Local artist raises fund to support area creatives

Richard Spinney in his home workshop. Photo by Andy Coughlan

The holidays may be over but if one local “Santa” has his way, the season of giving will not end any time soon.

Artist Richard Spinney, who was Santa at Parkdale Mall for 18 years before the COVID-19 lock-down, turns 80 this month, and his family and friends are hosting a fundraiser at the Beaumont Art League, from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturday, to raise money for a sponsorship fund to assist creatives. The event is open to everyone and visitors are encouraged to dress in Spinney’s signature red.

“Over the years, through Santa Claus, I did a bunch of giving, and when little kids came to give Santa money, I tried to entice them to give it to the Salvation Army on the way out and help Santa that way,” Spinney said.

After two years away from the mall, Spinney said he realized he is not able to do the job anymore.

“I just know, health-wise, I just can’t hang,” he said. “It’s a short job, but it’s very strenuous. Tough on your body.”

Spinney’s daughter, Lisa Pace, said she and her sister, Belinda Shaw, originally planned for Saturday’s party to be a surprise while also raising money for Spinney to continue his philanthropy.

“We knew there’s nothing we can buy him, absolutely nothing. And we knew that he would get more enjoyment out of being able to help others, gifting them, than any gifts that he could get,” she said. “He really truly does get more enjoyment by just helping people.”

The sisters quickly realized that with friends and family all over Texas, it would be too hard to use social media and raise money without revealing the secret. They have been raising money for the Richard Spinney Arts & Educator’s Sponsorship Fund which will allow Spinney to help various individuals and organizations in the area.

“He can’t actually go and be Santa Claus anymore at the mall, but now he can still be Santa Claus by gifting people some money to help them further their artistic endeavors,” Pace said.

Richard Spinney, wearing a carved wooden hat, talks about different types of wood in his Beaumont workshop. Photo by Andy Coughlan

Spinney said he is looking forward to distributing money to people who need help pursuing their creative passion, no matter what form that takes.

“The arts include dance, includes wood carving, and there’s a lot of things besides,” he said. “(It’s) artists doing their thing, so the parameter is, at this moment, very large.”

Spinney said the money might sponsor artists to visit nursing homes and work with people, or to visit schools and hold art lessons or workshops. Or maybe it’ll be for a neighborhood kid who wants to take dance lessons but can’t afford them. He also wants to sponsor classes at The Art Studio, Inc. and Beaumont Art League.

Spinney said that while he is looking forward to sponsoring, he is slightly uncomfortable with the fuss.

“I don’t enjoy going and asking for money for sure,” he said. “I would rather go out in the street, give a guy a $100 bill and walk away, and he’ll never know me. I’ve done that, 50s mostly, for 30 or 40 years. I don’t tell people I do that, it’s just one of those things. I do it because it makes me feel good.”

When Pace suggested having the celebration the Beaumont Art League, where they currently have an exhibition of local abstract and impressionist work, Spinney looked at it as another opportunity to help others, she said.

“He said, ‘Oh, that’s great, because maybe we can get a lot of people to come in and they’ll see the artists that are out and maybe some artists will sell some art,’” she said. “That’s Dad. He’s always looking out for the other artists. Instead of him thinking about his party, (he thought) it might actually get exposure for somebody else.”

Pace said she is going to surprise Spinney at the celebration with the amount raised. And people can continue to donate after the event as well.

Spinney is an accomplished woodcarver and was president of the Texas Woodcarver’s Guild in the 1970s. At the time, it had 700 members, he said.

“I started then giving away at least one carving a year, every year to a total stranger, and I’ve done every year since,” he said. “Some little kid would come up to the table that I’m at, and say, ‘How much is that?’ I’d say, ‘How much you got?’ ‘I got $3.’ And I’d say, ‘That’s just exactly what it is.’

“I just enjoy giving stuff away, especially if it’s something they enjoy.”

Spinney has been enjoying some success over the past few years, with shows at the Beaumont Art League and The Art Studio, Inc.

“People consider me an artist now. I’m an overnight success — and only took me 50 years of carving,” he said, with a laugh that Santa would be proud of.

To make a donation, visit lisapace.com . To submit a sponsorship request, email Spinney at santa@stnicksworkshop.com or lisa@lisapace.com.

The Beaumont Art League is located at 2675 Gulf Ave. in Beaumont.

This story originally ran in the Jan. 14, 2022 Art of Living section of The Beaumont Enterprise.

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