Category Archives: Arts

Howard Munce Turns 100!

Westport’s famous artists — and Famous Artists School — have come and gone.

The “Mad Men” era — the real 1950s and ’60s ad agency scene, and the TV show celebrating it — are both just memories.

But Howard Munce endures.

Howard Munce, in his 90s. (Photo/Kristen Rasich Fox)

Howard Munce, in his 90s. (Photo/Kristen Rasich Fox)

In a town long known for its great artists, illustrators and painters, he’s a towering figure. Advertising director, graphic designer, sculptor, cartoonist, book author, teacher — and, above all, longtime and beloved civic volunteer — Munce turns 100 on November 27.

The Westport Historical Society — one of the many organizations he’s served so well for so long — has the perfect gift: his own show.

“Howard Munce at 100: A Centennial Celebration” opened June 29. A gala reception is set for this Sunday (July 12, 4-6 p.m.).

Howard Munce at work.

Howard Munce at work.

It’s hard to capture a century of life — and 8 decades of professional work and life in Westport — in the walls of one building. But the WHS tries.

The exhibit is curated by Leonard Everett Fisher, Munce’s longtime friend. In his 90s himself, he’s the perfect choice to organize the show.

There are 2 parts. The Sheffer Gallery showcases Munce’s paintings, drawings, illustrations and sculptures.

The Mollie Donovan Gallery chronicles his Westport connections as a young artist (he first came here in 1935); his military service, when he sent illustrated letters to his Westport artist friend Stevan Dohanos; Munce’s Pulitzer Prize nomination for his essay on the folly of war; his role in a legendary ad campaign for Rheingold beer, and his community involvement.

The exhibit includes documentary films, interviews, photographs by Laurence Untermeyer, and a lenticular photo of Munce by Miggs Burroughs.

It’s dedicated to Munce’s wife Gerry. She died in November, but her memory is vivid to all who knew and loved her.

Howard Munce has worn many hats. (Photo by Brian Ferry for Harry's)

Howard Munce has worn many hats. (Photo by Brian Ferry for Harry’s)

Munce’s resume is beyond impressive. Trained at Pratt Institute, he was a Young & Rubicam art director beginning in the late 1940s — after World War II, when he saw action as a Marine platoon sergeant at Guadalcanal.

Munce is professor emeritus at Paier College of Art; honorary president of the Society of Illustrators in New York City, and an honorary board member of the Westport Arts Center. For over 25 years, he volunteered as graphics director for the Westport Library, and — with Fisher — co-curated the black-and-white drawings by Westport artists in its McManus Room.

But those are facts. Far more important is Munce’s humanity.

Whenever he is asked to help — donating dozens of paintings and illustrations to the Permanent Art Collection; curating exhibits for the WHS; mentoring young artists — he always says “of course.” With a sparkle in his eye, a smile on his face, and a handshake as firm as a 20-year-old’s.

Until a couple of years ago, he clambered up ladders to make sure every exhibit he oversaw was properly hung.

At 99, Howard Munce no longer climbs ladders. Then again, he doesn’t have to.

He long ago reached the top.

BONUS FACT: In 2008, Howard Munce was grand marshal of the Memorial Day parade. Here’s his speech: 

 

Harold Levine: Westporters Must Help Bridgeport

Harold Levine emailed me recently. He’s 93 years old. But the famed  advertising executive — who is also chairman emeritus of Neighborhood Studios, an after-school, weekend and summer music, arts and dance program for Bridgeport students –is as passionate as ever.

Frustrated, too. The longtime Westporter writes:

I just received a troubling phone call. Our executive director projects that by the end of our fiscal year on August 30th, we will be over $80,000 in  debt.

We are seriously understaffed. So why the deficit?

Neighborhood Studios logoWhy can’t we get enough money to provide arts experiences to over 1,500 children? Is it because they are poor? Is it because they don’t live in our community? Is it because they are black and Hispanic?

