Tag Archives: Westport Schools Permanent Art Collection

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: 

 

Hardie Gramatky’s “Compo Beach Figures”

Andrew Wyeth called Hardie Gramatky one of America’s 20 greatest watercolorists. Parents called him a gifted author and illustrator; his “Little Toot” books kept kids entertained for hours.

Westporters called him “neighbor.”

Though world-renowned, Gramatky loved painting local scenes. Compo Beach was a special place for him and his family. In 1971 he produced a watercolor called “Compo Beach Figures.”

Hardie Gramatky: "Compo Beach Figures"

After winning an award in 1974, the work was purchased by Joan Neff and Fred Shearer. In 1979 they presented it to the town of Westport, as a gift.

Three months later, Gramatky died of cancer.

Now, a limited edition giclée — a high-quality lithograph printed on heavy watercolor paper, with a look and feel identical to the original painting — is available for purchase. Gramatky’s family will donate net proceeds to the Westport Schools Permanent Art Collection, which owns several of his works.

That’s a great reason to order one ($200 unframed; $350 with a walnut or gold wood frame). “They make great holiday gifts” is another reason.

Hardie Gramatky at work.

Hardie Gramatky at work.

That’s the background on “Compo Beach Figures.” But Linda Smith — Gramatky’s daughter — wants to know more.

She’d love to find out about Neff and Shearer, the couple who gave the painting to the town. She’d also like to find out who posed for the paintings.

Meanwhile, for a close-up look at “Compo Beach Figures,” visit the Westport Historical Society. It’s one of 45 Westport works on display there through January 4.

(To order a giclée, click here — then scroll down. For more information, email: wspac06880@gmail.com. To answer Linda Gramatky Smith’s questions, email: linken2467@aol.com,)

Susan O’Hara’s “Strokes Of Genius”

Reports of the death of Westport as an artists’ colony are greatly exaggerated.

Over 1500 paintings, photos and etchings comprise the Westport Schools Permanent Art Collection. They hang in every school, Town Hall, the library — even the fire station.

Until now, though, all they’ve done is hang.

Since February, 2 sophomore Honors English classes have given life and meaning to nearly 4 dozen pieces. They’ve culled their favorites, researched the art and artists, learned how galleries work, written in-depth analyses — even recorded audio commentary, downloadable with smartphone apps.

The result is a remarkable show that sprawls through 3 Staples High School floors. It’s a superb example of kids making connections between many disciplines. And of teenagers understanding the rich history of the art they never realized surrounded them all around town.

(From left) Kathie Bennewitz, town art curator; English teacher Susan O'Hara, and illustrator Leonard Everett Fisher are eager to tour the show.

(From left) Kathie Bennewitz, town art curator; English teacher Susan O’Hara, and illustrator Leonard Everett Fisher are eager to tour the show.

Susan O’Hara — who teaches the 2 classes that dove into this project — wanted her students to realize the importance of writing about and for their community.

Their work was intense. They explored over 400 works of art in the Permanent Collection. They visited the Yale University Art Gallery and Yale Center for British Art. They met with museum educators.

They organized their final 47 selections into 11 thematic groups. Before writing they interviewed artists, researched scenes they recognized, delved into town history, uncovered documentaries made about local artists, even interviewed art teachers to learn about techniques.

Katharine Ross and Miggs Burroughs -- 2 of the artists featured at Staples High School.

Katharine Ross and Miggs Burroughs — 2 of the artists featured at Staples High School.

Some artists’ names were vaguely familiar to students when they started. Others were completely unknown. Now they are intimate parts of the teens’ lives: Lynsey Addario, Ward Brackett, Miggs Burroughs, Burt Chernow, Ann Chernow, Stevan Dohanos, Leonard Everett Fisher, Isabel Gordon, Robert Lambdin, Howard Munce, Katherine Ross, Tracy Sugarman, Al Willmott, Lucia Nebel White.

Yesterday, many of those artists attended an opening reception for “Strokes of Genius.” They toured the halls, and admired the walls.

They peered in to read what the students had written. Monique Medina, for example, noted that Dohanos’ downtown scene was called “Crisis on Main Street” not only because a little girl’s ice cream cone was dripping; more ominously, World War II loomed.

Amy Perelberg described Willmott’s drawing of the Compo Beach playground as conveying not just the relaxing, light spirit of the shore, but also representing colors that make our entire town brighter.

90-year-old Lucia Nebel White and Linda Gramatky Smith -- daughter of the "Little Toot" artist -- admire Al Willmott's Compo Beach playground painting.

90-year-old Lucia Nebel White and Linda Gramatky Smith — daughter of the “Little Toot” artist — admire Al Willmott’s Compo Beach playground painting.

In our security-conscious world, Westporters can’t just stroll into Staples to see this great show. However, in October — as part of the 20th anniversary of the Westport Art Awards — the public can tour it.

An online version is being developed, so the project will live on once the show closes in December.

Just as — thanks in part to Susan O’Hara and her multi-dimensional sophomore students — Westport’s arts heritage continues to live.

Staples principal John Dodig uses his iPhone's QR code reader to listen to audio commentary on Stevan Dohanos' "Crisis on Main Street."

