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News Obituaries

Ron Spencer, 67, artist

Ron Spencer, an artist who twice restored the painted designs on a Linthicum church's ceiling and walls, died Wednesday of bone cancer at Stella Maris Hospice in Timonium. He was 67.

Mr. Spencer, who lived in Baltimore, graduated from Baltimore City College in 1965 and from the Maryland Institute College of Art in 1971.

He was active in the civil rights movement and in Vietnam War protests, said a longtime friend, John Oden of Baltimore. But most of Mr. Spencer's life centered on art. Prolific and detail-oriented, his work ranged from murals to ink-and-colored-pencil drawings to posters for Baltimore's Sowebo art and music festival.

"He was made out of art," Mr. Oden said.

The project that grabbed headlines was Mr. Spencer's restoration of artwork on the ceiling, walls and chancel of Linthicum Heights United Methodist Church's Holly Run Chapel — his second time doing it, that is.

He completed the first restoration in the late 1970s after the 19th-century chapel had been taken apart and put back together on a new site, and church leaders wanted to recreate the artwork that had graced the interior.

Then a lightning strike in 2004 set the chapel on fire. Firefighters were able to save the building, but not the artwork.

Mr. Spencer told The Baltimore Sun in an interview that it was as if his heart had been cut out when he saw what had come of his stars, phoenixes and other intricate designs.

"I just felt so empty," he said.

Mr. Spencer, who battled pancreatitis and prostate cancer before the bone cancer diagnosis, was ill when the lightning struck. But he signed on to do the restoration again, this time with artists from around the area.

The project took more than two years — much longer than church leaders had expected, in part because the work went in fits and starts. The result, though, was lovely. A couple who came to the dedication ceremony in 2006 liked the chapel so much, they were married there soon after, said Dale Townsend, who chaired the second restoration committee.

"We have small services in that chapel — the most recent one we had was New Year's Eve, actually — and when I was sitting in there, several people who had never been in that chapel before were complimenting us on how beautiful it was," he said.

Mr. Spencer's brother, Jack Spencer, said he has a couple of hundred of his sibling's sketches.

"Real intricate stuff," said Jack Spencer, who lives in Oakland. "It looked like it would take days."

Before college and a short stint in Paris, Ron Spencer had a difficult childhood. He and his brother were shifted from house to house and separated after the second grade.

"I would say his background led him into art," Jack Spencer said.

Judy Wolpert, an artist and friend of Ron Spencer's, said he studied the masters — at the Maryland Institute and afterward — and stayed true to those lessons.

"He stuck to that very old-school art that's not found anymore," said Ms. Wolpert, who lives in New Orleans. "It's all so computerized now."

The two artists critiqued each other and worked together on projects. She said she would send him half-finished works, "and he'd send me the other half back."

What Ms. Wolpert particularly appreciates is that Mr. Spencer took her nephew under his wing as the boy learned how to create art.

"My nephew has autism," she said. "Ron … didn't see his disability, he saw him as a person, and that was great — that was a great thing for my nephew."

In addition to his brother, Mr. Spencer is survived by his wife, Jo Ryan of Baltimore, four children and four grandchildren.

A memorial will be held Feb. 18 after 3 p.m. at the Cat's Eye Pub, 1730 Thames St. in Fells Point. 

jhopkins@baltsun.com

twitter.com/jsmithhopkins

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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