Tuesday, March 08, 2016
By James Lomuscio
UPDATE (adds memorial service) Howard Munce, the Westport artist whose career as illustrator, art director, teacher, sculptor and author spanned generations earning him the sobriquet “dean of Westport artists,” died Saturday, March 5 at his Rockyfield Road home, his daughter, Mary Bewster said. He had turned 100 in November.
A Westport resident since 1935, Munce’s tall, thin, spry, and until recently energetic presence ubiquitous in town arts circles appeared ageless. More than an elder statesman, he seemed a living link to the community’s vibrant, creative identity in the latter part of the 20th century.
It was an era of illustrated magazine covers, billboards and Dashing Dans to Madison Avenue agencies where art directors held clout. Munce was one of them, rising to creative director at Young & Rubicam, where he met and soon married his wife Geraldine, in 1950.
“I don’t know of anybody else who’s alive today who could speak of the arts history of this town,” said filmmaker Martin West, whose 2009 town documentary “Years in the Making” showcased 50 town artists.
The film includes more than 30 minutes of interviews with Munce in his studio and home.
“He was one of the main peope who moved the arts scene along,” West said. “It needed a push after World War II.”
So integral was Munce that in July 2015 the Westport Historical Society (WHS) launched its exhibition, “Howard Munce at 100: A Centennial Celebration” in the Betty and Ralph Sheffer Gallery. Dedicated to Munce’s wife Geraldine, who died at 92 in 2014, the exhibit continued through Sept. 14.
Curated by his close friend Leonard Everett Fisher, the WHS exhibition showcased paintings, drawings, illustrations and sculptures chronicling “Howard’s World,” from being a young artist and artist’s model in the 1930s to his service in the Pacific as a Marine during World War II—and his being nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for an essay on the folly of war, the WHS said.
It also portrayed his ad campaign for Rheingold Beer, his time on Madison Avenue and his volunteer involvement in Westport.
Munce was born Nov. 27, 1915 in Jersey City, N.J. In 1935 he came to Westport to live with relatives while he commuted to the Pratt Institute of Art in Brooklyn. World War II interrupted his studies, and he joined the Marine Corps.
According to the WHS website, “Ever the artist, he sent illustrated letters from Guam and Bougainville back home to friend and fellow artist Stevan Dohanos.” Dohanos later donated them to the New Britain Museum of American Art’s military collection.
After the war, Munce worked for advertising agencies, but left after 16 years to freelance from his Westport studio. There he worked as a graphic designer, illustrator, writer, teacher and sculptor.
He also wrote books on art and design and taught at the Paier College of Art in Hamden and at Fairfield University. In addition, he did cartoons for local newspapers.
“He was my illustrator for for 20 years, and his art really made my columns pop,” said local humor columnist Judith Marks-White. “He caught the essence of my pieces, and I knew whatever I wrote he was going to grasp the whole feeling of it.”
She described Munce as having a “sparkling, youthful personality.”
“He was ageless,” she said. “There was almost an enchanted quality about him.”
According to the WHS website, “Perhaps most of all, Munce is gratefully appreciated in Westport for unstintingly giving his talents to numerous local organizations and causes.”
“For over 25 years, he was the unpaid graphic designer of all the brochures, pamphlets and publications of the Westport Library,” it says.
Munce also donated dozens of his paintings and illustrations to the Westport Schools Permanent Art Collection, curated numerous exhibitions for the Westport Historical Society, and mentored young artists.
Westport artist-illustrator Miggs Burroughs recalled how his illustrator father. Bernie Burroughs, forged a close friendship with Munce.
Burroughs recounted accompanying his father when he met with Munce and myriad artists, illustrators and cartoonists at the now closed Max’s Art Supplies on Post Road East.
“When my father died in 1993, Howard reached out and treated me like a peer,” Burroughs said. “It was special. I hadn’t thought of me distinguishing myself as an artist.”
“He was our darling,” said Westport artist Ann Chernow. “Everybody loved him. He gave to the community he loved, and he loved his wife, and he was a very kind and wonderful man. He knew all of it.”
In 2008, some of Munce’s works depicting fellow artists went on display in the window of Max’s Art Supplies. He prepared a brief note to accompany the display that provided some insight into his view of himself as an artist. It read:
“There are those who would prefer to drill their own teeth rather than miss a night of Bingo.
“And there are those who would forego rest and nourishment rather than skip an accordion recital or a midget wrestling match in mud.
“Me, I hate to miss a sketch class.
“For years I attended out of a sense of guilt, because I was determined to one day render a dazzling life study with all muscles and bones juxtaposed as the Creator intended.
“It never happened.
“So, I long ago gave up that hopeless quest and decided that it was far greater interest to me to draw cloaked people who were drawing the undraped.
“The decision has brought contentment: I no longer worry about off-center navels or any of that other anatomical stuff—I just draw on the simplistic, as the song says, that the ‘leg bone’s connected to the thigh bone,’ etc.
“Meanwhile, it’s a joy to guiltlessly record the concentrated gestures of my kind of people – artists at work.”
Munce is survived by his daughter Mary Brewster of Redding, son Andrew Munce of Redding, six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
A celebration of life will be held on Saturday, May 14 at 2 p.m. at the Westport Arts Center.
In a statement today, First Selectman Jim Marpe said Westport “has lost a true patriot, artist and civic leader.
“Howard will be sorely missed, but his presence in our community will live on for generations.”
Posted 03/08/16 at 09:48 AM Permalink
A Great artist and a great human being. He was very important to the artistic world, the community, the residents of Westport and to me and my family. He will be greatly missed. My sympathies to his family.