Carbon County artist linked to late pop star Michael Jackson
Despite spotting celebrities year after year at an annual art show in Beverly Hill, Calif. what happened to Thomas Elmo Williams early in June was astounding.
"I grew up listening to Michael Jackson," said Williams last Friday during an interview at his art gallery in Helper. "I started buying his albums when I was 13 years old. But I never thought I would meet him."
Actually Williams did more than meet the recently deceased superstar; he actually made a deal with Jackson to sell him one of his paintings.
"He walked up with his three kids and started talking to me about my paintings," stated Williams. "He picked out two of them and wanted to purchase them."
Some reports said that Jackson had walked up to Williams and bought three paintings in less than a minute, but Williams said it wasn't that fast nor were there three paintings involved.
"He was there talking to me for about five minutes," said Williams. "We made a deal for two of my paintings and agreed on that."
Jackson's personal assistant and bodyguard pointed to the two renderings and asked Williams not to sell them. He said that Jackson's company would be in touch with Williams about payment.
"I then wished him luck on his new album and on his new tour he was going to undertake in the next month," said Williams. "He said 'Thank you and God Bless you.'"
Then Williams sat down in a chair with a drink in his hand, kind of shocked by who had come by his booth.
"Immediatelly the paparazzi collapsed on Jackson and swarmed around him when he left the booth," said Williams. "He had to be escorted to his vehicle by the police and his body guards. It made me realize how sad the true price of fame is."
But even with Jackson gone the cameramen weren't ready to quit.
"Then they came after me. I asked them to get their cameras out of may face and it took a motion to a Beverly Hills police officer to get them to leave."
So on top of being a big fan, his encounter with Jackson earlier this month made Thursday's announcement of the pop stars death even more bitter for Williams. And part of that hurt came from the fact that initial reports that said Jackson was killed by cardiac arrest, which struck close to home for Williams.
"Three days before the Beverly Hills show we were in southern California preparing and I suffered a heart attack," said Williams with tears in his eyes. "They put some stints in my system and I was able to be at the show, but I was really still very sick when Jackson came by the booth. And now to realize that he died from cardiac arrest."
The two paintings Jackson wanted to buy were "Day in the Fields" portraying men working in a wheat field and "lunchtime at the mine" a scene in which miners are sitting around eating their lunch in the darkness of a coal mine. Williams said, that after some conversations with his business assistant, the final deal was to sell the Jackson the painting portraying the miners, and to have him take the field workers painting as a gift. Williams said he wanted to give Jackson the one painting as a tribute to the pop singer.
But now his encounter with Jackson means more than ever before.
"When he walked up he was wearing a hat with a veil and had a parasol held above his head. His kids were all wearing Mardi Gras masks," said Williams. "But when he came up close to me I could see his face. He was very quiet and polite.
The conversation also included David Richie Johnson, Williams' partner at the Boxcar Gallery, who is a well known artist too. As Jackson left he flashed a peace sign at Johnson and Johnson retured the gesture.
"Without David I would not have even been at the show," said Williams. "Because I was so sick he set everything up and came and picked me up from the hospital so I could be there. There are thousands of artists who apply to go to this show each year and only a few are allowed to display their art. If you can't be there to talk with people about your art you're out of the show. No one else but the artist can display their art. I am so lucky to have had him as a mentor and partner all these years."
Williams had missed last year's event because of another illness and Johnson had done the show alone, showing his own art. During that show former President Bill Clinton walked right through Johnson's booth with his secret service protection all around him.
"I called Tom and said to him 'Guess who just walked through my booth,'" said Johnson. "He couldn't believe it."
This year only a short while after Jackson left the booth Queen Latifa walked through the show and by the booth.
"If I hadn't known who she is I would have just suspected she was just another art patron," said Williams. "Jackson was more obvious because of the flair he had."
The transaction for the paintings was supposed to take place late last week.
"Through email and texting we had made arrangements for the paintings," said Williams. "They had my tracking number for my bank account and everything. Now I don't know what will happen."
Williams and Johnson will be going to another show in Breckenridge, Colo, in the next couple of weeks.
The local artist said he will be taking the paintings with him to the upcoming show.
"I'm not sure I will want to sell them," said Williams. "And I certainly will not mention anything about Jackson to anyone who looks at them, nor where these two paintings were supposed to end up."
The Helper artist also indicated that he hopes for the best for Jackson's family, friends and business associates.
"I believe everything happens for a reason, but I still have to wonder why someone so young and so talented was taken from us," stated Williams."It all makes me realize how blessed I am."