Staples principal John Dodig uses his iPhone’s QR code reader to listen to audio commentary on Stevan Dohanos’ “Crisis on Main Street.”

Saving Mr. Staples

For a 208-year-old guy, Horace Staples looks pretty good.

Some say he’s never looked better.

For years his portrait — painted in 1934 by Samuel Brown, as a WPA project — hung in a deserted corner of the school he founded.

When the new building — a gazillion square feet larger than the one he donated in 1884 — opened a few years ago, Horace Staples was placed in a prominent spot. He smiled enigmatically — a philanthropic version of the Mona Lisa — right outside the main office.

Earlier this year, principal John Dodig — who loves the school as much as Horace did — noticed the founder was flaking. In fact, his paint had begun deteriorating in his “youth.” Previous conservation treatments failed.

Horace Staples, before undergoing treatment…

Dodig notified Carole Erger Fass, co-chair of the Westport Schools Permanent Art Collection. She and co-chair Kathie Bennewitz called Peggy Van Witt, an art conservator in Kansas City.

Peggy, a former Westporter, had recently conserved the damaged portrait of another, equally famous school namesake: Edward T. Bedford. She was happy to help. Off Horace Staples went, to the Midwest.

Peggy unpacked him, and was not pleased.

“I just removed Mr. Staples from the box, and examined him closely,” she wrote to the WSPAC. “He is severely delaminating.”

Doesn’t it suck to delaminate?

“In a previous restoration the tacking edges were trimmed,” she explained. “He was glued to a panel which was then nailed to a stretcher bar. This makes it more complicated.”

Peggy had 2 choices: “inject him with an adhesive from the front, or remove him from the panel and put him on the vacuum table.” She ran a battery of tests, then treated him.

…and Horace Staples today.

Soon — all spiffed up — Mr. Staples was back in Westport. Once again, he hangs proudly outside the main office.

And — just like Horace Staples 128 years ago — Peggy Van Witt is a very generous soul.

She waived her $1,247 conservation treatment fee.

All of Westport — and the no longer delaminating or flaking Horace Staples — thank her.

Honoring Permanent Art

Giants of the Blues — Westport artist Eric von Schmidt’s sprawling, 7-canvas work chronicling the roots of American music — should hang in the Smithsonian.

Instead, it graces the Staples auditorium foyer.

Westport artist Stevan Dohanos's Saturday Evening Post cover -- part of the Schools Permanent Art Collection -- has special significance.  The models were all Staples students.

Westport artist Stevan Dohanos's Saturday Evening Post cover -- part of the Westport Schools Permanent Art Collection -- has special significance. The models were all Staples students.

And that powerful piece is just 1 of over 1,000 paintings, sketches, cartoons, busts, murals and photos that fill the classrooms, hallways, offices and conference rooms of every Westport school and public building.  For 4 1/2 decades the Westport Schools Permanent Art Collection has brought art into children’s lives, while paying homage to our town’s rich art history.

Now, the Westport Historical Society returns the favor.  Starting this weekend, and running through the end of the year, the WHS will showcase the collection, with a pair of shows.  Special treasures will be shown in the Betty & Ralph Sheffer Main Gallery, while cartoons and comic strips grace the Little Gallery.

An opening reception is set for this afternoon, from 3-5 p.m.

The Westport Schools Permanent Art Collection began modestly.  In 1964 Green’s Farms Elementary School art teacher Burt Chernow asked a few local artists to donate works.  Ben Shahn gave a pencil sketch — and the rest is history.

Westporter Curt Swan drew the "Superman" comics for many years.  This illustration is part of the Westport Schools Permanent Art Collection.

Westporter Curt Swan drew the "Superman" comics for many years. This illustration is part of the Westport Schools Permanent Art Collection.

Today’s 1,000-plus artworks include paintings by Pablo Picasso, Alexander Calder, Robert Motherwell and Christo.  There are cartoons by Charles Schulz, Al Capp, Whitney Darrow, Dik Browne, Mel Casson and Mort Walker, and photos by George Silk, Alfred Eisenstaedt, Philippe Halsman and Victor Keppler.

Over 150 local artists, past and present, are well represented.

The collection is curated by a committee of dedicated volunteers — including the indefatigable Mollie Donovan, who signed on 45 years ago expecting to work for a month or two, plus an an energetic group of young mothers.  The group collects, studies, catalogs and displays the work — and keeps all artwork up to date on a computer database.

The Westport Schools Permanent Arts Collection is such an ingrained part of our town, we don’t even think about it.  But we should.

The next time you’re in a school — or the library, Town Hall, or even Red Cross headquarters — look at the art that surrounds you.  Admire it; think about it — and understand how it got there.

Then, sometime between today and the end of the year, wander over to the Historical Society and check out the exhibits.  Forty-five years ago, Burt Chernow’s wanted to expose children to art.  Today, every Westporter is enriched by his vision.

Westport artist Hardie Gramatky donated this "Little Toot" book cover to the Westport Schools Permanent Art Collection.

Westport artist Hardie Gramatky donated this "Little Toot" book cover to the Westport Schools Permanent Art Collection in honor of beloved Green's Farms teacher Lucy Gorham.