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: 


12 responses to “Howard Munce Turns 100!

  1. Betty Lou Cummings

    Happy 100th (W0W) Howard!!!…You are an amazing Man in so many ways-thank you for what you have done in this world…Loads of hugs and wishes to you! Betty Lou Cummings

  2. What a great line, Dan: “At 99, Howard Munce no longer climbs ladders. Then again, he doesn’t have to. He long ago reached the top.” So true..I love it!

  3. Jim Wheeler

    Happy birthday to a very special man. Wishing you all the best, Howard.

  4. Kiri Woods

    Happy Birthday Howard!!

  5. Ellen Naftalin

    What a heartwarming article. Thank you Dan. I couldn’t get the speech at the end to play. It just came up as a still frame. Probably something I am doing wrong. Just wanted to say that I filmed that speech that day and fumbled my brand new camera and missed the first 3 words of his speech. It starts out “I am honored to be standing…” If it won’t play for others you can find it on YouTube. Just google Howard Munce Memorial Day and it will show up. Miggs Burroughs was kind enough to put it on his YouTube space. Dear Howard is such a treasure.

  6. Ellen Naftalin

    Never mind, now it plays…

  7. Semper Fi ! Rangers luv Marines 🎈

  8. I was honored to be part of the group that put together Howard’s show at WHS. Last week, a small group of us had the pleasure of showing him
    his show….it was priceless!
    I tear up just remembering the look on his humble face!
    What a treasure he is.
    Ellen Naftalin was the captain on the ship for this show, and worked
    her tail off. What a gift she is to Howard!

  9. Wally Woods

    We all really love Howard…..could NOT let this year go by without doing a whizbang show honoring him at the Hysterical Society! Hope to see crowds at WHS on the 12th from 4 to 6 to raise a glass to praise our iconic friend.
    Wally Woods

  10. Gary Singer

    I’d love to come up and celebrate Howard’s centennial. Even thou I’m a mere youngster (85), Howard and I can toast the Mad Man era when we both worked for ad agencies on Mad Ave, in the 50s.

  11. Scott Kuhner

    I have known Howard for over sixty years. He was a good friend of my parents and I used to mow his lawn back in 1954 & 55 when I was 13 and 14 years old. We just saw him last week and we couldn’t believe how sharp he is and still tells funny jokes.

  12. Jo Shields

    Hurray for Howard Munce!