ROGERSVILLE — Joseph “Joe” Spencer is The Local Artists’ Gallery’s Artist of the Month for February, 2020.
Born in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1947, Joe says that his parents divorced when we was 18 months old.
“My older sister and I were raised by our mother, but our father was still a part of our lives and he really drove the love of the arts of any and all kinds,” Joe said. “My father was a painter, but due to circumstances he had stopped painting for a while. It was not until my teenage years that my father started to paint again.”
During that period, Joe started to gain an interest in the arts.
“My father and I would spend time together going to the Cincinnati Art Museum, and I got to the point that I knew almost every piece in the museum and their location,” he said. “We would spend quality time together while he would sketch. But no matter how he or my high school art teacher tried, I just couldn’t draw a straight line with a ruler. I was a hopeless case!”
After high school, Joe enlisted in the Army.
“In 1965, they decided that I needed a nice vacation to sunny South Vietnam,” he said. “I was luckier than most because I got stationed in a supply unit, away from the front lines but it still wasn’t fun and games, this was a war after all. At the time, I started taking photos but they were mostly ‘point and shoots’. Something to capture the moment, like a truck that was destroyed by a land mine and moments between me and my unit. Unfortunately, I no longer have these photos because they were destroyed in a flood. Maybe that was for the best. I had not developed any sort of skill with a lens.”
When he returned to the states, he had a better experience than most returning from the war.
“Luckily, I was only ignored, not spit upon or called names,” he recalled. “After a year, I was discharged from the Army; which is all anyone ever wanted at that time. Because of the small amount of time I spent in Vietnam, my outlook on life had changed. I spent the next six and a half years traveling and living in different parts of the country. The time was spent in either Louisiana or Florida. It was in Louisiana that I realized that I needed something more in life and unfortunately, the only thing that I knew was being a soldier. I needed a skill and a feeling of purpose, so I reenlisted in the Army.”
In 1978, he was stationed in South Korea and after his experience in Vietnam (as luck would have it), he was put into “probably the best unit in my whole career”.
"It was there that I met a woman that I plan to spend the rest of my life with, and that was 41 years ago,” he said. “This was also where I bought my first real camera. With it, my wife and I traveled all over Korea and I discovered that I, the hopeless case, was actually good at photography.”
It wasn’t until he was stationed in Germany in 1982 that he really started to become serious about photography.
“I even started to take some classes,” he said. “My wife and son spent almost every weekend out taking pictures in Europe with me. Even after our daughter was born in 1984, we still traveled on the weekends. It was traveling throughout Europe, seeing architecture that was centuries old, and the unique topography of the countryside, that truly ignited my love and passion for this art form.
“After I retired, I ended up back in Germany, only this time as a civilian contractor with the weekends free to travel. I got to take photos in Belgium, Holland, Luxemburg, and what became my favorite city in Europe, Prague. It was here that I got to hone my skills, learned more about lighting and the use of filters to created contrast, the best angles to take during a sunset verses a sunrise, etc. After six months, my contract ended and I returned to my family in Kentucky. In 1993, I got a job as an Army JROTC Instructor in the small town of Evarts, Kentucky. Again my photography took a back seat to everything else. After ten years in the Appalachian region, I retired from teaching and moved to Knoxville, Tennessee. It was there that I discovered the Smoky Mountains, along with landscape and nature photography. And one again, I fell in love with traveling and the art form.
“When my daughter moved to Utah, I now had the opportunity to photograph out west. I would spend weeks with her discovering the unique landscapes of the red rock deserts, and canyons that littered the lover half of the state. During my five trips out west, I got to photograph The Grand Tetons in both with winter and the fall, Yellowstone, Monument Valley , and all five National Parks in Utah: Arches, Canyonlands, Bryce, Capitol Reef and Zion. After 5 years of living out west, my daughter decided to move back home to be closer to family. I told her that I would help her move but we had to make a slight detour to the Grand Canyon. And of course we did.
“In 2015, I decided to go back to Vietnam with my local chapter of Vietnam Veterans of America, this trip was not only to visit a beautiful country but I was also able to take in the sites, smells and sounds of the country, and this time they weren’t shooting at me. After 36 years, my wife and I got to return to South Korea. There I met family and friends I had not seen in years. Not only do I get to travel more since being retired, I get to visit these landscapes and experience nature more freely.”
After his wife decided to retire, the couple spent more time on Cherokee Lake.
“We fell in love with the local area,” he said. “It was here that we discovered Rogersville and decided that it was the place where we would finally settle down and live the retired life. I always wanted to be an artist, but I cannot paint, draw, or sculpt. So I picked up a camera and this is something I could do.”
Readers can meet Joe and talk to him personally about all of his adventures at the Local Artist Gallery on Main Street in Rogersville, where an Artist Meet and Greet is planned for February 20, from 6 to 9 p.m.
“This is a free event,” a spokesperson said. “You can talk to Joe, the Artist of the Month, and also browse through the gallery. Refreshments will be served.”