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The London House Rules

Been meaning to post this for a couple weeks...Art Williams and I reunited for an art exhibition and book signing at Chicago’s famed London House on April 12th. It was an extraordinary event. Art and a crew set up his paintings, and I set up at an author’s table. The showroom had a bar and a deck with a stunning view of Downtown and we had crowds rolling through the whole night. The weirdest thing about it—something I wish I had



anticipated—is that Art and I were so busy meeting folks that we couldn’t really catch up with each other until the end.

 

It was wonderful and surreal to see how far Art had come, and heartwarming to see so many of the people who are mentioned in the book show up. His sister Wensdae was there, Art III was there, Art’s first wife Karen came, his new love Sarah breezed through with the kids. Last but not least, I finally met in person two people who Art served time with and have gone on to extraordinary post-incarceration lives themselves: Demetrius Nash and Chris Kangley.

 

Readers of The Last Counterfeiter will be familiar with their contributions to both Art in specific and society as whole. Demetrius is an outspoken and dedicated anti gun violence and community advocate, and Chris taught hundreds of incarcerated people how to draw and paint over the years, including Art Williams. Positive connections like these make a critical difference in our nation’s correctional systems. Someone who reenters after serving time with nothing new to support and inspire them is far more prone to recidivism than someone who emerges with new connections, skills and ideas. Chris, Demetrius, and Art did not lose track of each other or what they learned together. They continue to support each other to this day and they are all successful in their lives. It was great to see them there, and I’ll try to write more about Chris and Demetrius in the future.

 

Art’s paintings in the exhibition room that night were all homages to his favorite artists—his playful takes on their style. His original paintings were all over the rest of the London House, including the restaurant, where he has a more permanent display. I ate lunch in the restaurant earlier in the day and gazed at an absolutely stunning lion’s head above the bar, along with other of his works on the walls. The London House is a Chicago landmark that just celebrated it’s 100th anniversary last year, and they had picked Art Williams to provide the accompanying art installation. They wanted to continue displaying his works.

 

By the end of the night, Art was exhausted. The book makes it very clear how hard he worked back in his counterfeiting days. I saw his hard work and more at the London House. Art Williams the artist is more committed than he ever was as a counterfeiter, and more fulfilled. He has been writing and painting his own story for over a decade now, and for some time his true story as a counterfeiter, however proud I am of that, isn’t the story anymore. I wouldn’t be surprised if his counterfeiting story becomes a footnote in his story as an artist. I would be totally okay with that!

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