Sketch Class

Long-time residents, artists of all ages and realtors — even those who got their licenses yesterday afternoon — are fond of referring to Westport’s reputation as an “artists’ colony.”

But what does that mean?  What actually happened in an “artists’ colony”?

For one thing, illustrators shared stories, ideas — and drinks — on the train home from New York, where they worked day jobs in advertising, PR, publishing and magazines.

For another, there were some wild parties, involving artists, artists’ hangers-on, alcohol, swimming pools and whatnot.  I’ve heard plenty of stories, from plenty of sources.

But living in an artists’ colony was serious work too. There were regular “sketch classes” — not classes, really, but gatherings of artists and artist-wannabes, who gathered to draw or paint from live models.

These gatherings took place in studios, basements, or anywhere else large enough for a model stand, easels and chairs, lights, and random props.

After 30 minutes of drawing, the models took breaks.  That’s when the artists walked around, critiqued each other’s work, and schmoozed.

Remington Schuyler — a Boy’s Life magazine illustrator – held a sketch class in his Westport home.

John Steuart Curry's famous -- and controversial -- John Brown mural, for the Kansas statehouse.

In 1932, weekly sketch classes met at Edward C. Nash’s home (now Nash’s Corner).  Among the regular attendees:  John Steuart Curry, Robert Lambdin and Rose O’Neill.  (She created the Kewpie doll.)

Bob Baxter and Ann Toulmin-Rothe held a sketch class in the mill building on  Richmondville Avenue.

Robert Fawcett — one of the 10 Famous Artists’ founding members — ran classes in the company building on Wilton Road (now Save the Children).

But sketch classes have not gone the way of Famous Artists School.  (I know, it still exists — but it’s a shell of its former self, and long gone from Westport.)

Howard Munce — the 95-year-old, sharp-as-an-illustrator’s-pen living legend of Westport’s artists’ colony days — still attends a sketch class at Elizabeth Gaynor’s house in Southport.  It’s a cross-section of old Westport artists, others from the area, and younger folks with whom the veterans happily share their knowledge and humor.

Howard Munce (Photo by Kristen Rasich Fox)

Now, the Westport Historical Society honors all that with “The Sketch  Class:  A Westport Tradition.”  The exhibit chronicles the history and significance of Westport’s sketch classes , and features a great group of artists of all ages.

It opens on Sunday (Jan. 30), and runs through April 30.  It kicks off with a free, open reception this Sunday, 3-5 p.m.

The exhibit is curated by Howard Munce himself.  So in addition to learning about sketch classes, if you go to Sunday’s reception you’ll learn all about Westport’s “artists’ colony” past — from a man who was there then, and still creates art today.

(For more information on the Westport Historical Society’s “Sketch Class” exhibit, click here or call 203-222-1424.)

10 responses to “Sketch Class

  1. If Howard’s the curator, ya gotta go. A Marine Corps veteran from WWII, he’s also a good guy with a great sense of humor… hangs out at Oscar’s. All the “pen name” dudes from 06880 will be there in disguise… bring a camera 🙂

  2. Terry Brannigan

    I wish they were as prolific today as they were back then. I have an 8 year old who prefers art to team sports. I tell my wife all the time that I wish there were after school alternatives for budding artists. (Consider yourselves lucky that I don’t know how to attach a photo to this blog or you would all be subject to a proud fathers exhibition!) If anyone knows of such a class that would welcome a kid please let us know!

    • The Westport Arts Center has great classes for kids.

    • Terry, my family moved to Westport from Manhattan in the early 1950s because my mom’s illustrator friends had moved there from NYC. She was a top fashion illustrator for more than 50 years — and was also a Famous Artists instructor. Her advice to youngsters with artistic aptitude: draw, sketch or paint at every opportunity, anywhere, anytime. I haven’t lived in Westport for decades but am sure the public library has classes for kids that your child would enjoy. Good luck!

  3. TB: Bob Weber, the MOOSE & MOLLY cartoonist, used to teach a cartooning class at the Y. He was great with the kids [and the 2 adults].

  4. Thanks, Dan, for this great publicity for the WHS “Sketch Class” show. Another exhibit in the Little Gallery at WHS honors Walter & Naiad Einsel, so exhibit-goers need to see that one too.

    WHS sponsors a cartooning class for youngsters and I think one is starting this week–Mr. Brannigan should call WHS at 203 222-1424 to check on details.

  5. Back in the 1990s, I was computer teacher at Staples. I got involved with Burt Chernow, Molly Donovan, Ann Sheffer, and the Westport Permanent Art Collection people. I had a hot-shot class of multimedia kids lead by J0n Von Kohorn and Randy Skatum. They created an interactive CD (this was pre-DVD) about Westport artists. Each kid in the class created one part of the project about one Westport artist. They interviewed them, video taped them and their studio, took pictures of their art work. It was wonderful project. We presented it to the Westport Board of Education one night much to the delight of a School Administration and it was quite successful as Randy and Jon Von dazzled the BOE. During that time, I got to know many Westport artists including Roe Halper. When daughter Marianne was old enough, she attended a weekly art class at Roe’s house and went on to major in studio art at Wheaton. The Westport art community sure affected our house. I got to spend some time with Howard Munce during this project as well. What a guy! So I really enjoyed your piece about the sketch classes and Westport as an art community. Great job and thanks Dan!

  6. Former Westporter and current “06880” reader Sandie Cole — who now lives in Virginia — sent these thoughts along:

    Enjoyed 06880 this a.m. and recalled another ‘local’ who I encountered again after leaving Westport.

    I was volunteering in the Mobil Archives and found corporate art of both Munce and Dohanos. An original painting of Mobil changing its corporate symbols at a local Westport station hung in the Archives Office–and has been reproduced many times. That original may now be in a University of Texas archive (where the Mobil Archive materials were sent when the corporate archives were closed). I sent a copy of that painting to the Westport Public Library — and of course have one myself.

    Dohanos revealed his Westport threads in his Saturday Evening Post covers as well, including the December 4, 1943 cover HONOR ROLL that includes the name of Munce. We also enjoy his book AMERICAN REALIST which displays his diverse interests. And of course there is the Staples High School BIG GAME OF THE SEASON (I think the original hung for some years in the main office). I have a copy of that too — 123/750 which appears to have been signed by the artist.

  7. Mr. Brannigan might like to know that the Westport Library Children’s Department also offers art programs throughout the year – often with local artists and children’s book illustrators. The Children’s Library also has a new “Creation Station” permanently installed that offers young artists the opportunity to work on an art project. Children are encouraged to leave their masterpieces on display for all to enjoy! The Children’s Library is also home to one of the most comprehensive art book collections that is sure to inspire any eager young artist. Just drop by and ask one of the Children’s Librarians for details.

  8. Wow!

    Thanks for all the leads! Laurie is on them already 06880 in action!