Joseph H. Spencer
Pioneer of Multi-Torch Firing, Enamelist, Tool Maker, Father, Friend
"When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left but could say I’ve used everything you gave me." Erma Bombeck
Joseph Spencer, 91, of Pinellas Park, Florida, passed away peacefully on Friday, August 19, 2016 at C.W. Young VA Medical Center.
Joseph H. Spencer was born in Wingate, North Carolina and grew up in Chicago, Illinois.
Joe was a furniture salesman selling to schools and churches during the 1950s. He spent 10 years in private and formal study for a career in voice, which was interrupted by three years in the U.S. Navy during World War II as a USS Farragut radar man. He was awarded a Purple Heart for his service.
Joe learned the basics of enameling and experiments of torch-fired enameling in the 1960s. In 1962, he met Harold Martin, master enamelist. Mr. Martin also worked with churches doing Cloisonné Enamel Stations of the Cross and Religious Symbolisms. Over the next three years Joe spent many hours in the Harold Martin Studio learning the basics of enameling. From 1966 to 1970 he worked on developing his unique method of multi-torch firing or what he termed as the MTF enameling process. Joe said, “In 1965, I met with Mr. Teeters, vice president and chief engineer of the Thompson Enamel Company. Mr. Teeters acknowledged that enameling was being done by applying the torch fire to the bottom of an object. He stated that the direct fire on the enamels was not realistic and would discolor or burn the enamel. With that understanding, Mr. Teeters was happy to make the enamel available to me.” This meeting allowed him to work on solving concerns that came with multi-torch firing and the enameling process. As they say... the rest is history.
In 1970, Joe and his wife, Lois participated in a one-man art show at four regional shopping malls in Minneapolis/St. Paul. It was there that he had his first public demonstration of his multi torch firing technique. This resulted in a six-year artist contract in Minneapolis, Minnesota. In 1974, they relocated to Clearwater, Florida. He and Lois enjoyed touring with the World Art Shows 1973-1974 six months out of the year. In 1976, they built their first studio in Clearwater, Florida. Joe was invited to be a resident artist at the world famous Kapok Tree Inn. He and Lois worked side by side at the Kapok Tree Inn seven days a week from 1975 to 1981. In 1977, Joe was invited to the Lake Buena Vista Resort, ten-day promotion at Disney World, Orlando, Florida. In his first 10 years, he logged over 8,000 hours of public demonstrations.
In 1981 Joe moved into his second studio, which was larger in Safety Harbor and had his grand opening to the public in 1983. He continued teaching classes and having his enameling workshops. A lot of his time was spent traveling around the state teaching torch-firing enameling processes.
In 1991 he had a demonstration and lecture at the Enamelist Society Convention, three-day workshop in Covington, Kentucky. Each year from 1992 to 2007 he looked forward to demonstrating as a guest artist at the International Welding Convention, which was held at McCormick Place, Chicago, Illinois. In 1993, Joe enameled a Commemorative Bonsai Sculpture Limited edition of 250 pieces for the International Bonsai Convention held in Orlando, Florida.
Joe loved testing new ideas and processes. He was a consultant in glass metal fusion for Hydrogen Technology Applications, Inc., Clearwater, Florida, from 2004 to 2009. In 2010, he decided to remodel studio in Safety Harbor, Florida. After the remodel, Joe continued his classes and workshops. In 2015, he moved into an even larger home studio located in Pinellas Park, Florida. He continued teaching workshops at his studio until a week before he went to heaven in 2016.
Joe’s other passions included singing opera music and growing bonsai trees, and in 2016, he studied and took classes in Ikebana Floral Arranging. He believed in education. He also said that keeping your mind busy was one of the best ways to stay active. He lived what he believed. He was an active enameling pioneer for 51 years until his death – for his life, the lure of the flames is irresistible.
His favorite sayings were “We’re doing the best we can with what we’ve got,” “Happiness is …”, “Chase a bear with a switch,” and “It’s just like downtown just not as crowded.”
Most of Joe’s students know him as a kind bead instructor with the patience of a saint. Some students know him for his enamel mixes and the original bead pulling station. Some know him for his tinkering and desire to create and make new and innovating enameling tools. Some folks know him for and collect his sculpture pieces. I simply know him as friend.
I am very grateful to Joe’s daughter, Jo Ellen Spencer-Granaas, and my husband, Jim Swallow, for helping me get this information and photographs together to honor Joe.
A special thank you to Holly Dodson for proof reading after I finished writing.
For those who had the opportunity to meet Joe, you’ve already been blessed. For those who did not get to meet Joe, you missed out.
At 91, he kept going like he was 65. He never complained, he stayed positive, and he kept very active.
If I can be more like the example he set, I would be a better person and the world would be a better place.
Sincerely Cheryl Anne Day-Swallow
On the night of his passing