by The Hartford Courant, May 1, 2011.

Celeste LeWitt Made Art, Music, People Her Passions

By Anne M. Hamilton

Celeste LeWitt was the Johnny Appleseed of art, music and good conversation. She never met a person she didn't find interesting, and she loved connecting people with others.

LeWitt, the daughter of Sol and Lillian Garfunkel, was born Nov. 7, 1918, in Utica, N.Y., and grew up in Manhattan, where she was the youngest of four children. Her father was a vice president of a company that made lighting fixtures.

She studied anthropology at Hunter College, was graduated in 1941 and began pilot training. After the beginning of World War II, she joined the newly formed Women's Army Corps, or WACS, where she specialized in photographic intelligence. She was stationed near High Wickham in England and was promoted to captain. An Army friend, Bella LeWitt, introduced her brother, an Army officer named Bernard LeWitt, to Celeste. (Bernard was a cousin of prominent Hartford-born artist Sol LeWitt). Bernard and Celeste were married in 1947 and had two sons.

After the war, Bernard called "Bunny" by his friends worked in the family jewelry store in downtown New Britain with his siblings. Celeste, who had always been interested in art, designed ceramic jewelry, hats, pins and other crafts that she sold through her store, Designing Women. She also made greeting cards with dried flowers that were sold at local museums. She led her son's Cub Scout troop and bred miniature poodles in the basement of the family's West Hartford home.

She had taken courses in anthropology at Columbia University with famed anthropologist Margaret Mead but was forced to drop out because of diphtheria. She later went back to school and studied social work at Central Connecticut State College and worked for a time as a social worker, volunteered at a soup kitchen and tutored new immigrants in English.

After the LeWitts sold the jewelry store and Bernard retired, the couple traveled extensively to England, to revisit friends they had made during the war, as well as to Japan and Thailand, not easy places to be tourists 40 years ago.

Celeste LeWitt's interest in art grew, and she regularly attended openings at galleries and museums in the region, including Matrix, the contemporary art gallery at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, and MassMoca in North Adams, Mass.

Her husband's cousin, Sol LeWitt, was gaining prominence as one of the leaders of the emerging conceptual art movement, and Bunny and Celeste attended all of his openings and were among a group of 10 family members who went to Amsterdam for a series of exhibits in 1984, said Andrea Miller-Keller, a family friend and a former Matrix curator.

"She was the leader of all this. She was the most savvy," said Miller-Keller. "She was so enthralled by Sol."

Soon after the University of Connecticut Health Center opened in 1975, Celeste and Bunny started volunteering there, and Celeste was a member of the art committee of the hospital's Women's Auxiliary when discussions began about ways to integrate art into its vast space.

Irene Engel, then associate director of nursing, asked for help in building an art collection to help beautify the "big, bare, cold building." With typical energy and determination, LeWitt set about making it happen.

"She was a go-getter who said, 'I'll take that on,'" said Engel.

LeWitt drew on her years of contacts with artists and collectors and decided to focus on building a collection with Connecticut artists.

"She wrote letters to every artist in Connecticut," said Linda Webber, now curator of the collection. "She was the catalyst for the whole collection."

Sol LeWitt donated a drawing that added luster to the new collection, which now amounts to 1,600 pieces displayed around the hospital and in the gallery, which was named for Celeste LeWitt. There are four rotating exhibits a year.

In 1984, the LeWitts moved to Farmington Woods, a condominium complex in Farmington and Avon, where Celeste flourished. She kept up with all new arrivals and welcomed each of them.

"She was the Pearl Mesta of Farmington Woods," said one of her friends, referring to the legendary hostess. Her apartment became a salon where she invited musicians to play, showed movies and hosted potluck dinners with her signature dish salmon mousse.

She was interested in everybody. "She always wanted to know about their life," said Webber. "It was never about her."

Her favorite activity was finding two people with similar interests. "She'd match people up with similar passions, and as a result, we knew exponentially more people," said Elaine Werner.

With her customary verve, LeWitt organized art exhibits, a jazz series, invited speakers and celebrated the birthdays of countless friends, whose names filled six address books. "You gave her a chore, and she got it done," said Engel. She also enlisted others. "No one says no to Celeste." More recently, LeWitt organized a series on the Koran.

Bernard LeWitt died in 1994. Celeste died of lymphoma.

"She was extraordinary in every way," said Carol LeWitt, Sol LeWitt's widow, who said Celeste was an auxiliary grandmother to her own daughters. "She was very well educated, well read, a culture vulture. She was a curious, kind matriarch, and we adored her."