Spencer Holst

by Robert Sievert


Spencer Holst

Spencer Holst died Thursday November 22, 2001. He was 75 at the time and had much success as a writer and later as a painter. He was a devoted father to his son Sebastian and devoted husband to his wife of forty years, Beate Wheeler Holst.

His greatest strength was his ability as a reader. His voice, his command of his audience, his material all joined together to cast a spell. To this end he wrote wonderful fables, stories and many pieces of only one or two lines that seemed to contain the universe.

He had been a bohemian all his life, reading his new lines to friends by candlelight. I remember such a evening in his home on Staten Island in the sixties. We sat around his kitchen table while he read from one of his manuscripts that he pulled out of an overstuffed trunk. Several friends, his always gracious wife Beate, candles illuminated the scene that was attended by at least seven gray cats all sitting around the kitchen on tables and chairs and shelves as much part of it as anyone of us.

It occurs to me as I write this that this might be a scene out of one of his stories. He lived as he imagined. A world of art, music, strange tales in which animals spoke and miracles were ordinary. And always cats. Later in his life I visited him in his Greenwich village studio. He was extremely tired and lay across his bed. Under his arm lay a cat with his paws over Spencer's arm in complete repose.

I met Spencer, known to friends as Boy, a name given to him by his father, when I was 26 and he was 38. He immediately charted some mathematical equation about the relationship of our ages. I was born in 1938 and 26 years old while he was born in 1926 and was 38. He went on to explain further but I have forgotten the rest of the formula. We were both living in a waterfront building on the narrows of Staten Island.

Spencer became a major influence on my life. I remember sitting in a Horn and Hardart automat on Williams Street in lower Manhattan with my friend Roxanne Gonzales. From our table we got a grand view of the lunchtime crowds that streamed past the window. Suddenly Spencer passed by pushing a stroller with his son Sebastian in it. I didn't know Spencer at that time, he was just my downstairs neighbor. I turned to Roxanne and proclaimed "That's who I want to be in 20 years" My admiration for him was instant and without qualification

Spencer and Beate, (Boy and Bea), were glorious figures to a young artist. They both had success at showing their works, Spencer was always reading somewhere and Beate had shown her paintings in the downtown gallery scene. And what's more they seemed to know everybody. He played Chess with John Cage.

Spencer had many friends among the avant guard artists. Everyone loved his stories. He loved dancers and was always performing with them. He thought of new ways to collaborate with them. He was part of a scene that existed in the sixties and seventies that was unique and exciting.

In his later years he was a painter. He painted pictures of intense decorative power. He started by making a faux writing sketch. He loved the idea of false identities. He had a story about double-talk French. These paintings were supposed to be a new invented calligraphy. However they took off and became a genre to themselves.

Spence is missed but remembered for his long and fruitful life in the arts .


  Copyright © 2002 Robert Sievert