Orr is already outside, grabbing a quick smoke before moving on. He can case a house in less than a minute, pausing only briefly to touch an oil painting or squint quickly at a tabletop sculpture. "She had crap paintings marked $330," he grouses, climbing into his van. "She figures, 'Okay, it's an oil painting, it's got to be worth at least $100.' It's junk. Today she's selling this garbage for half-price, and tomorrow she'll end up donating it to Goodwill."

A sale around the corner offers more of the same. "It can get nasty sometimes if it's a house full of good stuff," Orr cautions. "There's a notorious picker named Michelle who will trip you to get to a wall sconce."

Picking is highly competitive. "Very few of us are friends. We don't network," Orr says, snorting out a quick laugh. "There are a couple of guys I talk to, we help each other out from time to time. But it takes a long time to form that kind of relationship. There's not a lot of camaraderie."

This Anthony Palazzo painting is among Lesko’s favorites of Orr’s finds.
courtesy of Kenneth Lesko
This Anthony Palazzo painting is among Lesko’s favorites of Orr’s finds.
Orr bought this Francesco Ruschi painting from a slum in Glendale and sold it to a museum in Italy.
film still from Picking for Picasso
Orr bought this Francesco Ruschi painting from a slum in Glendale and sold it to a museum in Italy.

Orr stops his car to let a little girl on a tricycle cross the street. He waves at her as she passes, then points to a sign hanging from a nearby tree. "Yard Sale Every Sunday Beanie Babies," it reads.

"The whole damn world is selling stuff," he says. "They're living the dream, man."


The art dealer Benjamin Storck remembers the moment he suspected pickers might go the way of eight-track tapes and carbon paper.

"I was at a smaller store in Palm Springs," says Storck, who operates art and designer furniture galleries in New Jersey and Los Angeles and has been buying from Rick Orr for years. "And when the seller saw that it was me buying things, he told me everything I was interested in was already sold." Shortly after, Storck found the items for sale on the Internet for a higher price. "The seller figured if I wanted them, it was to mark them up for resale. He wanted my markup for himself. It was a very sad 'Aha' moment."

Orr didn't see the slump coming. "Then one day I got a call from someone selling a Guy Rose painting." he recalls. "I get there and the seller starts pulling out auction records and computer printouts. And he's like, 'The last Guy Rose sold for $50,000, so we want at least that much.'"

Joel Hamilton, owner of Phoenix's Antique Artisan Marketplace, blames Antiques Roadshow, the snoozy public television series in which average Joes are told the value of ephemera from their attics. "In one episode, Doris brings her cuckoo clock to the show, and surprise! It's worth $25,000. And then antique dealers get to spend the next three months explaining that not every cuckoo clock is worth that much. Yours is worth seven dollars."

Hamilton doesn't much like eBay, either. By making rare objects immediately available, the site has decreased the value of pretty much every collectible, while erroneously inflating the price on even worthless junk.

Orr wishes he'd exploited Internet auctions when he had the chance. "I was too old-school about picking," he admits. "There were guys who jumped right on the eBay bandwagon, and now they're doing all their buying and selling on the computer. In their pajamas, man! I tried selling stuff online, but I thought it was a trend."

In fact, it turned out to be the beginning of the end. "Every year got a little worse until there was nothing left," Orr says. "Up until about three years ago, I could still find a $40,000 or $50,000 pick. Two of those a year, all in cash, and I was set. Now even 89-year-old women are computer-savvy, and they're online selling the contents of their basements. And I, to put it politely, am screwed."

Ken Lesko of Cleveland's Kenneth Paul Lesko Galleries is even more polite. "People simply do not care about the death of the American picker," Lesko says. "Well, some dealers care. But by and large, collectors are thrilled that the Internet has made things easier to obtain. What's gone is the kind of knowledge that someone like Rick brings to this business. He could stand across the room from your painting and tell if it was a copy. Can eBay do that for you?"

Lesko, who was himself a picker for 35 years before opening his popular gallery, met Orr in the 1980s on a trip to Phoenix. "He had this little vacuum cleaner shop where he sold antiques and art. I walked in and introduced myself, and he ended up helping me find a rare and valuable Kazimierz Zieleniewski painting that I only recently sold. He's been a great friend — another service eBay can't provide."

Being a good friend doesn't pay the bills. "I've got to start making money again," Orr says. "I can't just keep existing. I need a Plan B."

Actually, Orr has a Plan B, although he's not quick to admit it. He's secretly hoping that the little homemade movie about his life will wind up on the film festival circuit, generate some buzz, and land him some Hollywood dough. Maybe some film mogul will option it and reshoot it with actors, and Orr can live off royalty checks.

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9 comments
PhoenixPicker
PhoenixPicker

There are still places to make money, you just have to know where to find them!

Gai1959
Gai1959

I knew your dad. Gary @gai1959@aol.com

helentroy4
helentroy4

Read this story when it first came out. He better speed up the production of his film because tonight I saw a commercial on one of the cable stations for a new show about "pickers." On the History Channel I believe. It's called "American Pickers."

Looks like his "Pablo 15 minutes of fame" has already been given to someone else.

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Robert W. Gately
Robert W. Gately

I would be remissed if I did not tell Rick Orr that his film would be totally enjoyed by Himself, Dennis Hopper, a man made clean and sober by his dad, Owen Orr, as indeed his Dad did tell me the story.

I was living with Owen at an apartment house he was manager of for and owned by the Directors Guild of America behind their Sunset Blvd headquarters. Owen burst in on me one afternoon and said, "Come on, I need you to ride shotgun." I got off the bed, threw some water on my face and said, "Wha ?"...He explained that some East El Aye punks had broken into Dennis Hoppers agent/managers Mercedes and snatched his briefcase with four signed, sealed and delivered movie deals. We drove down the Strip to the agent/managers office and were delivered right in where set a discolate Dennis Hopper and his main man. The deal was that we were to go down to the Watts neigborhood corner the banditos had directed him to and he was to pass a grand ($1000) and get the briefcase back.

