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The niece of painters Thomas Alexander Harrison and Birge Harrison, Margaret Fulton Spencer was one of the first female practicing architects in the United States. She married painter Robert Spencer in 1914 and they settled in New Hope. A specialist in restoring early fieldstone farmhouses, she also designed interiors for clients. Robert Spencer's unsupportive attitude towards her architectural career led her to painting. Her paintings were primarily impressionistic still-life or of landscape subjects.
After Robert Spencer's death in 1931, Margaret traveled to Africa and lived in Paris, where she worked for an American architectural firm, and also exhibited at the Paris Salon. In the late 1930s, she purchased a 200-acre ranch in the desert of Arizona where she designed 16 cottages, using the area's multi-colored stones for floors and walls. Known as Las Lomas Estates, these cottages were vacation homes to the rich and famous during the 1940s and 50s. After her death in 1966, a fire left Las Lomas a less glamorous retreat. Under consideration as a National Historic Site, it may be refurbished to its original state as a lasting tribute to Margaret Fulton Spencer, a woman who had the courage to pursue a dream.
Robert and Margaret Fulton Spencer with Ann Spencer and friends en route to Europe, 1929. Image courtesy of Ann Spencer Simon.
Education and Training
Bryn Mawr College, Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, c. 1900
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Boston, Massachusetts, degree in architecture, c. 1907
New York School of Design for Women, New York, New York
Art Students' League, New York, New York
Teachers and Influences
Birge Harrison, H. Walker, Robert Spencer, William Lathrop
Connection to Bucks County
Margaret Fulton came to New Hope to study with painter William Lathrop, and settled there in 1914, when she married fellow student Robert Spencer. They made their home at Rabbit Run, where she designed Robert Spencer's studio. They were close friends of the Lathrops and other members of the New Group of Modernist painters. Margaret Fulton Spencer became a specialist in restoring early fieldstone farmhouses, including the farm that is presently the Chimney Hill Estate in Lambertville, New Jersey. Margaret used decorative metal grillwork by Morgan Colt in her remodeling commissions, and she served as secretary for the New Group . Following her husband's suicide, she moved permanently to Arizona in the late 1930s, but revisited New Hope during the summers of 1940 and 1941.
Colleagues and Affiliations
Robert Spencer, William Lathrop, Morgan Colt, Birge Harrison
Ann Spencer Simon, her daughter, is an active painter in Tucson, Arizona.
At Home with Margaret Spencer and Robert Spencer, unidentified newspaper, n.d. Image courtesy of the Michener Art Museum archives.
Major Group Exhibitions
National Academy of Design, New York , New York, 1916-1919 and 1928
Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1916-1919, 1921, 1922, 1926-1929, 1931 and 1932
Biennial Exhibition, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. 1916, 1919, 1926, 1928, 1930
Le Salon, Paris, France, 1930s
Holmquist House, Solebury School, Solebury, Pennsylvania
Simpson College, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Las Lomas Estates, Tucson, Arizona, late 1930s
Various remodeling projects in the Bucks County and Lambertville, New Jersey area.
Teaching and Professional Appointments
Second Registered Woman Architect in the United States
Co-founder, Tucson chapter, the American Institute of Architects
Affiliations and Memberships
Member, American Artists Professional League
Member, American Institute of Architects
Member, Union des Femmes Peintres et Sculpteurs, Paris, France
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