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 D. Alanson Spencer  (1911 - 1999)

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Lived/Active: California      Known for: landscape, western, mural-diorama

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Ad Code: 3
D Alanson Spencer
from Auction House Records.
Canyon De Chelly
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
The following, submitted June 2002, is from Douglas Guske, collector of Indian and western Americana:

Recently we were able to purchase some wonderful watercolors of D. Alanson Spencer. They are primarily of the American Southwest especially the Four Corners Region. We have also been able to obtain biographical information from his family.

Duncan Spencer was born in Los Angeles in 1911 where he was drawing as soon as he could hold a pencil. His parents allowed him to draw on the wallpaper changing it when it was full of his drawings. He studied art at the Chouinard Art School and served as an apprentice with Arthur Beaumont. During this period he was accepted into the Los Angeles Painters & Sculptors Club, which included a group of young artists who would go on painting excursions and then be critiqued by club members.

After leaving Mr.. Beaumont in 1932, Spencer did a great deal of sketching and painting in the field. In 1937 he began a career spanning thirty-eight years and four-hundred movies. He began at MGM Studios under George Gibson, Scenic Art Department, and when work at MGM was slow, he also worked for Fox Studios, Columbia, Universal and Warners. His film scenic works included The Wizard of Oz, White Christmas, Meet Me in St. Louis and Ziegfeld Follies.

During the 50's he worked with Billy Wilder as a Scenic Art Director on Irma La Deuce, The Apartment, Witness for the Prosecution and The Fortune Cookie.

Duncan was commissioned by R.S. Grosh & Sons in 1957 to create the Grand Canyon Diorama for the Disneyland Railroad ride. He completed twenty-nine dioramas for the animal backdrops in the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History.

He subcontracted for the IBM exhibit at the New York World's Fair in 1962. He completed a 192' x 16' diorama of the trip along the Mississippi River showing the river landscape around Memphis, Tennessee in the early 1870s for the Hospitality Room of the Schlitz Brewing Company. It has since been purchased by the Coors Brewing Company.

While living in Denver he painted dioramas for the Denver Museum of Natural History. He also was selected to complete a diorama for the Smithsonian Institution entitled, "We the People", which hangs in the Political Hall of the Smithsonian.

Mr. Spencer was an active member of the American Water Color Society & American Indian & Cowboys of America. He has paintings scattered throughout the United States as well as Canada & Europe.

His works are held in many private collections including the Barry Goldwater Personal Collection and the Santa Fe Railroad Art Collection. One of his paintings of the Four Corners Area, his favorite location, was used for their 1982 calendar.

Duncan had numerous awards for his work including the AICA (American and Cowboy Artists) in 1989, "The Eagle Feather Award" and Best of Show in AICA Show at the Gene Autry Museum, 1997. He has exhibited in many shows with many organizations including:

The American Water Color Association
The Audubon Artists Society
The California Water Color Society
The American & Cowboy Artists (AICA)

Footnote: His wife, Alice, states that he used his name, Duncan, until he became a professional artist. There was another artist by the name of Duncan so he decided to use D. Alanson Spencer so there would be no confusion of the two artists. She could not recall the other artist's surname. Family and friends always called him Duncan.

Articles about D. Alanson Spencer or his inclusion in articles or exhibit catalogs.

Southwest Art, March 1994, "D. Alanson Spencer In His Third Career" pp.69 five pages, six images.

Artists of the Rockies and the Golden West, Spring 1983, p 86. Lists artists with an image of their work who were part of an O'Brien's Art Emporium Watercolor Show.

ART of the WEST'S GUIDEBOOK of Western Artists, 1998. p. 30 D. Alanson Spencer, Watercolor, Landscape. Image: "The Three Sisters"

Submitted May 2004 by Marilynn Guske, Indian & Western Americana

This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Duncan Alanson Spencer was born in Los Angeles, CA on Nov. 24, 1911. After graduating from Hollywood High School, Spencer entered the Chouinard Art School and spent two years as an apprentice to Arthur Beaumont.  In 1937 he began a 38-year career in the scenic departments of MGM, Fox, and other studios.  He later lived in a renovated stage coach stop in Mariposa, CA until his demise on Oct. 2, 1999. 

Exh:  Painters & Sculptors of LA, 1935-44; LA City Hall, 1936; Calif. WC Society, 1946-55. 

In:  Smithsonian Inst.; Santa Fe Railway; LA County Museum of Natural History (dioramas); Denver Museum of Natural History (dioramas).
Edan Hughes, "Artists in California, 1786-1940"
Interview with artist or his/her family
Nearly 20,000 biographies can be found in Artists in California 1786-1940 by Edan Hughes and is available for sale ($150). For a full book description and order information please click here.

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