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Lifelong Love of His Craft Inspires Arts League Founder

New Tampa resident John Henne founded the North Tampa Arts League, and now sells his artwork full-time.

If there's one thing John Henne always knew, it was this: He could draw.

It was one of those hobbies that stayed in the back of the New Tampa resident's mind, eventually becoming the 66-year-old's post-retirement career.

"I knew I could do it, and I had an interest," he said. "I like learning, and bringing to fruition things I had in my head."

Before he became adept at the ins and outs of painting, of layering and acrylic oils, and before he founded the North Tampa Arts League, he was a little boy born in Philadelphia who grew up in a city called Venice.

He had two brothers and two sisters, and ran - "wild," as he says - around town.

"My brother and I were the worst heathens," Henne joked. "We would spearfish before we went to school. We'd go to school with salt on our bodies."

After he graduated high school, Henne worked for a phone company for a few years. Then he went to college at Florida State, graduating with an economics degree.

He moved to Tampa in 1973, and took another job with the phone company. This time, he was an accountant.

Henne married his second wife in 1981, and eventually retired from the phone company.

In 2005, he founded the North Tampa Arts League. He had been part of a county advisory committee for the arts, and became familiar with how to secure grant money for artists and find venues for them to showcase their work.

The group meets on the fourth Wednesday of every month, and advocates for local artists.

Meanwhile, Henne, who is currently showing work at an art show at the Carrollwood Cultural Center, has become a full-time hustler of his own craft. He sells at boutiques and galleries, and will show pieces during an upcoming show at Cecilia's Tapas and Wine Bar.

"My whole day is focused on painting," Henne said.

His favorite piece is titled "5 O'Clock Cocktail." It's a self-portrait of Henne sitting in a chair drinking Scotch. It's bittersweet, since Henne says he was forced to give up the drink.

"I like it too much," he said, smiling.

Terry Smith, a member of the NTAL, said Henne is a "very good artist."

"He is the best artist that's a member of the group," Smith said. "John works in a style that's very unusual, and he's very good at it."

Henne admits that creating art he's proud to show is a process. He gets frustrated sometimes, and says he's working on a piece now that he's "wanted to trash about three times."

Even so, having something to do during retirement is enjoyable, and necessary for him.

"As a retired person, you have to have dreams," he said. "You need to have a focus, something to wake up and get you going each day. That's what art does for me."

For more information on the NTAL's art show, contact Carol Northington at cjn13@verizon.net or 813-829-8124.

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