A few years ago, when road construction turned up some human bones at Third and Division, local anthropologists took a look and declared it a routine burial of the late 1800s. There was nothing new to be learned from the bones; they should be reburied in the same place and forgotten.
Ivan Munk didn't see it that way. When he read about the discovery, he called me, all excited. Didn't I think it could be a member of the Cowley family? Would county records suggest who it was?
To Ivan, that backhoe had punched through to history. He had this vision of a cabin on the rise above the river, of a sad gathering of people, of a person with a story.
Ivan Munk, who died on Sept. 6, a few months short of his 70th birthday, spent his entire life imagining Spokane's past. Everything he did in a diverse career — illustrator, painter, television producer, restorer of historic buildings — comes together in this idea: the utter importance and particularity of Spokane's moments.
Nothing is more evocative of the drama of the pioneers, for example, than Ivan's painting called "The Cold Wait at Glover's Store." It depicts the original building in Spokane in winter, the icy river flowing in the background. Horses are saddled and tethered outside, waiting as a warm glow in the window symbolizes the lonely humans working inside laying plans.
That was one painting in a book by local historian Jay Kalez called This Town of Ours. Ivan also illustrated Kalez' Time Was in This Town of Ours, and co-authored Spokane Then and Now, with Richard Heinzen. He painted covers and drew illustrations for both Spokane magazine and The Inlander. For children he drew a comic book history of Spokane. (In fact, you can still buy Spokane Country: The Way It Was at Auntie's.)
He painted dozens of full-scale depictions of Spokane's past. A series showing different eras at Eastern Washington University is on permanent display in EWU's Showalter Hall. A few of his house paintings were collected in a calendar in 1989. In these full-scale paintings, he created not only a painstakingly accurate reproduction of the buildings, but also the beauty and mood of the surrounding neighborhoods and Spokane's lost moments.
Ivan's first painting of a Spokane mansion was done when he was only 17 years old. Entered into a national contest by his art teacher at North Central High, the painting won him a scholarship to the famed Art Institute of Chicago. He studied there for two years before returning to Spokane to apply what he had learned.
Surviving as an artist in Spokane was an accomplishment in itself. To do so he took on hundreds of jobs. From 1974-86, Ivan was a producer of documentaries at KHQ television. He produced full-scale re-enactments of episodes in Spokane history, such as the Great Fire and the Battle of Steptoe. His audacity in producing Hollywood-scale dramas on budgets of a couple thousand dollars won him a bit of national fame when his work was described in a TV Guide article entitled, "Cecil B. De-Munk."
For KHQ, he produced a documentary on the Davenport Hotel. He enticed a Washington State University architectural historian into the project and "patiently coached me," Henry Matthews recalled, until Matthews caught up with Munk's knowledge of the Davenport. Matthews later authored the definitive biography of Kirtland Cutter, the designer of the Davenport.
As a self-taught architectural historian, Ivan started consulting on restoration of historic buildings and houses. At one of these houses last Sunday, his friends met to remember Ivan. The punchline of most of the stories told was, "Just because you hired Ivan Munk, you couldn't tell him what to do."
He did what he thought the project required.
His editors and co-workers said the same. Money didn't mean anything to Ivan Munk. The only thing that meant anything to him, aside from friends, was the perfection of the project. It kept him bent over his drawing board days and innumerable nights through his whole life. No one was ever more dedicated to Spokane. He knew what he loved, and he drew it.