I recently invited a Westporter to join me on a visit to our programs in action. I was told, “Oh, I don’t go to Bridgeport.”

Neighborhood Studios was founded over 35 years ago by Pat Hart, a young woman who became blind at 28. She was committed to teaching art and music to blind and other handicapped children. Over the years the organization has grown to serve all Bridgeport children.

For example, for private piano lessons we ask parents to pay $3 per sessions. Many tell us they cannot afford even that little.  Are we to turn that child away?  Of course not. That’s one reason we end the year with a deficit.

For the past 15 years we have sponsored Ailey Camp, a 6-week summer program in cooperation with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Company. Bridgeport is one of only 7 such camps around the country.

A dance ensemble class rehearses at Neighborhood Studios. (Photo by Autumn Driscoll/CT Post)

A dance ensemble class rehearses at Neighborhood Studios. (Photo by Autumn Driscoll/CT Post)

Besides a great dance program, youngsters are also trained in speech, writing, and feeling good about themselves. Many campers return as interns and instructors.

This is a program that everyone in Fairfield County should be proud to support.  The campers (and their parents) are carefully interviewed. Each family pays only $25 for the entire summer — yet each camper costs Neighborhood Studios over $1,000.

We are looking for patrons of the arts. I was once told that if Neighborhood Studios was headquartered in Westport, we would be loaded with money.

But we’re not. We are in Bridgeport, serving a community very much in need. So how about saying to the children of Bridgeport: “We do care about you.”

Our programs work. We are successful in getting a high percentage of our children to go on to college.  We must continue to serve the children of our neighboring community, Bridgeport.

(To donate to Neighborhood Studios, click here.)

Harold Levine asks Westporters to help their neighbors.

Harold Levine asks Westporters to help their neighbors.

Cynthia Armijo: New Arts Center Director Boasts Intriguing Background

Cynthia Armijo has a degree in biology. She spent most of her career in financial services. She’s been a management consultant, a director with regional and national Boys Town organizations, and CEO/executive director of the Norwalk YMCA.

WACThat may seem an odd resume for her new position: executive director of the Westport Arts Center.

On the other hand, the San Francisco native has prepared for her new gig all her life.

A Weston resident for 10 years, Armijo and her husband —  he’s also in financial services — “jumped at the chance” to move east. They knew New York well from work, and their oldest daughter thrived at Weston High.

Growing up, Armijo saw her family constantly give back through service to non-profits. She’s been a board or committee member of various organizations since her 20s. (Her first volunteer effort was with San Francisco’s Sisters of Mercy; she ended up as board chair.)

Starting in 2007, she’s leveraged her financial and management skills in the non-profit world. (That’s where Boys Town and the Y come in.)

“I look for premier organizations wherever I work,” Armijo says. “And the Westport Arts Center has the potential to be the premier arts center in Fairfield County.”

Armijo ticks off its pluses: a passionate base of supporters; an active, engaged board; broad, wide-ranging programs; strong leadership under artistic director Helen Klisser During.

Cynthia Armijo (Photo/Helen Klisser During)

Cynthia Armijo (Photo/Helen Klisser During)

Armijo saw the executive director position posted, applied, and was “hooked right out of the gate. There’s a great strategic vision to continue bringing great art to the community.”

Of course, there are challenges.

“The gallery is in a nice location, but the size limits us,” Armijo acknowledges. “I’d love to have a larger, more accessible venue.”

Her office looks across the river, to the Levitt Pavilion and Westport Library. “We need to be there too,” Armijo says.

But that’s ahead. Right now she’s happy to talk about programs like children’s after-school and summer offerings (“I have to close my door, or you’d hear 50 kids”), and inspiring outreach at Yale-New Haven’s Smilow Cancer Center, and Bridgeport’s Homes for Heroes.

She’s also looking forward to meeting the heads of important Westport organizations — many of whom (the library, Y, Staples High School) are or will soon be new, like her.

