Friends remember Village of the Arts legend Herbie Rose

Artwork by Herbie Rose, one of the founders of the Village of the Arts in Bradenton. Rose died Tuesday, June 27, at age 87.
Artwork by Herbie Rose, one of the founders of the Village of the Arts in Bradenton. Rose died Tuesday, June 27, at age 87. Provided artwork

Laura Alcover never met Herbie Rose. But she feels his presence every day.

“Original Village of the Arts members like Herbie Rose created an important foundation for newer Village businesses like mine,” she wrote in an email. “I would not have been able to create Alcover Massage here in Bradenton if it wasn’t for Herbie’s legacy of this unique artists’ community.”

Alcover, as that statement indicates, owns and operates Alcover Massage in the Village of the Arts. She wrote that email at 1 a.m. Thursday, to someone who had asked her a few questions about Mr. Rose 10 hours earlier. That’s how important a presence he was in her neighborhood.

“I may not have had the pleasure of meeting him,” she wrote, “but he has made a positive impact in my life and for that, I am grateful.”

Mr. Rose, who was born in Jamaica but had made his home in Bradenton for more than 30 years, passed away Tuesday. He was 87 and had been ill for a long time. So long, in fact, that people who had lived in the Village of the Arts for several years had never met him. But everyone there knows his wife, Graciela Giles, who runs the Rose-Giles Gallery in the village, and everyone senses his spirit.

His imprint, Alcover said, is palpable in the village.

He’s popularly credited as the founder of the Village of the Arts, but he was just one of a small group of people who worked together to create Bradenton’s most colorful neighborhood, starting 18 years ago.

He was already a well-known artist in the area and lived in that neighborhood when people started to float the idea of an artists’ enclave. His fame, his passion and his personality made him a figurehead for the community.

Annie Russini was part of that original group of six artists. She opened Village Veranda in 2000. She met Mr. Rose at a civic meeting to discuss the idea for the Village of the Arts the previous year, and they became long-time friends.

“I had been hearing about him for years and years and years because he had such a great reputation as an artist,” Russini said.

That first meeting in 1999 may have been just the first baby-step toward the creation of the neighborhood, but Mr. Rose urged people into immediate action.

“He said, ‘Let’s strike while the iron is hot,’ and that’s exactly what we did,” Russini said.

His art, which hangs in homes and public buildings all over the Bradenton area, is vibrant and beautiful, happy and nearly impossible to dislike. He would often paint structures from around Bradenton that may have looked mundane to passersby, but in Mr. Rose’s paintings they became special.

“He had a flair for making everything beautiful,” Russini said.

Mr. Rose was a working artist and teacher, but he would always interrupt his work to take part in any Village of the Arts event. He had a passion for the village, Russini said, and a charismatic personality that made him the neighborhood’s most visible figure.

“He’s got a big smile and sparkly eyes and he’s soft-spoken and kind,” she said. She was still speaking of her friend in the present tense, two days after his death. “He’s such a gentle person.”

Instead of a traditional memorial, Mr. Rose’s wife said that she would have a celebration of his life sometime in the future in the Village of the Arts. It may be a few months from now, when the weather cools off.

It’s what he wanted, friends said: something big and joyous, with music and dancing, a chance for people to get together and embrace life and the neighborhood he loved.

Marty Clear: 941-708-7919, @martinclear