Changing times, the end of an era—Aloha! Connie

9900088454?profile=RESIZE_710xI first met Connie Mettler and her husband, photographer Norm Darwish when I was in my Penguin and Flamingo phase.  This was the early eighties.

I was doing a lot of shooting in Key West.  There was a famous emporium there called Fastbuck Freddys. That is were I met the Penguins.  I bought four life size 

plastic ones.  Being a Nordic kind of guy, I named them Sven, Ben, Ken and Len.

I took my tribe everywhere and set them up in front of Niagara Falls, Sloppy Joes, Miami Beach, the Deco district. 
With silly putty I attached small plastic flamingos on them, sometimes had them hanging off their beaks. I made lots of clever images and some actually sold.

Then I had a great idea.  At the art shows I would sometimes "Penguin" one of my favorite artist' booth.  I loved hiding in the shadows early in the morn and watching their expressions when they discovered I had "Penguined" them.

Got a little rep for this over the circuit.

So, I was doing the Crosby Gardens show in Toledo, about 1985.

I had seen Norm at many shows, he always did well. But he was not an easy man to get to know. I always smiled big time at Connie, she was a beauty.

So I got inspired and decided to "Penguin" Norm's booth early Sunday morning.

He showed up and saw them and he was very annoyed. 
Well, I humbly gathered up my tribe and quietly slunk away.  I noticed Connie smiling.  She was amused.

Thus started my long association with Connie and Norm.  He would put up with about three sentences from me and then tune me out.  We were not going to be best buds.

But Connie always smiled.

Years later Norm retired from the biz and passed away.

Connie was on her own and needed some way to make income.

She started ArtfairInsiders.

I was an early convert.

It was a forum where I could blog about the shows I did.

People followed my posts religiously and often commented their opinions back at me.

Soon found out I had a real flair for this, and I loved writing.

God bless Martha Pence, my eighth grade English teacher at Southside Junior High in St. Petersburg.  She taught me well.  I can still remember how to diagram a sentence.

Connie encouraged me to write as often as I wanted.  And she rarely edited any of my prose.

With her retiring, I feel I have lost my muse.

But, I still have plenty to say and I will keep on, I am only 76.

Not ready to retire.

The Penguins still remember Connie. They would chirp at me, asking, "Hey did you get a great smile from that blonde?" I would smile back--and then we all would eat sushi.

Aloha, Connie, keep on smiling.

PS.  Sven and Ben are in the photo with Buzz the Wonderdog, circa the eighties.

Len and Ken booked off to Sweden with Ursula Andress for cheap sushi.

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  • Great story Nels.


  • Thanks Connie, for starting Art Fair Insiders. I'm new to it & don't even remember how I found it, but it's very useful, entertaining & informative.

    Susan Spraker 

  • Connie, enjoy your retirement.  Thanks to your website I met so many wonderful, creative and generous artists.  

  • I started working for Norm and Connie in the summer of 1995.  My first born was heading off to college and I needed a flexible job to keep our heads above water - my husband's teaching salary was not going to be able to cover kids at home and college bills, too.  I got along well with Connie and I count her as a very good friend.  Norm was a little tricky but things worked out because my dad was similar to Norm.  Once I learned how to do things Norm's way we got along fine.  Nels, thanks for sharing that Norm story.  It gave me a little chuckle.

    Then, Connie moved away from me and I miss her.  

    Connie, I hope you have lots of fun things planned.  Before I started working for you I never knew someone who traveled the world like you did.  Plus, you didn't just travel to tourist spots, you hit the back roads in forign countries.  That takes lots of courage and you have it.  I'm sure you have more countries yet to see.  I hope you have fun every single day.  You deserve it!

    • Oh, thank you, Jacki. It has been wonderful to be with you all these years. There aren't many people who can come into your home every day to work and you are still glad to see them! You were always fun and kept things interesting, let alone that you were so good at your work. Oh yes, more places to go for sure ... Best to you. I'm sure you'll like working with Mary Strope.

  • My first interaction with Norm and Connie was the year I did the Coconut Grove St. Stephens show and was at the end of the driveway which happened to be next to Norm's booth on McFarlane. Because of my subject matter I didn't get much respect from Norm. Fortunately that relationship grew more positive with mutual respect over the years. When Norm stopped doing shows because of depression, I got a few photographer friends to chip in and we bought Norm a digital camera hoping the immediate feedback of digital could give him something to focus on. A few years later I started my photography at art shows forum and then Connie created Art Fair Insiders and we supported each other as we still do today.

    Larry Berman

    • It's been great to work with you, Larry. Thank you for all your support and helpfulness on this site. You kept people coming back. 

      That was so kind of you and the others when you bought Norm that camera. He did some shooting but never used the darkroom again except for a model railroad setup that kept him going.

  • Oh Nels,  I love reading your blogs.  Please keep writing as long as possible.

    Due to extreme old age I'm going to have to give up doing shows and I think Gasparilla will be my last.  I hope to see you there.  Damn old age, bah, humbug.   I love doing the shows because of all the other artists, and it's hard to give up something I really enjoy so much.  Artists are the best people ever.

  • Nels, Connie and I went to Peru Sept/Oct this year. The Paracas National Reserve has flamingos and the Ballestas Islands have penguins - you can do both in one morning! Think of the photo ops!!


  • BTW. The two penguins in the photo are Sven and Ben hanging out with Buzz the Wonderdog.
    Ken and Len booked out with Ursula Andress for sushi in Switzerland.

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