Cynthia Armijo's office in the Westport Arts Center overlooks the river -- and the Levitt Pavilion. (Photo/Helen Klisser During)

Cynthia Armijo’s office in the Westport Arts Center overlooks the river — and the Levitt Pavilion. (Photo/Helen Klisser During)

As for Armijo’s own artistic bent, the biology major/financial services professional/management consultant is a huge fan of impressionism. Another corner of her home is filled with 16th-century engravings.

“I dabble in oil too,” she says. “But you will never see anything of mine exhibited publicly.”

Britt Hennemuth Breaks A Hip

Britt Hennemuth starred in great roles as a Staples Player — Mercutio in “Romeo and Juliet,” Gaston in “Beauty and the Beast,” and The Wiz himself, to name 3.

After graduating in 2008, he studied theater and film at Pepperdine University.

But school is school. No matter what he did, his fellow actors were all his age.

Hennemuth stayed in Los Angeles. Now he’s starring in “Break A Hip,” a web series set to debut Tuesday (June 30) on Vimeo on Demand. He plays a young, out-of-work actor who takes a job as a houseboy for an older actress. She uses him to get revenge on Hollywood directors, former co-stars and others who wronged her. Hennemuth calls it “a funny, outrageous but tender love letter to this sometimes strange industry town.”

I’ve seen it before its official release. I call it “clever, hilarious, warm, truly well-written, lovingly acted, and definitely worth downloading.”

Christina Pickles and Britt Hennemuth.

Christina Pickles and Britt Hennemuth.

His co-star is Christina Pickles, the 80-year-old actress known best as Judy Geller on “Friends.” Older TV viewers remember her as nurse Helen Rosenthal on “St. Elsewhere,” which earned her 4 Emmy nominations.

The Vimeo series — based on actor/writer/director Cameron Watson’s own Hollywood experiences — also stars Octavia Spencer, Allison Janney, Peri Gilpin and others. Working with veterans like those has been a great experience for Hennemuth.

But he’s bonded most closely with Pickles. They hang out often (he is often mistaken for her son, to the delight of both).

The 8 episodes — each 8 to 9 minutes long — were shot last year. It was a fantastic experience for Hennemuth, who had never acted on camera before.

Hopefully, “Break a Hip” will prove to be a great break for Hennemuth. He’ll have this fine web series on his resume, as he heads out for more auditions.

And, he hopes, he’ll never have to be houseboy in real life. Even for his good friend Christina Pickles.

(“Break a Hip” is available this Tuesday, June 30, through Vimeo on Demand. For the “Break a Hip” website, click here.)

Quintessential Compo

It’s been a hugely eventful week. The Supreme Court handed down 2 momentous decisions; President Obama delivered a spectacular eulogy.

I’m not sure why, but Betsy P. Kahn’s photo of Compo seems a fitting way to end this emotional Friday:

(Photo/Betsy P. Kahn)

(Photo/Betsy P. Kahn)

Samantha Flint: A Stage Manager Comes Home

Countless students discover a passion for theater in Westport.

Many find themselves on stage. Others prefer to work in the wings.

From a young age, Samantha Flint — whose mother was in actor Christopher Lloyd’s class at Staples, and whose grandparents also attended the school — danced. At Bedford Middle School, director David Roth cast her in shows. When he and she moved on to Staples together, she joined Players.

At the end of freshman year she tried stage managing. That’s where she found her true love.

“You’re part of the process at every point, from the first auditions to the closing performance,” she says. “And there’s so much to do.”

Roth challenges every Player, at every level. Flint’s last show at Staples — “City of Angels” — was “incredibly difficult, technically,” she recalls. “When I tell people I did it in high school, they’re floored.”

Samantha Flint, hard at work.

Samantha Flint, hard at work. (Photo/Matt Pilsner)

She heard about DePaul University — Roth’s alma mater — from the director. There were only 4 students in her year in the stage managing program. “It was like working in regional theater, but getting a degree,” she says.

