Tony Rosa is a self-taught artist that has created a series of paintings that capture the working spirit of a Florida orange grove called American Pickers. He is a big fan of the same-named television program and feels the series has at least one thing in common with the show: they both encompass a search of the back roads to discover hidden treasures. “Ultimately, I chose the ‘American Pickers’ title because I felt it was the best description. My purpose was not meant to make any kind of political statement, but I hope it will make some viewers pause to think about what is portrayed and how accurate and appropriate the label is.”
Tony Rosa lives in Florida’s heartland. A while back he stopped at an orange grove within a mile of his house and asked for permission to spend a little time among the workers. He felt something extraordinary happened. “I found a story I wanted to tell,” Rosa says. Painting the scenes he discovered that day became a compulsion. “I was inspired and energized and worked like a mad man for ten straight weeks. I’m convinced the whole process was a magical moment with the proof being in the effort and motivation that moved me.” Rosa admits his Spanish language skills are limited, but he understood one particular phrase. “As I moved throughout the orange grove, a number of the pickers nodded, smiled, and commented as they worked: ‘Muchas Naranjas.’ It was only fitting to use it as the title for a number of the paintings.”
Through a Proclamation earlier this year, the Highlands County Board of County Commissioners, in conjunction with the exhibition, declared February 5, 2022 as ‘American Pickers Day’ to recognize and celebrate orange grove workers in the community. That same week, fifth and sixth grade students from a local school visited the Highlands Museum of Arts to see the American Pickers exhibition. By a show of hands it was discovered that it was the first time for most of them to ever visit an art museum. What made it even more special was realizing a number of the students had parents or family members that worked in the orange groves. “I believe it’s a rare occasion to witness art having a tangible impact on culture and society,” Rosa adds while reflecting on the impact the exhibition had in Highlands County. “It was special.”
For three consecutive years, Tony Rosa’s paintings took the top prize at the Tampa Bay Lightning’s Annual Celebration of the Arts. More than 500 entrants were received each year and reviewed by a blind panel of jurors that included representatives from the Tampa Museum of Art, the Ringling Museum of Art, the Museum of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg, and the Dali Museum. Another of his works, Bayonets and Bougainvillea, currently hangs in the mural plaza at the A. E. Backus Museum and Gallery in Fort Pierce.
On view 4.2.2022 – 5.14.2022
Opening Reception 4.9.2022 5:00pm -8:00pm