Remembering Howard Munce

Howard Munce — a much-admired artist, indefatigable Westport volunteer, World War II veteran, good friend and beloved human being — died yesterday. He turned 100 in November, and enjoyed a townwide celebration in his honor at the Westport Historical Society.

A few days before that event, “06880” wrote:

Mark your calendars, Westport. On Friday, Howard Munce turns 100.

Howard Munce at work.

Howard Munce at work.

In a town long known for its great artists, illustrators and painters, he’s a towering figure. Howard’s resume — advertising director, graphic designer, sculptor, cartoonist, book author, teacher — ranks him with the most prominent creative folks in our history.

He served his country in World War II, seeing action as a Marine platoon sergeant at Guadalcanal.

He’s served his town too. Howard has been an honorary board member of the Westport Arts Center. For over 25 years, he volunteered as graphics director for the Westport Library.

Whenever he was asked to help — donating dozens of paintings and illustrations to the Permanent Art Collection; curating exhibits for the Westport Historical Society; mentoring young artists — he always said “of course.”

Howard Munce epitomizes 2 of our community’s proudest traits: our arts heritage, and our spirit of giving back.

He’s been a proud Westporter since 1935. He came here to live with family friends, while commuting to Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. One of his first jobs was modeling for famed artist Harold von Schmidt.

Westport has been an important part of Howard’s life ever since. And he’s been an even more important part of ours.

(Birthday card/Denise Woods. Photo on right/Lawrence Untermeyer)

(Birthday card/Denise Woods. Photo on right/Lawrence Untermeyer)

Previewing the party a few months earlier, I wrote:

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.

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

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

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: 

For an interesting story on Howard Munce’s World War II experiences in New Zealand, click here. For a 2013 tribute to Howard from the magazine Five O’Clock, click here

16 responses to “Remembering Howard Munce

  1. This is such a loss for Westport. Howard was a friend, mentor and powerful influence to all of us who were in the artist’s community of Westport (and New York, for that matter). And you’re right, Dan – his humanity equalled his talent. I read his “Sounds from the Bullpen” (published by our old friend Gerry McConnell) – about life in the art factories of the 50’s and 60’s – when I was a sprout. He was always finding ways to encourage young artists to work, and to find ways to make this world a little bit more beautiful. The good news is Howard lived a good, long life and impacted so many lives. He will be missed!

  2. Howard was a best friend to us all. Though he was part of the larger art world, he was always available–and more than willing–to lend a hand, no matter what the need. Whether you were hanging a show or were looking for just the right cartoon to illustrate a point, Howard was your man. A marvelous speaker and an excellent writer, he enjoyed unusual artistic talents which he lavishly shared. He was truly one-of-a-kind. We miss you already, dear Howard. RIP.

  3. Great man and artist. I bought one of his paintings many years ago what a talent!

  4. Linda Gramatky Smith

    Oh, sad news. Ken and I loved Howard so much and visited him just two weeks ago. (Howard gave an awesome eulogy for my dad in 1979, and we’ve had a long friendship since the 50s.) I feel glad today that he is reunited with his precious wife, Gerry, who died in December 2014. We will never forget the tears in his eyes back in early `15 as he looked at photos of her surrounding his living room and described how they had met in the 40s at an advertising agency. They were as much in love as the media today is describing the Ronald & Nancy Reagan marriage. Our sympathy goes out to Howard’s daughter and son and their families, but they have enough wonderful memories to last their lifetime. RIP, Howard.

  5. I’m so sorry to hear this; he was one of Westport’s great treasures.

  6. Wally Woods

    Howard was THE man you went to when you needed any information about the arts in Westport, or any help on exhibits or other events related to Westport’s artistic heritage. Besides that, he was universally loved by all those he worked or played with. We remember how flabergasted he was at the opening of the Historical Society’s show last year honoring his centenial year by the flood of love and admiration from the hundreds of attendees.
    Farewell dear Howard, join your sweet Geraldine for eternity.
    Denise and I loved you.

  7. Paul H. Cohen

    Bobbie Herman and I have enjoyed the good fortune of collaborating with Howard on pro bono projects over the years. A monumental bird-house painting of our local species hangs on a wall, reminding us of this unwaveringly generous man.

  8. Gary Singer

    Dan, should that date on the photo be 1915 rather than 2015? I suspect it might be his Birth date. I’m a November 27th baby too. Anyone born on that date, if it falls on Thanksgiving, gets a two-for.

    • Wally Woods

      Gary, the date on the photo is correct……Howard’s 100th birthday was November 27, 2015. Hence, the happy 100th wishes greeting card.

  9. Tom Turnbull

    Loved the emotions of the people filming Howard…you can tell they thought he was the best! Thanks, Danny. Sorry you lost such a treasure! TT

    Sent from my iPhone


  10. Kathie Bennewitz

    Howard Munce was a remarkable, generous spirit, man and artist. While I only met him in his spry late 80s, I fondly remember Howard coming to wspac meetings saying hello to his “harem”, as he affectionately called the Westport Schools Permanent Art Collection committee. He devoted many decades to wspac, donating his time, expertise –and own artwork to the school hallways for students to enjoy. He had many close and decades-long friends on wspac, many who mourn today with his family, and several others who are visiting with him now in heaven. He will be sorely missed and he brought a smile and fascinating stories about the artists/illustrators of Westport. We extend his his family the deepest of condolences.

  11. Jim Marpe, First Selectman

    Howard Munce was a genuine Westport treasure and one of those unique individuals who make our town such a special place. His contributions to our artistic landscape will be his legacy, and his friendship and support of so many local artists will never be forgotten. Sincerest sympathies to Howard’s family. He made a remarkable impact on our community, and we will miss his dedication to making Westport a better place.

  12. Just last week, I walked through Coleytown ES admiring some of Howard’s (and dear Tracy Sugarman’s too) wonderful art on display in the halls there. Such a generous spirit, wonderful man – feels the end of an era.

  13. It had to come eventually, didn’t it, and yet it seemed as if he might go on forever. I feel so lucky to have known Howard my whole life, he was a true friend to our family, a wonderful, sweet, funny, generous man. Plus, as my mom would say, a babe. 🙂 Goodbye, Howard. Thanks so much for everything.

  14. Elizabeth Gaynor

    Howard was a true gentlemen, a great wit and an extremely kind and generous man. Of course he was a brilliant artist. All of us who enjoyed his company in a Monday Sketch Group will miss him terribly and remember him always.

  15. Melody James

    Adding my voice to the town responses to this sad news of Howard Munce passing. What an extraordinary man he was, and LIFE HE LED. Howard and his wife were good friends of my Step-Dad Euclid Shook, a Weston artist, and then my Mom Florence James Shook. I was lucky; that friendship put off powerful aura! Howard was a true talent, but more importantly a good, caring FRIEND, a ready wit and always a greeting; he frequently gave the GIFT of his time and attention. He was one of my husband Steve Parton’s SPONSORS for his membership to the Society of Illustrators in NYC; Howard remained an Honorary President. Howard as I knew him (much like Tracy Sugarman) was always CURIOUS and supportive of the new talent “coming up.” He will be greatly missed! GRATEFUL TO HAVE KNOWN HIM!