A good stage manager must have many skills, she explains: organization, communication, flexibility, sensitivity. All contribute to creating a “safe environment, where actors feel they can create art.”

After graduating magna cum laude from college, Flint returned east. She’s served as production assistant, assistant stage manager and production stage manager on Broadway, off Broadway and in regional theaters like Williamstown and Hartford Stage. Her credits include “Venus in Fur” in its Broadway debut, “Camelot” (with director David Lee of “Cheers” and “Frasier” fame), and “Barefoot in the Park.”

She spent 2 summers at Shakespeare in the Park, working with William Shiner and Michael Greif. Flint calls it “an amazing experience. When everyone was on the subway dressed for the office, I was there in shorts and a t-shirt, headed outdoors to make theater.”

At the Adirondack Theater Festival, she helped bring “Avenue Q” and “Next to Normal” to an area that is starved for shows. “They embrace what we do,” Flint says. “A lot of audience members come back more than once.”

Flint does not forget her roots. Recently, she taught 2 master classes in stage management for Weston High School’s Company.

Samantha Flint (right) with Weston Company stage manager Lilly Fisher.

Samantha Flint (right) with Weston Company stage manager Lilly Fisher.

This month, Flint was back in her home town. She was assistant stage manager for the Westport Country Playhouse production of “And A Nightingale Sang.”

It was a homecoming of sorts. At 15 years old, Flint had apprenticed there. The building has changed, but the “lovely people” and thrill of helping produce a show were the same.

On Thursdays, Flint shopped at the Farmers’ Market, and brought fresh food for the cast. “They were amazed — they never knew it was there!” she laughs.

After “Nightingale,” Flint heads to Bucks County Playhouse, for “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.”

“That’s the beauty of what I do,” she says. “I never know what’s ahead.”

Though she also never forgets Westport, and what is behind.

National Geographic Focuses On Westport

Tuesday’s post-storm clouds sent a lot of Westporters scurrying for their cameras.

Most photos ended up on Facebook or Twitter.

Stephen Wilkes’ found its way to National Geographic — and then to the magazine’s very popular Instagram feed.

National Geographic photo of Compo Beach by Stephen Wilkes

(Photo/Stephen Wilkes)

Alert “06880” reader Danielle Dobin spotted it, and sent it to “06880.”

“Natgeo” included Wilkes’ comment: “I was fortunate to see this remarkable sunset from Compo beach, after days of summer storms.” It included the hashtags iPhoneonly, CompoBeach, Connecticut, surreal, clouds, color — and skyporn.

In just 2 hours it’s garnered 167,000 likes, and over 1,150 comments. Most are along the lines of “awesome.” One person called it “weird.” Another said, “where we got married!!”

A woman wrote, “I want to go there.”

The comments came from around the globe. One person said “Lijkt beetje op jouw lucht,” which Google Translate changed from Dutch to “Seems little air on you.”

That’s not as weird as this comment — 刚刚在他家买了一只沛纳海 很牛逼 大家要买表找他,最靠谱的卖家 朋友圈都有标价 — which Google Translate believes says “He just bought a house very fast hardware you buy a Panerai watch to find him, the most likely price the seller has a circle of friends.”

On the other hand, “06880” readers don’t need a translator to look at Stephen Wilkes’ image and say, “that’s our Compo!”

Orphenians Rock Yankee Stadium

It’s been quite a year for the Staples Orphenians.

In March they traveled to — and wowed — San Francisco, as part of the prestigious Chanticleer festival.

Tonight they did the same at Yankee Stadium.

Choral director Luke Rosenberg directs the Orphenians at Yankee Stadium. (Photo/New York Yankees)

Choral director Luke Rosenberg directs the Orphenians at Yankee Stadium. (Photo/New York Yankees)

They had to wait out an hour-and-20-minute rain delay — hey, that’s show biz — but when they finally stood at home plate, they delivered a strong, sophisticated and inspiring rendition of our national anthem.