We drove down in Owens puke smelling Cadillac to the corner and parked across the street from the drop zone. There was a gang of , what did we call them, Niggers hanging there and we were like standing out like white narcs at a bust about to happen.I pointed out to Owen that their were eight of them and only two of us and we didnt have even a tire iron to confront them with if the deal went wrong...The agent/manager pulled up, took down his right side window and we saw him and the nigger pass an envelope and the briefcase...the deal was done as the agent/manager checked to see the papers were there. Whew ! We drove back to Hollywood wondering what ta fuck we would have done if the niggers had jumped the agent/manager, took the dough and closed the show. We'll never know as it all turned out just fine. One can only wonder how dem black boys knew that them papers was worth a grand ?

We could go on and on as our adventures with Owen Orr continued, Ricks father was a never ending source of wonderment to all of us who knew him well, and didnt...You could look into his burning Irish eyes and see hell didnt have a chance and he did indeed teach us all how to dance beyond the demons rums trance....Blessed are the Owens who would take us to a place we could not get to without them....

RWG

Robert W. Gately
Robert W. Gately

Yeah, Rick Orr is a pure picker, seeking treasures in other peoples recycled treasures. I too am a picker, I pick among obscure books and newspapers to hopefully find a gem or two that can be recycled in my memoirs. In ,"Chasing Pablo: For Old School Art Pickers, the Thrill is Fading...and so's the Payoff", I was gifted with finding the son of one of the most towering people in my life, his father, Owen Orr, aka, Greg Benedict, the actor. Thank you Robert Pela for bringing my ole pals son to our attention and consideration.

Owen Orr was indeed a towering figure in my high school days in Riverside , California. At 6'4" and with a face that could have been chisled by Michaelanglo,the story on his arrival was as a Bad Assed Mick that could lick any bully that dare bugged his Buddies. He was Old World Irish it was said, a fighter and an actor who would not only drink you under the table but then karate chop the table down on top of you. He came in from out of the blue, or was it the emerald isle, became the Pal of my Pals, Gordon Whitmer and Stephen Dale Squires and the other rowdy boy's of 1950's Riverside.

On graduation he disappeared into Hollywoodland and would come back with tales of the starlets he had fucked and the stars he was shucking and jiving with. It was pure Irish bullshite and we knew it, but, later we learned that it was all true and that he was running with the Brat Pack that included, Dennis Hopper, Peter Fonda, Troy Donahue, Dean Stockwell and a host of others with tabloid names and fame.Although he did not become a leading man in the movies, he became more a leading man in life, lifting countless alcoholic drunks from the gutters of El Aye and leading them back into a productive life. Those drunks included the aforementioned, Dennis Hopper, Troy Donahue, Dean Stockwell who would tell you to this day that Owen Orr was their savior when they hit the bottom and he was the only one with the way up out of the shitholes they were wallowing in when it was cool to be a drunk punk puking on your best Buds girlfriends floor.

The day they kicked me out of Betty Fords for passing funny paper (nsf check) on the former First Lady, it was Owen who rode out on his big bad Kawasaki and drove me at 80 miles per hour through rush hour traffic on the Ventura and San Diego Freeways to my first AA meeting in El Aye, the Beverly Hill Stag. I had never seen so many badd assed dudes in my life as was assembled in that room that day. Owen plunked me down in a seat on the first row and went over to the leader of the meeting, said something to him and pointed at me. Opps, I knew I was in for something an sure enough the leader introduced me first after the serenity prayer and I had to get up , go to the mic and announce that my name was Bob and I am an alcoholic and was bounced that morning from Betty Fords when my deposit check to the former First Lady had indeed bounced. The applause and gaffaws was thunderous as the 200 plus drunks in the room related to my fuck up. If I'd of had a tail it was between my legs as I returned to the seat in the front row.There was a guy standing in what would be considered the stage door who looked familuar, Jeez, it was Troy Donahue headed then right to me with open arms. He gave me a great bear hug and said, "Keep comming back, you'll get it." God bless, with Owens winds in my sales, I got it and stayed sober with him as my mentor, guide and best Bud for the next several years.

There is much I could tell Rick Orr about his Dad, the days up in Aspen when he tended bar at the Motherlode, the restaurant our pal, Gordon Whitmer ran for some 30 odd years. How Owen after getting sober told Gordon that he had tapped the till and owed he figured eight grand to The Lode. He paid it off and at his wedding at the Riverea Country Club we all came together to praise our high school Buddy and wish him well in his days ahead. And , he had many a fine day that followed him.

So Rick and Robert, thanks for the memorys, they will be indeed included in my memoirs of a life in music, art, entertainment and hospitality. To be Orr, Orr not to be, that is a good question

Robert W. Gatelyrwgately@yahoo.com(520) 424-8658

Dusti
Dusti

Great movie, I bought a copy off of pickingforpicasso.com and really enjoyed this man's story. I wish there were more films like this.

Bob
Bob

While everyone would love to make that great find, there is always somebody else on the other side of that find who was just ripped-off. Pickers are preying on the uninformed.

Steve Weiss
Steve Weiss

The film from this story PICKING FOR PICASSO will screen this Saturday,December 5 at Space 55, 636 East Pierce,Phoenix AZ 85004 at 7 pm (doors at 6:45)with tickets at $6.00.

Very surprised it wasn't mentioned in the article, but you can get more info at http://www.nofestivalrquired.w...

 
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