8869204480?profile=originalIt has been 46 years ago that I did my first art fair.

It has been a fabulous journey, so let me take you there and get your minds off Covid.

In 1973 I lucked out and joined the US Army and got sent to Hawaii for four years with the 25th Infantry Division At Schofield Barracks on Oahu.

I lucked out further by being made the Sports Editor for the Tropic Lightning News, the base newspaper.

I further lucked out by meeting Nick Benuska owner of Surfboards Haleiwa who invited me to rent a room at his house which was right beside The Banzai Pipeline on the North Shore of Oahu. Pipeline is one of the best known surf breaks in the world. I lived there most of the time I was in the Army and also for a while after I took a local discharge from the Army.

So here is the story of how I did my first art show by a waterfall on the North Shore of Oahu.

Schofield Barracks was about 15 miles up from the ocean into the center of Oahu.

So everyday I would cruise back down the highway to the North Shore and on to my home.

When I would drive through Haleiwa towards Pipeline the road took me past a giant banyan tree by the road, the Kam Highway(it is actually called the Kamehameha Hwy, but everyone just says “Kam”).Under the tree were a group of artisans, maybe a dozen, who setup simple displays on tables and blankets. They sold scented candles, Puka shell jewelry and assorted breads and eats.

They always seemed to have a good time, plus they were drinking the Greenies, which is what the Hawaiians called Heineken Beer.  They also smoked some legendary pakalolo (which is what the Hawaiians called marijuana).

I always thought it would be a cool way to make a living selling my photos.

Plus I could drink and smoke while the moola rolled in.

Hey, you can dream, and I did.

At the time I was mostly shooting black and white film with my Mamiya C330 which was a twinlenssed camera with a large square negative.

I mainly photographed four subject areas.

Number one, was surfers carving out waves on the North Shore. Next I photographed locals in their pakalolo patches (I got commissions and got to smoke the product, not bad). Third, I shot naked women in waterfalls and on the beach, by commission again.

Last I shot color landscapes and beachscapes.

Every year the Army had a worldwide photo competition.

In 1973 I lucked out and took first place worldwide in four categories.

So, I thought I was hot shit, at least in my small mind. But actually I was just a lucky novice. I had the eye for the novel and unconventional image and I pursued it.

OK this how I got to do my first show.

One of my neighbors on the North Shore was John Bain.  He was a talented commercial artist from South Africa. He lived in a cool shack right on the point on Waimea Bay.

I would visit John every chance I got, we would smoke the best pot and get high while extolling our great talents. John had plenty, I was just a little grasshopper slowly learning.

John did not think highly of my images, said I needed more vision.

In turn, I smoked all the pot I could get and stole artistic ideas that he sometimes fed me.

So one day in the early spring of 1974, John said to me, “Nelsie, why don’t you try to peddle some of your photos at the upcoming craftfair at Waimea Falls.”8869205668?profile=original

Waimea Falls was a famous tourist stop located right across from the ocean at the entrance to Waimea Valley. A beautiful stream ran beside it and it had a 20 foot waterfall.

They ran one day craft fairs there four times a year.

So I took on John’s challenge. I’ll show him how wrong he is about me.

So this is how the show went.

I showed up early Saturday morn with framed and matted photos, a tablecloth and of course, a cooler full of brews. Had two buddies along to help.

The director showed

me my space and said, “You can setup your booth and tent here.”

”Tent!booth!” I looked crestfallen.  I didn’t know I had to have my own.

I could just see John Bain chuckling away.

So my buds and I got resourceful.

First, we dragged a picnic table unto my space..This was now my booth.

Tent, who needs one, we are in fricking Hawaii.

Next, we went down to the river and dragged up about 25 small rocks.

I propped my photos on them.

We sat back on the coolers, popped open some brews, we were ready.

People started moving on by. Many stopped,looked and commented.

It was the first time I had heard feedback from an unknown public.

Most were kind and considerate.

My most popular image was “Billy and the Buds.”

It showed My Hawaiin buddy, Billy Kahele, standing tall in his pakalolo patch.

I sold my first one for $15. I was ecstatic.

Never sold another image the rest of the day.

Did not bother me. I was learning things fast, getting poised for future success.

