Every year during the holidays, I haul that same painting up from the basement and hang it on the wall. Depicting the Crescent’s holiday window, circa mid-1940s, it reminds me of old Spokane and the warm glow of the holidays. It reminds me of the early days of the Inlander, too, as we published it on our cover in December of 1997. But it mostly reminds me of Ivan — the artist who painted it. How could I forget him? He actually painted himself right into the picture.
Having worked for The New Press and Spokane magazine as an illustrator, Ivan Munk wandered into our offices one day in 1994, looking for a place to get his art published. Over the years, he did a lot of great work for us — another holiday painting of the Campbell House and a meticulous reconstruction, with Jack Nisbet’s help, of the Spokane House fur trapping outpost, to name just two.
Local artist Keiko Von Holt asked me if she could sell a limited edition of reprints of Ivan’s Crescent watercolor this holiday season at her artists’ coop, the Avenue West Gallery. Of course I want people to continue to enjoy his work, but it also reminded me that Spokane didn’t appreciate Ivan enough while he was alive; he passed away in 2006 at the age of 69.
There was no doubt Ivan was a cranky old curmudgeon — but he was also a gold mine of Spokane memories. At KHQ, he and Bob Briley staged and filmed a reenactment of the Battle of Steptoe Butte. He painted lost Kirtland Cutter homes, including the Chalet that Cutter himself lived in. He even illustrated a comic-book version of local history with Jay Kalez that you can still find at local bookstores.
But when I see that little picture of him, existentially looking straight out of the painting, up at his own older self at work, I see his sense of wonder at all the amazing things Spokane has to offer. Ivan came back from art school in Chicago to paint because this was where his inspiration lived — old miners’ mansions, pioneer adventure stories and magical windows pouring light onto the streets of Spokane. It’s no surprise Ivan painted himself into that scene; it was his happy place. And it’s Spokane’s, too. ♦