Tag Archives: Howard Munce

Mollie Donovan’s Art Auction

When Mollie Donovan died a year ago, Westport mourned. A vibrant, creative and very bright woman was gone. On a more practical — and selfish — level, we worried that her many areas of expertise — arranging Westport Historical Society exhibits, for example, or hanging paintings for the Westport Schools Permanent Art Collection — would be lost forever too.

Mollie Donovan

Though Mollie was irreplaceable, she continues to give back to her favorite activities. The donations made in her name are one example. An event this Saturday (April 21, 7 p.m., Westport Playhouse Barn) is another.

The “Mollie Gala Art Auction” features 100 high-quality pieces. They come from local and regional artists — and as far as Barcelona. Westporters Leonard Fisher, Hardie Gramatky and Howard Munce are represented; so is Modesto Cuixart, who in 1959 was selected over Picasso as best painter at the São Paolo Bienal.

The auction is a fundraiser for the Westport Historical Society, one of Mollie’s many beloved organizations. There will be beautiful art, with silent and live bidding; music from a string quartet and pianist, and plenty of food and wine.

It’s a typical Mollie Donovan event: classy, artistic, and all for a good cause.

A year after she left us, she’s still helping her hometown out.

(Tickets are $60 until Friday, April 20; $65 at the door. Click here to purchase.)

Some of the art on sale at this Saturday's "Mollie Gala." Enjoying the scene is Kristan Peters-Hamlin, chairwoman of the event. (Photo/Larry Untermeyer)

Seymour Schachter Illustrates Success

Seymour Schachter’s parents were from the old country. They told him he’d never make a living doing art.

Seymour Schachter, in his Westport studio.

Seymour loved to draw and paint.  At 8 he won a national art contest — for adults.  Yet when it was time for college, in 1978, and his parents said he could go to art school only if he paid for it himself, he ended up at Boston University’s school of business.

But he showed his artwork to the dean, who made a deal with his art school counterpart.  They waived all business electives, so Seymour could take art courses.

After graduation he landed a high-paying job selling eyeglass frames around the world.  It was a dream job — “for anyone else,” he says.  Driving to an important meeting in France, all he wanted to do was paint the countryside.

He quit cold turkey — and got a job in a Hackensack mall art supply store.  But he was so successful — doubling sales in 1 month — that he caught the eye of the chain store’s president.

Through a series of similarly fortuitous meetings, legendary creative director Hazel  Spector asked him for a storyboard.  He had no idea what a storyboard was — but he stayed up all night, and created a great one.

That led to more offers.  One company requested 25 panels; they’d pay $40.   Hey, it’s money, Seymour figured.  He tried not to act surprised when he received $1,000 — $40 for each panel.

Continuity hired him as head artist.  His 11 years there “were better than any art school,” he says.  His work was critiqued by the best in the business.

Seymour Schachter, with a few of his product labels and designs. More line the shelves behind him.

Seymour’s ability to switch styles — from cartoons to superheroes to photo realism — proved invaluable.  In 1995 he formed his own company, and never looked back.  He crafted a career as an illustrator for Fortune 500 companies.  He’s drawn national ads, and designed some of the most popular product labels in the world.

Subway, Pepsi, Fruity Pebbles, Tropicana, Arm & Hammer, Sierra Mist,  Ragu, Skippy, Newman’s Own, Goldfish — all are Seymour Schachter clients, and Seymour’s artistic creations.

So was Joe Camel.

In 1984 — just 24 years old — his team drew the already-infamous cartoon character on cigarette tins and matchbox covers.

But Seymour felt conflicted.  He called the American Cancer Society, and offering his services at a lower-than-usual rate.  They asked him to draw posters.

“It was my way of balancing my conscience,” he says.

When his father died of a brain tumor, Seymour gave up doing cigarette ads altogether.

Eighteen years ago, Seymour and his wife Jamie began house-hunting.  She worked in Milford, so they searched for someplace between there and New York City.  Several friends suggested the “beautiful little artists’ community” of  Westport.

They knew nothing about it.  But they fell in love with the “nice beach, nice people and nice houses,” and bought a place off Cross Highway.

To his surprise, Seymour learned that the area teemed with promotional advertising companies like MCA, Ryan Partnership and Catapult —  huge firms with national accounts.

“We stumbled into an artists’ colony,” he says.  He’s been busy ever since.

Seymour Schachter is a successor to earlier generations of Westport illustrators — men like Harold von Schmidt, Steven Dohanos, Hardie Gramatky, Bernie Fuchs and Howard Munce.  For a century — starting in 1902 — they drew ads, book and magazine covers, product cans and boxes, putting this town on the international art map.

Impressed with Westport's DARE program, Seymour Schachter created this model -- and cardboard cutout. It sports a Westport Police badge.

They even spawned a noted correspondence course, Famous Artists School, located where Save the Children is now.

In the last 20 years, computers and the internet have taken work away from illustrators.  The world is changing in many ways, and commercial art has not been spared.

But, Seymour says, “for the few of us who can draw Flintstone characters standing around a Christmas tree, there’s still a lot of work.  And this part of Connecticut is still the place to get work.

“I hope to remain an illustrator as long as I live.”

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.)

Howard Munce’s Kiwi Connection

During World War II, Howard Munce was a Marine platoon sergeant.  En route to Guadalcanal, he and his unit spent a couple of months in New Zealand.

On their first weekend in a new camp at Papatoetoe, outside of Auckland, they were invited home by a local family.  It was a nice change:  Howard sat by a fire as a man, his wife and their two young children served tea and scones.

