"Launching The Lifeboat," is an oil on canvas, 13.5"X 26.5" in size and is signed N.Spens, and dated June 1879. The painting was damaged and later repaired by Nathaniel or one of his sons. The repair is in the "ocean" and does not detract from the intricate details of the many hands needed to launch a lifeboat from a wagon. Heather Densley restored this painting and mounted it on an aluminum panel in December 1997 ($500).
In the Salt Lake Daily Herald, on July 18, 1877, Nathaniel Spens is mentioned as a painter:
"The fourth and final competition of the Pioneer Riffle Club for the elegant oil painting presented by John Tullidge and Russell, took place yesterday. George A. Mears won for the third time and the picture is now his personal property.... N. Spens, Esq., has presented an attractive oil painting to the Pioneer Riffle club...." ("Five Hundred Yards Off Hand." SL Daily Herald, 18 Jul 1877)
The 1880 Census showed both Nathaniel Spens and his neighbor, John T. Matthews, also a painter, unemployed for six months of the Census year. Nathaniel may have had more time to paint, being unemployed, but certainly there is documentation that Nathaniel was already an established painter.
The Salt Lake Evening Chronicle ran an article on September 25, 1883 entitled the Salt Lake Easel:
Mr. N. Spens of this city is now showing an oil painting, which speaks well for his ability as a painter. The launching of a life boat is the subject, and the large number of figures so exquisitely posed show that his conception of the subject was good. The work is much above the average, and attracts a great deal of attention.
On the following day, the Salt Lake Herald further noted:
At the easel is an oil painting, the handiwork of Mr. N. Spens of this city, which is a gem in its way. It gives us a glimpse of the launching of a life boat, and the whole surroundings are treated in such spirited manner as to lend a charm to the picture, such as is seldom felt in the work of an amateur. Mr. Spens does not paint many pictures but he should paint more of them, especially in the line of marines..... (SL Daily Herald, Sep 26, 1883, page 8).
The story the painting so exquisitely tells in a glimpse is partially mirrored in the words of Elder Jacob De Jager of the Seventies Quorum of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Elder De Jager related the following rescue from his family history (February 6, 1989, BYU):
A boat loaded with people was caught in a severe storm off the coast of Holland. A rescue crew rowed out to save them and returned with all but one survivor. There was no room in the boat for him. The rescue crew was too tired to return for the survivor. A call was made for a volunteer. Nineteen-year-old Hans De Jager jumped up and said he would go. His mother despaired,, "Hans, please do not go. Your father died at sea when you were four years old. Your brother has been missing for the past three months. Please dont go. You are my only son left."
Hans rowed out in the angry sea, and after an hour or so those on the shore saw, through the fog, the returning boat with Hans. Before he reached the shore, someone shouted, "Did you save the lone survivor?" Hans stood up and shouted back, "Yes, I saved him. Tell my mother on shore that he is my missing brother, Peter."