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Johnny Donnels


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Total Number of Gifts: 21
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Roger Graetz

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The Carroll Family

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Daren, Susan, Matthew & Stuart Pelletier

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Johnny Donnels (1924-2009) was a New Orleans icon, a painter and photographer who lived life to the fullest. After returning from Army service in WWII, Donnels, the original Starving Artist, decided he would be his own boss for the rest of his life. He opened his art gallery in the Skyscraper building of the French Quarter, and spent his days creating art up in his studio and selling paintings down in the St. Peter Street shop. Sons Denny and Alan came along. Then in 1961, he married the love of his life, Joan Tarzetti. His good friend Howard Mitcham bet it would only last about 3 months, but it lasted 48 years. Their daughter Lurana was born in 1964. In the early '70s, Johnny bartered a painting for a new Konica camera, and began a long career as a black-and-white photographer. His work has been exhibited in such places as the Cooper-Hewitt Museum in New York City, the New Orleans Museum of Art (permanent collection), the Photokina '76 (Cologne, Germany), and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. For decades he served as the forensic artist for the New Orleans police department, as well as for the FBI and other law enforcement agencies; in 2002 the Police Association of New Orleans awarded him its "Citizenship Award." Filmmakers Anastasia and Will Lyman chronicled Johnny's philosophy, adventures, and dimpled smile in their documentary "The Pink Satin Suit." Johnny died of a heart attack on March 19, 2009, following injuries due to a fall outside his home.

A few thoughts from Johnny about mortality:
'Don't wear no black for me..unless you think you might look good in it!' ajohnnonymous

Don't sing no sad song. Don't shed no tear. They were good years with lots of great stories..and many beautiful people to share them with.

I had several "Big C" operations..and wasn't expected to pull through the last one, so friends got together and had a "Going-away" party for me. People came from all over the country and I remember writing "Don't sing no sad..." on a note-pad and taping it to my wall.
My thought was..hey..don't worry or feel bad for me. I've had a ball!
It was a great ride! If anything happens to me..I'm ready! I remember shaking hands with my surgeon, right before they administered the anesthesia, and wishing him "Good luck". That was 1984..so I guess I got my wish!

By the way..never trust a surgeon whose nickname is, 'BENEHANA' ! jd


Johnny's Story: 'The Pink Satin Suit.'

The bull-dozers from the special engineering brigade had just finished scooping out a makeshift, arena-style stadium to welcome the celebrities from a visiting U.S.O. troupe that were sent to entertain the weary and homesick G.I.s in the early 1940s New Guinea campaign.
Performing was the Kay Kyser Big Band, along with his two star vocalists, Ginny Simms and Harry Babbitt. Trumpet player, Ish Kabibble (an old Jewish saying, loosely translated..'I should worry?') was also their stand-up-front, comedian, along with Joe E. Brown and Jimmy Durante. Margaret Whiting was also featured as a solo vocalist. My good old Army buddy, First Sergeant Vito Galligano, just today, reminded me of how we were able to crash the exclusive officer's party for the cast, by pretending that we were reporters with Yank Magazine! I figure it is finally safe to confess this transgression, (over sixty years later).
The area was soon filled to overflowing with an eager and exuberant crowd. Every base camp on the island had been alerted to the event and in hardly no time..the joint was rocking with anticipation. G.I.s, officers and civilian personnel alike..jam-packed the joint.
The opening act had hardly started when the air-raid sirens suddenly blared out their ominous wail. This meant..all lights off..every one run for cover and..
NO SMOKING..not until the all-clear sounded. The Japanese twin-engine (washing-machine Betty) bombers or the Mitsubishi Zeros could spot a lit cigarette butt from ten thousand feet up.
There was a full moon, so the touring musicians decided that the show must go on! I will never forget..the first entertainer came out on stage in a
'pink satin suit'..and started singing "I'm making whoopee..." It did not matter how many gyrations he made or how loud he sang..the enemy pilots could not see or hear him from that high up..their own engines drowned him out.
The program ended a few hours later to standing and wild ovations. I thought to myself.."If ever this war gets over and peace breaks out again..and I finally get to go home..I am gonna get me a pink satin suit and march straight down Canal street so everyone in New Orleans can see me." By the time I was rehabilitated, discharged and returned home..the 'pink satin suit' idea faded from my memory and I was just glad to be back and settle down to a routine as a normal citizen.

It was only recently that I realized that my present lifestyle has been my 'pink satin suit' all along. I had made up my mind that if ever I made it safely back home (after working 24/7/365 for almost two years in a combat zone)..that I would never work for anyone again. This I have managed to do (for well over sixty years) by becoming an artist..being my own boss and running my own art and photography galleries.

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Gregory S. Perkins & Jean Perkins Monroe
Sun, Jul 26, 2009
Beautiful and found memories enhance me life. Time spent on the balcony watching the parades. Chimmey Sweepers parties and second line and cold beer to wash down the great music and Howards shrimp and gumbo.

Jason
Thu, Jun 11, 2009
There was a period of time when my friends and I would visit NOLA once a year. Each time we would pop in to see Johnny at the studio. Sometimes we'd see him downstairs, once we were welcomed into the studio to hang out. On most other occasions, we'd just admire the work and go on our merry way. In 2005, my friends and I were in NOLA for my bachelor party. As a surprise, my friend (and best man) arranged with Johnny to have a group picture taken. Johnny was so accommodating he let us upstairs, we hung around the studio and he told us some silly jokes and old stories. We went to his rooftop and stood together as Johnny took a few shots with my friend's camera. I was so thankful to him for taking time out to create such a memorable experience. I've since framed that shot along with "Dawning", another of Johnny's pieces. So sad to have heard the news, I just had to share my story. Rest in peace Johnny!

