Joan Spieler Interview, 1995

By Bryan Davis

Whenever the beginnings of the Bosque Conservatory are discussed, Joan Spieler is the name most often credited as having been the guiding force in the creation of the fine arts complex. Although others certainly played pivotal roles in the Conservatory’s formation, none have maintained the continuous active role in the Conservatory that Spieler has. Fifteen years after the Conservatory was only in the planning stages, Joan Spieler remains a guiding force in the Conservatory…still working, planning, and volunteering just as she always has.

Though not a native of Bosque County, Joan Spieler is renowned as one of its most vocal promoters. She spent the first half of her life in Abilene, where she was born, educated, and married to her high school sweetheart, W.L. “Bill” Spieler. She is mother to one daughter, two granddaughters and three great-grandchildren. The late Bill Speiler’s job brought the couple to Clifton in 1956, and Joan has been in the forefront of Bosque County’s noted art circle ever since. Spieler has been an artist most her life. And while trained as an artist, she spent the majority of her working life as a photographer. Clifton’s Spieler Gallery, which Bill and Joan began in 1960, was first a photography studio. Spieler says she left photography with the advent of color and the gallery evolved into an art and frame shop where she began teaching art and painting. She sold Spieler Gallery in 1980 to Sharon Knustrom. The gallery still maintains the Spieler name but is now located downtown.

Speiler’s recollections of the Conservatory’s early days are simple. She said that when her husband informed her that the business (Gearench) then located in the former Clifton Lutheran College administration building would be relocating, “I said, ‘that building would be the perfect place for a great art center.’ My idea was for a total art center,” explained Spieler. A place for all the arts under one roof, for adults and children. I knew it would be something Bosque County could really benefit from, especially since arts were not being taught in any of the county schools at the time.”

Spieler worked towards the donation of the property by the Olsen family for a fine arts complex as well as the actual planning and direction of what the Conservatory would eventually become. Dedication of the Conservatory came in 1980. Spieler served as the Conservatory’s first vice-president and as a member of the original Board of Directors.

Today, Spieler downplays her role in the Conservatory’s formation. “I just seemed to know all the right people to get things done,” she said. But through the years, Joan has managed to serve on every committee, branch, fundraiser, special project, and endeavor of the Conservatory. She says the Tin Building Theatre and the art branches have afforded her the most personal satisfaction. Speiler’s skills as an artist have helped to design some of the Tin Building Theatre’s most memorable sets. She is a former president of the Art Club and recently was honored by having the newly-renovated art studio named in her honor. She is especially proud of the Conservatory’s Annual Judged and Juried Art Show, which she helped to organize in 1986 and has seen grow in size and prestige through the years.

“I think the things we do voluntarily to make this a better place to live are the things we do best,” Spieler said. “Not the things we get paid to do. Most everything a community has to be proud of comes from volunteers working together. While I’m here, there are things still worth working towards to make this world a better place for those who follow.”

While Spieler dwells on the accomplishments of the Conservatory, she said her biggest disappointment has been the slow response by the entire county to “embrace the Conservatory as its own. I would like to see people county-wide, even area-wide,” said Spieler, “feel at home here and benefit from all we have to offer. It distresses me that we haven’t been able to reach outside of Clifton very well to make everyone feel welcome.” Spieler elaborated, “Living ten miles either way of town should not make people feel like outsiders. But people do and we haven’t made much progress to correct it.”

Towards that end, Spieler intends to remain active and says volunteers from throughout the county are more important than ever. “I’ve had all the recognition I’ll ever need,” Spieler said in closing. “My satisfaction comes from seeing all the volunteers doing jobs that I don’t have to do anymore and won’t have to do when I come back. Because I believe in reincarnation,” Spieler said. “And I’ll definitely be back.”

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