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Well it has been a while, so I thought I would leave this little "bon mot" under your electronic Christmas Trees.

Recently, in Tampa, I have discovered this great little diner on Florida Avenue called Nickos.  It is an old railroad car diner run by a Greek family who does everything right.  Generous portions, cheap prices and great service.  It is frequented by undercover cops, working trademan and even an occasional artist or two.  Heck, Elvis Presley ate in this diner in 1956.

How do I know?  Because it is boldly printed on all the menus.  So today, I went in for breakfeast and sat down at the second booth in from the door.  I happened to look over where all the condiments were stored, and lo and behold, there was this little metal plaque attached to the window.  It basically  said that Elvis had sat in this very seat after one of his shows in Tampa in 1956.  It made me think a lot.  About Elvis and the life we live at being artists who sell on the street.

In 1956, Elvis was just getting started, he was a new whirlwind phenom, nobody had ever seen the likes of him before.  Justin Bieber don't have anything on Elvis, hell, he couldn't hold his pancake fork, but anyway, back to Elvis--and us.

I wondered if Elvis was experiencing a real high after his performance.  I wondered if it was anything akin to how I felt back in 1999 when I almost sold everything I had at the Kansas City Plaza Art Fair (don't worry, this blog is not going to be all about me--this just served as an apt metaphor).  I wondered if he ever had to deal with daily rejection like we experience when we get our little electronic blips on the internet which tell us "thumbs up! or thumbs down!."  Back in the days when we all got those SASE letters in the mail, remember that.  Yeah, you could feel for slides in them, right away, you knew you were out.  Except a few shows could still fake you out.  The slides would be in there along with a much coveted letter that began with "Congragulations."


One of the coolest ways you knew you were in, was when you got an SASE from Harvey and Audrey.  They were the original founders and promoters for the Cain Park art fair, in Cleveland, back in the 80's and into the early 90's until their passing on.  Anyways, what made their response so cool was how they sent the SASE.  If you were accepted, Harvey would write above your name on the SASE,"Good News for" Nels Johnson, or Munks or whoever it was addressed to.  We don't get those little highs anymore, I kind of miss them.

As I sat eating my plate full of homefries with perfectly cooked onions along with the cuban toast which only costs ten-cents extra, I thought some more about Elvis.  I said to myself,"Heck, he was more famous than I will ever be, but I outlasted him.  I am still trucking along making my art, doing my 35 shows a year, still playing golf and still eating and drinking good."  There is lot to be said for that.  I figure, with luck, I got maybe 15 more years in the biz.  That equates to about 325 more possible shows, give or take a few.  I wonder how many of them could be a Cherry Creek, A Grove, A Kansas City--heck, maybe even a St. Louis or two.  You gotta have hopes and dreams, and baby, always have lots of them.  And I hope you all do to.

So this is my kuleana (that is a  Hawaiian word that means a gift of the spirit) to all of you out there.  HOPES AND DREAMS.  Never give up.  We are all special.  Nobody can fire us, not a lot of people can feel that way.  You are your own boss, nobody gets to tell you what to do.  You are the supreme creators.  You make the art, and in turn it helps make you.  It define who you are, it leads you on a path of good life.I don't think Elvis ever got to know how lucky he was.  We do, and we are on the right side of the growing grass.  Cherish these moments and thoughts.  This is the moments of our lives, embrace them with fury that knows no bounds.


Merry Christmas and a happy 2011--things will get better.

PS Haven't written a lot lately, don't know how much I will write in 2011, depends on how much "meat" is thrown out there, or the lack of.  It is good to see new names out there contributing to our lives.  I still think a little bit more info could be included in those reports, but at least people are contributing.

Views: 266

Comment by geri a. wegner on December 21, 2010 at 11:54am

Have the merriest of Christmas' Nels.


Comment by phillip hall on December 21, 2010 at 12:49pm

The Nels abides!

Comment by Geoff Coe on December 21, 2010 at 1:31pm

Nice, Nels; always good to catch up on you, and Elvis trivia.  Lay off the peanut butter and bacon sandwiches, willya?

Comment by Melanie Rolfes on December 21, 2010 at 2:09pm


Keep on us and what we need to report and how. 


Hapy New Years

Comment by Dawn Waters Baker on December 21, 2010 at 3:14pm

Good to hear from you Nels.  God bless and keep your eye on us.

Comment by Barry Bernstein on December 21, 2010 at 3:30pm

Nels, have you ever been to the "Taco Bus," in Tampa?  It's on Hillsborough.  The food is great and so is the ambiance.  You can check it out here:  This is my kind of place.


Did you ever get on the waiting list?  The SASE would come and when you felt the envelope, the slides would not be there.  It would be "hooray I got in" until I saw that I was in the never-never land, the art fair twilight zone called the wait list.



Comment by Barry Bernstein on December 21, 2010 at 3:31pm

Are you going to sell that photo?

Comment by Nels Johnson on December 21, 2010 at 3:50pm

Si, Mister barry--me and the Taco Bus have commisserated many times--but, eh, they got no tequila--what's Mex food without tequila and a beer, they are OK but I will take Nickos over them any day of the week.

About those no slides in the envelope--I forgot all about that--for me, it was usually I was in or I was out, did not do the waitlist thing that much until Zapp.  By the way, Webbie and me are still waiting for you to take us up on the "food-fling-thing" in Hurley.  When are you going to show up?  We both think you don't have the real "Pasties" for this.  Are we wrong?  The photo will be for sale soon, I am getting it mounted onto a rare "Blue-cyan Pufferfish from the upper waters of the Amazon."  I am sure this will get me into all the best shows in America--eat your heart out, bubba!

Comment by mark zurek on December 21, 2010 at 7:22pm

Home fries an art in themselves.For too many have become used to the deep frier as the great equalizer.A saute pan, 'taters, love (that being butter and garlic) then you get ethnic on it. Ah yes.America still exists in the diner.

I missed the Elvis days, but grew up in the 60's listening to his children.It was still magic back then, nothing pre packed or homoginized about early rock and roll.Folks just got it, or wondered what the hell happened to their structured world and their horned rimmed glasses.

Said it earlier, you art show folks still carry the banner , the last of the American entrepreneurs where creativity and ingenuity are practiced in so many unique ways.

Cheers Nels. 15 more years? I thought the retirement age was raised to 66? You quitting early?

Oh, and what are "slides"?

Comment by Alison Thomas on December 22, 2010 at 7:10am

Thanks Nels for the uplift.  I have come to know this business as having intense upswings and downswings and I am on a downswing right now but beginning to have a little
hope.  When I packed up my tent at the
Naples Fall Festival last month after just managing to eke out expenses I was
thinking that I would be happy if I never saw another show. And while I am
looking forward to moving and I was really excited to see snow again, I am up
here for a visit this week and I had really forgotten just how damn cold that
stuff is.   And going for a mortgage isn’t
what it used to be.  Just yesterday I got
an email requesting at least 20 different documents, several of which I have no
idea where they are…  And I have the
packing and consolidating of ten years in one place staring me in the face.  I desperately need a good show just for the
attitude adjustment. 


On the other hand I got some really cool photographs over the weekend and I actually applied to two Virginia shows yesterday and have one to apply to when I get back to Florida to my printer.


I have been at this long enough to know the upswing will come.  I’ll just keep plugging along.


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