Dennis Spangler: 1953-2016

BEAUTY BY DESIGN: Artist Dennis Spangler devised unique methods for the hand-painted and hand-printed fabrics he designed, including the block-print shirt he wears here circa 1980.

The world has lost a wonderful artist who possessed a great deal of sparkle, kindness, and creativity with the passing of Dennis Spangler, who died in his sleep of heart failure on March 15. A very private person, with a warm soul and gentle personality, Dennis was a native of Santa Barbara who spent most of his life in his hometown and the later years of his life rather reclusively.

Dennis Lloyd Spangler was born September 1, 1953, at St. Francis Hospital. He attended Peabody Elementary, Kellogg, and Goleta Valley, and graduated from Dos Pueblos High School in 1971. Although Dennis took classes at SBCC, his real education and true métier as an artist came from the global influences of the world of books, design, art, and music (from rave to jazz to classical to ethnic new world rhythms) and from taking cues from artists in all fields of expression while building his own language with color, shape, paint, fabric, paper, foil, crystals, precious stones, found materials, rusty metal, and whatever else he got his hands on. Everything he touched and created — from his Summerland garden to jewelry made from his boxes of baubles to homemade cookies and pies from his kitchen — was unique, magical, and utterly delicious.

Dennis spent a short time in his youth with his family in Oakhurst, outside of Yosemite, where his father had a restaurant. Following high school, he spent a few months living with his best friend, Jeff Brook, and his family in Davis, California, before returning to Santa Barbara. He lived in Santa Barbara and Montecito, including on the Ravenscroft estate, where he had a studio to create his fine hand-painted fabrics (which have been featured in Architectural Digest and other publications) for the interior design trade. Dennis added to his fabric art by creating rooms from found objects, chandeliers, labels for Santa Barbara Winery, wall hangings for a church, jewelry, wands, paintings, and drawings in Summerland, where he spent the past 30 years of his life living in an ocean-view geodesic dome with his lifelong friend Ron Bishop.

His friend Jeff Brook remembered, “As a boy (and he never quit) Dennis loved to collect things, especially anything sparkly, and found ways to make those things fit together into something beautiful. Music was in his soul. As a young boy, he loved music, but especially the Supremes, Sonny and Cher. He even had a rave period — he didn’t care that he was the oldest one dancing all night long!”

Dennis certainly had his wild days — those who knew him then will remember— but he spent the last few years in a more contemplative, quiet way — studying brain chemistry, philosophy, religions, spirituality, and psychology.

His friend Jeff remembers, “Dennis didn’t like school, and I don’t think he ever got good grades. However, as an adult he had a lust for learning. Many times we’d talk, and he’d launch into a heady subject, and I’d wonder, ‘Is this the same Dennis I grew up with? This guy is really smart’. And as we all knew, he was. He just needed the opportunity to think outside the box.”

Although a homebody, Dennis did travel during his life to New York, Thailand, and England. As Ron said, “Dennis was an artist, but he was the art.”

Dennis had a wide circle of exceptional friends who kept him close to their hearts and are missing him dearly. Dennis was predeceased by his mother, Joanne, a kindred spirit, when he was just 18. That major event shaped much of his life. Noted architect Jack Warner, a lifelong fan of Dennis’s work, was a good friend who also predeceased him. He is survived by his father, William Spangler, and stepmother, Wilma, of Helendale, California, and a brother, niece, and nephew.

On a personal note, I want to add that Dennis was the big brother (he stood 6′7″ tall) I always wanted. We talked about everything under the sun. He knew my history; I knew his. He knew my strengths and, most of all, my foibles. I, in turn, knew his. We shared our darkest secrets with one another, our joys and tender fears and tears. But most of all we laughed and wondered and always thought we would grow old together. We did grow old together — but just not as long as perhaps either one of us had expected or hoped for. Rest in peace, my dear friend and brother. I miss you to the moon and back.

A life celebration will be held Saturday, July 30. For information, email Penny Paine at or call Leslie Westbrook at (805) 220-6773.


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