The largest crowd ever to watch the Orphenians perform gave them a loud, well-deserved hand.

Best of all, they made it onto the Jumbotron.

For the Yankees’ official high-def video, click here.

For Jim Honeycutt’s video — including scenes of the Orphenians greeting Jimmy Fallon and Lorne Michaels before they leave the field — click here:

To see Kim Mathias’ video, click below (or here, if your browser does not take you directly to YouTube):

To see Chip Stephens’ video, click below (or here, if your browser does not take you directly to YouTube):

Westport’s Ultimate Selfie

Church Lane was closed to vehicles today.

It was filled instead with budding Miggs Burroughses — and the actual artist himself.

Miggs Burroughs paints former first selectman and Westportnow founder Gordon Joseloff.

Miggs Burroughs paints former first selectman and WestportNow founder Gordon Joseloff.

Dozens of Westporters — and visitors from as far as Venezuela — traced family members, friends and random strangers on the blue construction fence surrounding the Bedford Square downtown development project.

Then they picked up paint brushes, and added color — lots of it. The fence will remain up for another 2 years.

There was paint for everyone on Church Lane today.

There was paint for everyone on Church Lane today.

The event — “Westport Paints the Town” — continues through 3 p.m. today. It’s co-sponsored by the Westport Arts Center, Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce and Westport Downtown Merchants Association. Turner Construction donated the paint.

Artists, models and supervisors, all hard at work on Church Lane.

Artists and supervisors, all hard at work on Church Lane.

Dereje Tarrant -- a rising 3rd grader at Saugatuck Elementary School -- waits for his mom Zoe to wash a brush. On the wall behind them are images of Dereje and his  dad Tom.

Dereje Tarrant — a rising 3rd grader at Saugatuck Elementary School — waits for his mom Zoe to wash a brush. On the wall behind them are images of Dereje and Zoe.

This little boy was so intent on his creation, he couldn't stop to give his name.

This little boy was so intent on his creation, he couldn’t stop to give his name.

Marla Velez is from Venezuela. She came to Westport with Maria Velez, from Shelton, just for the chance to paint the wall.

Marla Velez is from Venezuela. She came to Westport with Maria Velez, from Shelton, just for the chance to paint the wall.

Jahmane -- the member of the Westport Artists Collective who painted the Minute Man at the east end of the wall -- traced yours truly. In the shot above, he's adding a soccer ball to the wall.

Jahmane — the Westport Artists Collective member who painted the Minute Man at the east end of the wall — traced yours truly. In the shot above, he’s adding a soccer ball to the wall. (Photo/Helen Klisser During)

Alex Andra lives around the corner, on Main Street. She broke up the parade of people, by drawing a cat.

Alex Andra lives around the corner, on Main Street. She broke up the parade of people, drawing this creature.

Duvian Montoya honored the Saugatuck rowers with this painting. (Photo/Helen Klisser During)

Duvian Montoya honored the Saugatuck rowers with this painting. (Photo/Helen Klisser During)

Meanwhile, work continued on Bedford Square during the

Meanwhile, work continued on Bedford Square during the “Westport Paints the Town” event. Construction is expected to take 2 years.

“And A Nightingale Sang” In Westport

The Westport Country Playhouse‘s current production — “And a Nightingale Sang” — is a love story about a working-class British family in World War II.

Though the effects of war were felt much more strongly in Europe, the US — and Westport — was hardly unaffected.

Theatergoers are reminded starkly of that, thanks to a video the Playhouse produced. It drives home the play’s central theme: that in times of personal and historic unrest, the human spirit still grows.

The video includes Westport Town Crier newspaper clippings (with many familiar names, like the 8 Cuseo brothers who served); ration books; a Connecticut War Garden card, and air raid instructions for our town.

The play’s title is based on a popular 1940s song, “And a Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square.” It’s a haunting tune — and an equally powerful video and show.

(“And a Nightingale Sang” runs through June 27. For ticket information, click here.)