Witches of Bay City

Normally a season for howling werewolves and wicked wizards, in recent decades Halloween has welcomed a coven of whimsical witches and goofy jack-o’-lantern folk to its ranks of misfit spooks. One local artist has added to the whimsy of Halloween.

For over 25 years, Joe Spencer of Bay City has been bringing decorative dolls to life in a collection called Gathered Traditions. Through an exclusive contract with Gallerie II, a wholesale home decor company based in Newport News, Virginia, the Gathered Traditions line has built a strong following of collectors, locally and worldwide.

The first dolls Spencer sculpted were Santas. As a collector of Santa figurines himself, he would browse Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland in Frankenmuth and other seasonal stores for St. Nick dolls. The hobby eventually became financially burdensome. Spencer remembers, “I thought, ‘Oh my goodness, they’re so expensive.’ Then I thought, ‘I bet you can do these.’” Soon after beginning to create the Santa figurines, Spencer branched out from Christmas into Halloween; he has also designed dolls for Easter, Independence Day, and Thanksgiving.

The Halloween figures, however, have gained the largest following—they’re also Spencer’s favorite to work on. “What I absolutely love doing is the witches. You can make them look so goofy,” says Spencer. “When I’m sculpting a witch’s face, I don’t like to make it gory or anything. I like to make them whimsical, but, at the same time, they look more real.”

Spencer and his business partner, Rick Windt, would sell the handcrafted dolls at their country-style store Gathered Traditions, now called GT Homestead. The dolls were also a hit at local craft bazaars. “We’d sell out within an hour. The other vendors would buy them all before we could sell them to actual customers,” says Spencer.

One day a few years into the doll-making adventure, a representative from Gallerie II stopped at the store to inquire about the dolls. “She asked who the artist was; I told her, ‘Well, I did them,’” Spencer recalls. The new business relationship took off from there.

Typically, Spencer spends the first two or three months of each year designing prototypes to send to Gallerie II. The prototypes are then adapted for mass production. Though Gallerie II may change the fabric and colors from his prototype, Spencer is able to give approval before the dolls go into production. And, importantly, each doll is still painted by hand.

“It’s a great company to work for,” says Spencer, who is happy with how Gallerie II has publicized his work. “I’ve been in I don’t know how many magazines. I’ve had people in New York tell me they saw my dolls in the Empire State Building.”

Spencer’s deal with Gallerie II allows him to sell his originals directly to customers during two open houses at GT Homestead. The events frequently attract fans who will line up outside the store, often camping out in their cars the night before to be sure they’re first in line.

“I’m very thankful that people sit in line from 6 a.m. It’s like a concert,” Spencer says, though he’s occasionally baffled by the interest. “I couldn’t tell you [why people like them]. They say, ‘Joe, there’s just a certain look to your dolls.’ I just don’t see it. They’re goofy-looking is what they are.”

Goofy and whimsical as they are, the Gathered Traditions dolls have become a cherished tradition for many.


Normally a season for howling werewolves and wicked wizards, in recent decades Halloween has welcomed a coven of whimsical witches and goofy jack-o’-lantern folk to its ranks of misfit spooks. One local artist has added to the whimsy of Halloween.

For over 25 years, Joe Spencer of Bay City has been bringing decorative dolls to life in a collection called Gathered Traditions. Through an exclusive contract with Gallerie II, a wholesale home decor company based in Newport News, Virginia, the Gathered Traditions line has built a strong following of collectors, locally and worldwide.

The first dolls Spencer sculpted were Santas. As a collector of Santa figurines himself, he would browse Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland in Frankenmuth and other seasonal stores for St. Nick dolls. The hobby eventually became financially burdensome. Spencer remembers, “I thought, ‘Oh my goodness, they’re so expensive.’ Then I thought, ‘I bet you can do these.’” Soon after beginning to create the Santa figurines, Spencer branched out from Christmas into Halloween; he has also designed dolls for Easter, Independence Day, and Thanksgiving.

The Halloween figures, however, have gained the largest following—they’re also Spencer’s favorite to work on. “What I absolutely love doing is the witches. You can make them look so goofy,” says Spencer. “When I’m sculpting a witch’s face, I don’t like to make it gory or anything. I like to make them whimsical, but, at the same time, they look more real.”

Spencer and his business partner, Rick Windt, would sell the handcrafted dolls at their country-style store Gathered Traditions, now called GT Homestead. The dolls were also a hit at local craft bazaars. “We’d sell out within an hour. The other vendors would buy them all before we could sell them to actual customers,” says Spencer.

One day a few years into the doll-making adventure, a representative from Gallerie II stopped at the store to inquire about the dolls. “She asked who the artist was; I told her, ‘Well, I did them,’” Spencer recalls. The new business relationship took off from there.

Typically, Spencer spends the first two or three months of each year designing prototypes to send to Gallerie II. The prototypes are then adapted for mass production. Though Gallerie II may change the fabric and colors from his prototype, Spencer is able to give approval before the dolls go into production. And, importantly, each doll is still painted by hand.

“It’s a great company to work for,” says Spencer, who is happy with how Gallerie II has publicized his work. “I’ve been in I don’t know how many magazines. I’ve had people in New York tell me they saw my dolls in the Empire State Building.”

Spencer’s deal with Gallerie II allows him to sell his originals directly to customers during two open houses at GT Homestead. The events frequently attract fans who will line up outside the store, often camping out in their cars the night before to be sure they’re first in line.

“I’m very thankful that people sit in line from 6 a.m. It’s like a concert,” Spencer says, though he’s occasionally baffled by the interest. “I couldn’t tell you [why people like them]. They say, ‘Joe, there’s just a certain look to your dolls.’ I just don’t see it. They’re goofy-looking is what they are.”

Goofy and whimsical as they are, the Gathered Traditions dolls have become a cherished tradition for many.

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