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http://www.-outsider-folk-art.org">Outsider Folk Art.org -
Educational site for Folk and Outsider Art from the American South.

The Story of the Florida Highwaymen

by David Pearce
The Florida "Highwaymen" are a group of self-taught African-American artists who painted Floridian landscapes between the early 1950's through the 1980's out of the Fort Pierce area of Florida. These beautiful paintings depict a serene Florida landscape that has become obsolete after the tourism boom. Because of the tranquil scenes and the history involved, original Highwaymen paintings are now highly demanded by collectors and enthusiasts. In the early 1950's Alfred Hair, the original Florida Highwayman, was introduced to a prominent white artist named A.E. "Bean" Backus. Mr. Backus took Alfred under his arm and influenced him to begin painting landscapes. With Backus as a mentor, Alfred began to discover the beauty in painting and realized he could make money doing it. After encouraging several of his friends and associates to learn with him, Alfred Hair created a social group of local African-American painters who were inspired to think outside the racial stigma and do more than they were supposed to. Together these artists gathered and painted from their garages and back yards, they painted individually, but they supported each other in a social atmosphere. Their paintings were often vivid and full of colors. They painted the Florida landscape like they saw it when it was quiet and undeveloped. They painted wind-bent palm trees, serene sunsets, churning oceans and bright red Poinciana trees. The Highwaymen are a story of perseverance; these times were tough with little opportunity for African-Americans. They knew they could make a living painting, but they knew they had to be different. Mr. Backus was a prominent white artist and could sell his paintings for hundreds of dollars in galleries and shows; no gallery would show the work of unknown, self-taught African-Americans. This never stopped their drive though. Knowing they could never sell their paintings as premier work for a high price, they realized that they could instead focus on quantity and sell their work affordably. They painted their landscapes on inexpensive Upson board, a construction material, and framed them with crown molding. They developed a unique style that allowed them to paint fast, they would sell their work for a fraction of the price, but they would paint in a fraction of the time. At the end of the week, they would gather their paintings together - some of them often still drying - and travel selling them. They would travel A1A and I-95 and set up roadside stands with their paintings hanging out of the trunk, selling them to tourists or locals for around $25. They would visit hotels, offices, businesses and individuals who appreciated their work. In the end it's estimated that the Florida Highwaymen sold between 50,000 and 100,000 paintings before unofficially disbanding in the 1980's when consumer tastes changed. In 1995 Jim Fitch wrote an article and coined this group the "Highwaymen" because of their traveling sales techniques. Not too long after a New York Times article was written about them and now two books have been published detailing their journey. This resurgence of interest in their artwork and their story has created a huge demand and caused the value of their paintings to skyrocket. Collectors and enthusiasts around the region are constantly searching for paintings at thrift stores and yard sales that haven't been discovered yet, but by now a majority of people have heard of their worth. Authentic paintings from their early days will bring in several thousand dollars in auctions and galleries. This rejuvenation of demand has inspired some of the Highwaymen who are still living to begin painting again. In 2004 twenty-six individuals were inducted in the Florida Artists Hall of Fame as "Highwaymen." The Highwaymen are credited for encouraging the beginning of the "Indian River School" and "Backus" art movements and have many followers but these 26 individuals are the only true "Highwaymen". The twenty-six Florida Highwaymen are: * Curtis Arnett * Hezekiah Baker † * Al Black * Ellis Buckner † * George Buckner † * Robert Butler * Mary Ann Carroll * Johnny Daniels * Willie Daniels * Rodney Demps * James Gibson * Alfred Hair † * Issac Knight * Robert L. Lewis * John Maynor * Roy McLendon * Alfonso Moran † * Harold Newton † * Lemuel Newton * Sam Newton * Livingston Roberts † * Willie Reagan * Cornell Smith * Charles Walker * Sylvester M. Wells * Charles Wheeler † deceased About the Author floridahighwaymenpaintings.com

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