Published: May 12, 2020
BEVERLY, MASS. – Joseph Peter Spang lll, 61-year resident of Deerfield, Mass., died at his home in Beverly, Mass., on Thursday, May 7.
“Peter,” as he was known to all, was born in Chicago on May 11, 1934 to Joseph P. Spang Jr and Gwendolen (Green). After his mother’s death, when he was just a few months old, he was raised by his father and aunt, Marie F. Spang. The family returned to Boston in 1938, when Joseph Spang became president of the Gillette Company. Peter was educated at the Dexter School, the Brooks School in North Andover, Mass., Harvard College, and pursued graduate study at the Courtauld Institute in London. The Spangs lived first in Brookline and then Milton and spent summers at a different place each year until 1957, when Peter and his aunt found Grafton at Manchester-by-the-Sea on Massachusetts’ North Shore. It has been the family home ever since.
Soon after his return from London, Peter learned that Helen and Henry Flynt were seeking a fledgling curator to assist them in managing their growing collection at Deerfield. Under the tutelage of artist and Deerfield descendant Elizabeth Fuller, Abbott Lowell Cummings of the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities, and the local historical researcher Amelia “Mimi” Miller, Peter learned the history of Deerfield and became acquainted with the remarkable survival of books, manuscripts and objects at the Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association and in Deerfield families. He worked with steady, but gentle, persuasion to direct the Flynts to focus their collecting and furnishing more closely on Deerfield. He was for more than ten years the only professional staff member at Historic Deerfield and was involved with everything – the library, educational programming and lecturing near and far on the Deerfield project. He participated actively in the Summer Fellowship Program and forged lifelong friendships with many Deerfield Fellows. Peter retired early, in 1986, but continued to do research for Historic Deerfield part-time and to live in the house overlooking the Deerfield meadows that he had redesigned to suit himself and his collections. He became synonymous with Deerfield in the view of so many and was widely known among curators and collectors in this country and abroad.
Peter’s knowledge and accomplishments at Historic Deerfield were recognized by his election to the Club of Odd Volumes, the Walpole Society, the Somerset Club, the Colonial Society of Massachusetts, the Massachusetts Historical Society and the American Antiquarian Society. He served on the Visiting Committee at Old Sturbridge Village, the Council of the Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association, as a Trustee of the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities, Historic Deerfield, and the Massachusetts Historical Society, on the Standing Committee of the Trustees of Reservations, and the Lewis Walpole Library Board of Managers at Yale University.
Collecting was for Peter a professional responsibility and also a personal pleasure. In his student days in London he explored the Portobello Road and made great finds, notably splendid portraits by Robert Feke, or possibly very early copies of Fekes, that still hang in a place designed for them in his Deerfield home. It was also in London that he began to assemble a choice collection of architectural pattern books that are now in the Joseph Peter Spang Rare Book Room in the Henry N. Flynt Library at Historic Deerfield. Another passion was ocean liners. Peter loved his early travels across the Atlantic before air travel eclipsed the ocean liner. He formed a delightful collection of ocean liner memorabilia that includes a model that once graced the window of the Cunard Line office in New York.
Family was perhaps Peter’s most abiding passion. He was devoted to his brother Thomas, who died in 2009, and to Tom’s wife, Caroline; his niece Charlotte Spang, her husband Peter Lape, and their daughter Isabel of Seattle; his niece Vanessa Spang, her husband Bruce Levin, and their sons Benjamin and Alexander of San Francisco; and his nephew Thomas Spang and his wife Elizabeth and their children Peter and Emily of Hamilton, Mass. He has maintained contact with the extended Spang family of aunts, uncles and cousins and with his mother’s Anglo-Irish family in England, Ireland, Scotland, and the continent.
Peter has been the keeper of the family lore and of the story of their seaside home at Manchester-by-the-Sea. He was always ready to tell friends about Dana’s Beach, where the Richard Henry Dana family settled in the mid-Nineteenth Century, and the 98-room summer place, Undercliff, built soon after 1900 on the site where Grafton now sits. Undercliff included a splendid garden designed by Martha Brookes Hutcheson, which survives and was a great source of joy for Peter.
I value every memory of our 55-year friendship. Wherever connoisseurs, curators, and enthusiasts for early American decorative arts gather, Peter will be missed.
-Written by Donald R. Friary, director emeritus of Historic Deerfield and president, the Colonial Society of Massachusetts
January 12, 2021
January 12, 2021
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