It's hard to imagine Key West without its colorful art scene — without its larger-than-life outdoor murals, charming local galleries and, most important, quirky artists whose creativity enhances the island every day.
Rick Worth is one of those artists, sharing his love of art with locals and visitors alike.
Worth moved to America's southernmost island in the mid 1980s to fulfill his dream of becoming an artist. It didn't happen right away, though. An incredibly handy man, he took a multitude of "odd jobs" — doing maintenance and landscaping for resorts, working at museums and eventually becoming a vocational trainer with the Monroe Association for ReMARCable Citizens.
Eventually, the Key West Art and Historical Society gave Worth his first studio and the chance to put his artistic skills to use. And those skills produced some of the most enticing, unique art Key West has ever seen.
It all started with his "art-o-mobiles," imaginatively painted cars whose designs displayed aspects of their owners' personalities. Worth has adorned cars with depictions of everything from sharks to toucans to lifelike reefs and elaborate nature scenes.
"I started with my first few, which I called the 'dirty-dozen,' then before I knew it I had painted over 100 cars in a few years," he said. "The cars really helped to change the personality of the town."
In addition to attention-grabbing cars, Worth has made his fair share of floats for Fantasy Fest, Key West's popular October costuming and masking festival. Now he does less building and more consulting for people looking to make a one-of-a-kind float.
"Whenever someone is looking, I'm there to help make their dreams come alive," said Worth.
Today Worth paints from home, referring to his workplace as his "fort," and shows his work at the Lucky Street Gallery on Key West's Greene Street.
About 15 years ago, he started what he calls his most rewarding experience yet: teaching.
Over the years, Worth taught art classes in many churches and galleries all over town. Currently he teaches "Painting Boot Camp" at The Studios of Key West. The class is open to creative spirits of all ages and all experience levels.
"It's basic training; I'm sharing knowledge on how to make a painting," Worth explained. "People always think they can't do this or that, and you know what I say? Shut up and paint!"
As well as teaching, Worth is widely credited with helping expand the Key West art scene. Visitors can see many of his large-scale murals on the exteriors of local buildings throughout town.
"I did my best to open up the walls in this town to public art," he said. "I really try to get businesses to donate their walls, spaces, anything."
His works include a fascinating rooftop vista outside Key West International Airport and a takeoff on a famous portrait of Washington crossing the Delaware on a building at the corner of Olivia and Simonton streets.
Characteristically, Worth put a "Keys twist" on the classic 1851 painting.
Titled "Wilhelmina Crossing the 7 Mile Bridge," it depicts a "Washington" who looks much like the late Florida Keys Mayor Wilhelmina Harvey navigating past the Middle Keys' landmark bridge. Iconic Keys elements in the mural include a rainbow United States flag, a boat featuring a multicultural and multiethnic crew, and even a small white dog reminiscent of Worth's late canine companion Kido. Overall, the piece is an upbeat, whimsical representation of Key West's culture and diversity.
Art lovers also can stroll over to Key West's Bahama Village neighborhood and view Worth's most recent mural, located at the corner of Petronia and Thomas streets. The colorful panorama illustrates everyday life in vibrant Bahama Village.
Worth's sincere personality and care for the Key West arts community sets him apart from many of his creative contemporaries. Passionate about his work and about sharing his knowledge, he would rather provide the town with art than charge high prices for it.
A beloved member of the arts community who says Key West's people are his favorite part of the island, Rick Worth is nothing but happy with where he and his life are at this point.
"I'm just thankful to still be here and alive," he said simply. "I don't want to go anywhere; I'm in helpful and loving hands here. My friends have become my family and with them, you can weather just about anything that comes down the road."
Worth moved to America's southernmost island in the mid 1980s to fulfill his dream of becoming an artist.
Worth's paintings are upbeat, whimsical representations of Key West's culture and diversity, even reminiscent of Worth's late canine companions. Images: Lucky Street Gallery
"Shade of the Mango"
According to Worth, "People always think they can't do this or that, and you know what I say? Shut up and paint!" Image: Rob O'Neal