For instance, I was having wonderful conversations with beautiful women.

What a way to meet women, this was better than baked bread.

I looked across from me at a Photographer who was selling color photos of underwater fish and plants.  He had a real booth with walls and a tent.  He sold steadily all day.

I think for his $15 booth fee he got a return of over a thousand dollars in sales.

I took the lesson well. If you had your act together, you could make mucho moola, plus have a great time.

We closed up at 5pm.  Just as well, we were out of brews and smoke.

Threw the rocks in the river and dragged the table back.

I was smitten.

Right then, I knew this was meant for me, I could do this for the rest of my life.

So after 1,000-plus art shows and 46 years of sales, I am still doing it and loving it.

Hope you loved my tale and maybe it will inspire you to tell us about your first show.

Aloha, Nels Johnson.

If it takes correctly, you will see an image off an old slide of me at my booth.

Also, the top photo is Billy in his patch.

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  • BTW: speaking of long hair... I had it in the 70's.. and off and on in the 90's .. but my wife likes it shorter.. so for the last 25+ it's been "short-er" .. now thanks to Covid.. it's draping my  shoulders again.  Looks nice after a shower.. but I have to admit it's harder to maintain. ;D

       So, I look a lot like Billy in that photo right now!  :D

  • Connie, never had hair that long, ever, in my life, thanks for the kind thoughts.

  • Thanks, Nels. Honestly, I thought that was a self portrait at first glance.

    Our first art fair - Royal Oak, MI, July 1978 -- 3 miles from our house in Detroit. 

    Even back then, Royal Oak was in the heart of some fine neighborhoods, there were few art fairs and the locals had deep pockets. The park where the fair was held as at the intersection of two main arteries in this north suburb, ensuring lots of traffic. My husband, Norm Darwish, had had a darkroom since he was 13, doesn't even remember when he got his first camera. Self-taught, with the help of fellow members of the Detroit Camera Club, he had visited art fairs with me for a year or so and would invariably look at the photos for sale and say as he emerged, "I'm better than that guy." After hearing that many times I said to him, "prove it."

    The following summer we embarked on an art fair career that eventually took us from Detroit to Minneapolis, Des Moines, Denver, Austin, Huntsville, Miami, NYC, and Gloucester, and you know all those other wonderful US cities in between. 

    For Royal Oak he had rigged up a "booth" from screens from a portable gazebo, we packed up a picnic, three of our kids and prepared to enjoy ourselves in the park for the summer weekend. Norm had always worked with black and white, but our research with other photographers told him "no one buys black and white," so he'd developed a line of color photos, many taken at Eastern Market of colorful fruit and vegetables, most that were in the garbage with flies on them. (Shaking your head?) As he always developed his own images there were cibachromes, a process that produces bright and shiny images. 

    How did it go? We made friends that we knew for many years, Ken and Sharon Pellar, Ruth and Walter Pinkus, Michael Crumb, Rosalyn Tyge ... we even took a fellow artist we'd just met home with us for the weekend, Scott Coleman, a painter from the Carolinas. 20 years later a neighbor at an art fair said, "hey aren't you Norm Darwish? How is that rascally little boy of yours?" There was Scott and he thanked us again for taking him in in a strange city.

    Did we sell anything? Actually, an interior decorator bought a framed selection of the "garbage pictures" for a show home he was putting together. I believe we maybe made $200 that weekend and Norm was thrilled, "such an easy way to make money." 

    The next week we set up at the Ann Arbor Art Fair and had a "baptism by fire." That's another story. Norm's last art fair was September 2006. Our retirement plan was to fall dead at an art fair like some other artists we knew. It didn't quite happen like that.

    Who else has a story?

  • You are welcome Steiph

  • Hola¿  I LOVED your story!   What a great way to get started and that you were able to continue to even now is freak'n awesome!   I'm hunkered down in NC in the lower 48 with the occasional snow and lately bitter cold and rain.  Needless to say, I thoroughly enjoyed fantasizing, what it must be like on Oahu,  imagining myself with the greenie and a fabulous Hawaiian "Bud". ....  VERY NICE ESCAPE IN MY MIND!!!   Thanks So Much!

  • Finally got photos to publish correctly.

    Top one is  Billy and the Buds.  Enjoy

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