Mark and Laurie Reis
Thu, Jun 04, 2009
Thanks for the memories Johnny!! You will never be forgotten in our household. Genuine, kind, and an inspiration to all that made his acquaintance. We are better people because of you.

Wayne Archer-Hattiesburg, MS
Thu, Apr 16, 2009
Just today I found out about Johnny's passing and am saddened yet happy that he lived such a fulfilled life. I have been coming to his gallery for 20 years and he was my inspiration to go into black and white photography. I will never forget his first word of advice to me, "Don't learn photography, learn ART and the photography will come." His influence will never be forgotten.

Laurie Hee
Thu, Apr 09, 2009
What a pleasure it was to make Johnny's acquaintance several years and quickly become his friend. His quick smile, wit, and generosity of spirit touched my heart. Johnny, you are missed, but your spirit will live forever. Joan, my sincerest sympathies go out to you and your family.

Daren Pelletier
Sun, Apr 05, 2009
I remember Johnny picking me up at the age of six from my mother's apartment on Basin St. back in 1971. He rode me in the basket of his bicycle to his home on Esplanade to play with his daughter, Lurana.
I remember playing in his studio, squeazing out the entire contents of several tubes of oils, green & brown, the prettiest tree I could paint.
I remember Mardi Gras from his studio balcony.
I remember 8x10 photographs of those days, taken by Johnny, given to my mother when she was well. Photos of St. Louis Cathedral School students filing into the Cathedral for Friday mass. A photo of me, playing with Johnny's tape recorder at his home.
Those photos are long since lost, but my fond memories will remain forever.
As Johnny would say, "a dear friend from way back when"

Jamie (Case) Gower
Fri, Mar 27, 2009
Johnny,
How thankful I am to have met you and known you were part of my family. I always knew there was something more to life than the day in and day out, and when I met you again after nearly 20 years- I knew I was on the right track- and had been all along!!!

You will be missed dearly.
Much and always love,
Jamie
"Some people never go crazy, what a truly horrible life they must live."
Barfly

Armour Ratcliffe
Fri, Mar 27, 2009
Johnny was a father-figure to me, as I practically grew up in his shop. Lurana and I spent just about every afternoon of our grammar school years together there. Time and travels separated me from New Orleans and Joan and Johnny, but I especially cherish memories from summer of 2007, when I went home to volunteer for Habitat in the Post-Katrina building efforts. I was only able to get in about 2 1/2 days of work, because Johnny kept luring me away to irresistable brunches with him and Joan. I am so glad now I had that time. I am sad I will not be at the Party this Friday night, but will be there with all my heart remembering so many happy Friday night parties at the studio.

Mary Gay Sorci-Thomas
Thu, Mar 26, 2009
Although I grew up in NO and thought I knew every shop in the French Quarter I only came across Johnny's place on a return trip to my beloved city sometime in the 1980's after having moved away.
After buying several of his photographs and cherishing them we ofted visited his shop on return trips just to talk and see what he had done recently.
His pictures and book of pictures are so wonderful because they captured for me what I loved about the French Quarter as a child going there during the Mardi Gras with my family or as an older teenager looking for headshops, clothing and adventure.......
Thank you Johnny for capturing the "feel" of our wonderful city at a very cool time in its history!

Mary Gay Sorci-Thomas
Thu, Mar 26, 2009
Although I grew up in NO and thought I knew every shop in the French Quarter I only came across Johnny's place on a return trip to my beloved city sometime in the 1980's after having moved away.
After buying several of his photographs and cherishing them we ofted visited his shop on return trips just to talk and see what he had done recently.
His pictures and book of pictures is so wonderful because they captured for me what I loved about the French Quarter as a child going there during the Mardi Gras with my family or as an older teenager looking for headshops, clothing and adventure.......
Thank you Johnny for capturing the "feel" of our wonderful city at a very cool time in its history!

Elyse Crawford Hackett
Wed, Mar 25, 2009
Johnny was a true New Orleanian, embodying the bohemian spirit that thrived and still thrive in the French Quarter and it's surrounding environs.
He was a friend of my family, starting with giving my father, Paul Crawford, a place to lay his head when he first came to New Orleans. A few years later he did the same for my mother, Mary Lange Charters (later to be Crawford). He was open of heart and soul, always ready with a cold beer and a groan inducing story. I visited his studio many a time growing up and enjoyed the seemingly controlled chaos.
It is with sadness that I write this note, but also a smile upon my face remembering his kindness and whit, he lived a love filled life that we all should aspire to.
He will be missed. Love to all who loved and cherished him.

Dennis and Vicky Patania
Tue, Mar 24, 2009
To a most ,memorable friend whom we're going to miss dearly . It was an honor to have known such a colorful,carefree individual who brought such joy to our lives. Nearly every Sunday, we sat around and chit chatted about everything and anything. We loved when customers would come in and he would say "this is my work"they're all for sale if you have any money left. It didn't matter what age difference there was he could relate to anyone. Our last visit with him was such a memorable one hearing him sing a song his mother would sing to him and he started laughing so hard he nearly fell out of his chair. A sure way to make Dennis appear at the Galley is when Joan and Johnny came for lunch. He will be missed by everyone who had the privilege of knowing such a unique individual.

Dolly Duplantier
Mon, Mar 23, 2009
I cherish my memories of Johnny Donnels. No visit to the French Quarter was complete without a visit to his studio. Always a warm welcome and treasured stories of his lovely daughter Lurana!!
His photos are so moving. I am fortunate to have a high school yearbook with his photos, as well as his book of photos.
To Lurana and family, I send my deepest symmpathy, but also a radiant smile and a comforting hug for I am so glad that you had such a great ride with Johnny. Will keep you all in my thoughts, prayers and toasts!


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