Ward Palmer Mann

Biographies | Ward Palmer Mann

Ward Palmer Mann was born on October 3rd, 1921 in the bustling industrial powerhouse of Detroit, Michigan. His parents, Lloyd Leo and Ruth Evangeline, settled their young family in a rented house on Vancouver Street, where Lloyd worked as a plasterer and Ruth maintained the household. Ward and his older sister Betty were still young when the stock market crashed and the Great Depression hit, but their family was relatively fortunate: census data reveal that Lloyd worked a full forty-hour week, and what’s more, by 1940, the family owned their home.

As a youth, Ward had natural leanings toward artistic expression, taking lessons at the Detroit Institute of Arts. His work garnered the attention of his friends, family and teachers, and enough attention to be awarded exhibition at the prestigious Scarab Art Club when he was twelve. However, art in and of itself would take a back seat for the next few decades of his life. Fortunate to be accepted into Cass Technical High School, Ward selected aviation and engineering as his focus and then attended Wayne State University night school while working for Holley Carburetor by day. One year into his degree, world events intervened, and he put his academic aspirations on hold to volunteer for the US Army Air Corp. He was accepted as a cadet and placed in Navigator School at the University of Miami/Pan Am Academy in Coral Gables, Florida. It was also during this time that Ward married his wife, Joan, in Florida while in Navigator School. Ward’s military service as a navigator in the South Pacific theater during World War Two was marked by distinction. He was awarded the Air Medal, with an additional four oak leaf clusters of recognition, the Asiatic Pacific Campaign Ribbon with 5 bronze stars, and was given the Philippines Liberation Ribbon with one bronze star.

After the war, Ward, like thousands of other veterans, took advantage of the GI Bill to attend the University of Michigan, earning a Bachelor’s Degree of Science in Mechanical Engineering by 1948. This surely would have been a source of pride for his parents, both of whom only had the opportunity to complete school through eighth grade. His background in engineering allowed him to work once more for Holley Carburetor–this time in fuel control engineering–and then for Vickers Incorporated, where he worked in aircraft hydraulics.

In 1961, Ward and Joan made the decision to move with their three sons, Robert, Craig and Kim, from Detroit to Webster, New York, where Ward began a twenty-year career with Xerox Corporation in Quality Assurance. One year later, he made a fateful decision that would alter the trajectory of his life: Ward began taking evening oil and acrylic painting classes with Dick Kane, a locally renowned artist. Perhaps Ward intended only to reignite his long-dormant interest in art, but Kane recognized in his student a talent which needed to be cultivated, and helped him take the steps to do it.

Over the next five years, Ward worked for Xerox by day and nurtured his artistic talent by night. He joined and became an active member in local groups such as the Webster Art Club, Penfield Art Association and Rochester Art Club. And, although he professed a personal preference for pen and ink drawings, he developed a style of painting with a palette knife that got him noticed. By 1968, Mann had his first one-man-show in the area, at the Main Street West branch of Rochester Savings Bank. By 1972, Ward had another one-man-show in downtown Rochester, but the Webster Herald also lists him as having been exhibited at various national shows in Atlantic City, New Jersey; Buffalo, New York and Mystic, Connecticut. By this time Ward had also assumed the role of treasurer for the Rochester Art Club and had won awards for his artwork.

Ward’s steady commitment to his craft was marked by two notable events in 1974. First, he became president of the Rochester Art Club, and second, he had joined the Rockport Art Association in Massachusetts. Even today, membership to Rochester Art Club is extended only to those who are juried in; Ward’s presidency of that organization marked his ascension in the Rochester art community. At the same time, Ward was laying roots in another art world–one renowned for many famous artists who traveled and lived in the Rocky Neck Art Colony–to take advantage of the natural light and picturesque subject matter.

In a Democrat & Chronicle article from 1984, Ward stated, “I felt confident that I could be an artist in what I considered to be the minor leagues, but I always felt that Cape Ann [in Gloucester, Massachusetts] was big leagues as far as art was concerned.” At first Ward reported embarrassment in painting outside at Cape Ann because there were so many talented artists around to compete with, but as time went on he began seeing himself within that cohort. His gallery in Rocky Neck, staffed by his wife, became home during the seven summers before his early retirement from Xerox in 1982. Ultimately, Ward transitioned to being an artist full-time, and in doing so embraced a completely new chapter in his life. His son Craig recalls packing paintings into the van every year around Memorial Day with his brothers, and that Ward “couldn’t get to Gloucester fast enough.”

Ward’s children, and later his grandchildren, noted that despite the makeshift repairs to the plumbing and the building slowly sinking into the wharf, the gallery at Rocky Neck was “a magical place,” with all sorts of people that Joan enjoyed chatting with and nightly music sessions at one of the local dives. For many years, the Manns continued their summers in New England and winters at home in Webster, where Ward also served as a juror in art shows and taught lessons by request at art clubs. According to his son, Craig, nothing pleased his father more than helping novice painters get their start.

While he lived, Ward’s representational work in oil, watercolor and pen and ink occupied his own Ward Mann Gallery in Gloucester, Massachusetts, the KingsLea Gallery in Pittsford, New York and the Oxford Gallery in Rochester. The Coast Guard and even the Smithsonian Institution continue to house his work. He favored landscapes and seascapes as subject matter, working en plein air for the most part, with finishing touches done in the studio. Ever the engineer, Ward stated, “when you’re painting on location, the light is usually wrong for the painting…and you don’t have a frame around it and it’s not until you reduce all those down to a known set of conditions that you really evaluate what you got.” Yet anyone who sees Ward’s work knows he got it right: in his paintings sea spray splashes thunderously on the rocks, sun shines with warmth on the clapboards of a house and lazy harbors suggest endless summer days.

In the end, Ward lived a rich life that included a devoted family, service to his country, a solid career, and of course, art. Ward Palmer Mann died from cancer on October 13th, 2005–just ten days after his 84th birthday. He rests at White Haven Memorial Park in Pittsford, New York.

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  • “Local Artist Sets Exhibit,” Webster Herald, 21 August, 1974, p. 27.
  • “Local Artist to Have One Man Show,” Webster Herald, 12 June, 1968, p. 2B.
  • Mann, Craig. Interview by Carrie A. Waldarek, 30 October 2020.
  • “Mann Featured at KingsLea Gallery,” esw supplement to The Webster Herald, 4 May,1983, p. 1.
  • “Mann’s Paintings Shown Downtown,” Webster Herald, 18 October, 1972.
  • “Obituaries: Ward P. Mann,” Webster Herald, 26 October, 2005, p. 16.
  • “The Rocky Neck Connection,” Democrat & Chronicle, 30 September, 1984., Upstate Magazine section.
  • Salmagundi Art Club. Member Profiles: Ward P. Mann.
  • “Splatters of Greece,” Greater Greece Press, 29 June, 1972, p. 8.
  • State Archive, Tallahassee and clerk of courts, various counties; Tallahassee, Florida; Florida, County Marriages, 1823-1982.
  • “United States World War II Army Enlistment Records, 1938-1946.” Database. FamilySearch: 14 June 2016. Citing NARA NAID 1263923. College Park, Maryland: National Archives and Records Administration, 2002.
  • U.S. Census Bureau, 1930 U.S. Census.
  • U.S. Census Bureau, 1940 U.S. Census.
  • U.S., World War II Draft Cards Young Men, 1940-1947 for Ward Palmer Mann p 1 Ancestry.com 2020