Howard was invited back, and over the next weeks a friendship developed.

Westport illustrator Howard Munce, long after his Marine Corps days.

He soon left New Zealand for battle (and the rank of lieutenant).  Back in the States on leave, his good friend and fellow illustrator Stevan Dohanos threw a party for Howard.  He sent a photo — complete with Stevan’s “Long Time No See” poster to his friends the Smithermans, but that was the last contact they had.

Until a couple of weeks ago.

That’s when Howard received a letter from the Smitherman children.  Now grown — in fact, now in their 70s — they sent greetings from New Zealand.

They enclosed plenty of photos.  “As soon as I saw the pictures of their mother and father, I had total recall,” Howard says.

The Smithermans had sent a letter to the Westport Public Library, seeking Howard’s address.  The staff there suggested Google — and voila!  After nearly 70 years, the wartime Marine and his other-side-of-the-world hosts were reunited.

“It was absolutely wonderful to hear from them,” Howard said.  “I still feel so much affection.”

So will he head Down Under, to visit the Smitherson “kids”?

“If I had the fare and the time, I’d be on my way,” Howard — now 94 years young — said.

“The End Of An Era” At The Library

The barber shop as community gathering place — a spot where men swap stories, debate issues and tell tales, all under the wise, welcoming eye of the beloved barber — may be a thing of the past.

We’ve still got a few barbers in Westport — though many have morphed into “stylists” — but who has the time to sit around for an hour and yak?

Hold your horses.  A few months ago, 6 long-time Westporters did just that.  They gathered in Tommy Ghianuly’s Compo Barber Shop.  For several hours they talked about this town in the 1950s.

Normally such a gabfest would have less staying power than clipped hair on the floor.  But the oldtimers’ session was recorded for posterity — and arranged by — filmmaker Chuck Tannen.  Now it — and those memories of long-ago Westport — will live forever.

“The End of an Era — Westport in the 1950s” was Chuck’s idea.  He solidified it, appropriately enough, while Tommy was cutting his hair.

Chuck spent his career in journalism.  A year and a half ago he got interested in film.  He took courses at NYU and in San Francisco.  When he heard the Westport Historical Society needed help converting a series of interviews onto DVDs, he swung into action.

One of those DVDs included 3 very interesting residents — Ed See, Leo Nevas and Allen Raymond — talking about our town back in the day.  By the time Chuck delivered his work to the WHS, Ed and Leo had died.

Not longer after, Chuck was telling Tommy — his barber forever, whose walls are plastered with photos of old Westport — that the town’s collective memory was fading fast.  An idea took hold:  invite people to Compo Barbers, to talk about town life in the ’50s.

Which is how First Selectman Gordon Joseloff, former Staples sports star Vince De Pierro, artists Tracy Sugarman and Howard Munce, former disc jockey Ed Baer, and George Marks — who joined the police force in 1947 — came to Tommy’s one Sunday.

They talked.  A 6-man crew recorded them.  Now — 5 months later — the finished product is ready to be shown.

“It’s a reminiscence,” Chuck says.  “Anecdotes about a small town that was friendly and tight.”

The men discuss everything from why artists were attracted to Westport, to the Y’s role as a town center, to the joys of hanging out on Main Street.

“It was the end of an era — a time of innocence,” Chuck explains.  “The war was over.  People wanted to get on with their lives.  It was a quiet period, before all the upheavals of the ’60s.”

Life was not always as pleasant as it seemed.  There was anti-Semitism — particularly in housing.  That came up during the filming — along with the story of how the “Gentleman’s Agreement” was broken.

The 40-minute film premieres at the Westport Library on Tuesday, April 6 (2 p.m.) and Wednesday, April 7 (7 p.m.).  Discussions will follow.  Some of the “stars” will be at both showings.

And after those 2 screenings?  Chuck hopes his film will be shown at the Senior Center; in schools — and to any other audience that remembers, or wishes they knew, what life here was like back then.

Years In The Making

You’re sure to hear more about it in the weeks ahead.  But for now, save the date:  Sunday, November 8, 7 p.m. at Town Hall.

That’s when Westporters can see a remarkable new film:  “Years in the Making.”  In just 66 minutes, it pays homage to Westport’s heritage as an arts colony.  It honors 50 Westport and Weston artists, in mediums ranging from oil and charcoal to sculpture, photography and printmaking.

Jean Woodham, 81 (Photo by Kristin Rasich Fox)

Jean Woodham, 81 (Photo by Kristin Rasich Fox)

But it does far more.  All of the artists are over 70 — some well into their 90s.  But as they talk about their art and their lives — their educations, their careers, their creative processes and the lessons they’ve learned from it all — they serve as inspirations for us all.

This is a film about Westport and art, sure, but it’s also about the power of passion, and the potential we all have to keep getting better at whatever we do, every day of our lives.

Filmmaker Martin West — with great help from Ann Chernow, Kristin Rasich Fox and Ada Lambert — has created a work that anyone can relate to, and everyone should see.  There’s more to come — the finished product will include separate hour-long interviews and studio tours with each artist (50 DVDs in all) — but for now, mark your calendars for November 8.

“Years in the Making” has been years in the making — 90-plus, in some cases.  The wait is definitely worth it.

(An exhibit of the 50 artists’ recent works runs through September 7 at the Westport Historical Society.)

The hands of Howard Munce, 92 (Photo by Kristin Rasich Fox)

The artistic hands of Howard Munce, 92 (Photo by Kristin Rasich Fox)