The Road Well Traveled: Celebrating the Art and History of Florida’s Highwaymen An Exhibit at St. Johns River State College
Originating in the mid-1950s in Fort Pierce, the group of artists now known as the Florida Highwaymen was comprised of self-taught African American artists who created art depicting Florida’s natural beauty to sell as a means of freeing themselves from working in citrus groves and factories.
As the National Museum of African American History and Culture explains, "Unable to be represented in many of the whites-only galleries in Florida, the Highwaymen relied on a method of high-quantity sales of inexpensive paintings, usually for around $25 each. A technique of “fast painting,” with which the artists produced dozens of works each day provided the group a way to make a living from their art. The method’s quick strokes contributed to the impressionistic nature of the images, while an assembly line system allowed multiple paintings of similar scenes with unique details to be worked on at the same time."
From the mid-1950s to 1970, the Highwaymen created an estimated 200,000 works and have surpassed that number in the subsequent decades. After the murder of Alfred Hair in 1970, the group grew apart. However, some continued painting and there has been a renewed interest in their work since the 1990s"
That renewed interest began in 1995 whenJim Fitch wrote an article in which he declared, ""The Highwaymen" is a name I've given to a group of black artists working on the East coast of Florida from approximately 1955 to the present. So called because their marketing and sales strategy consisted of traveling the highways and byways of central Florida peddling their paintings out of the back of their cars." Since then, interest in and recognition of the Florida Highwaymen has grown tremendously and their work can command thousands of dollars.
Gary Monroe is the scholar of note regarding this group of artists and, in 2001, he clarified, "there was never a school or movement. These artists didn’t even have studios... In fact, there really were no Highwaymen.... just an amorphous group of friends who found an alternative to toiling in the nearby fields and packing houses." In 2004, as a result of Gary Monroe's nomination, the 26 original Highwaymen were recognized by the State of Florida's Division of Cultural Affairs through induction into the Florida Artists Hall of Fame.
The exhibit at SJR State will feature works by the following original Highwaymen:
Mary Ann Carroll
A work by A.E. "Bean" Backus, the artist who served as an inspiration to and a supporter, facilitator, and mentor of Alfred Hair, Harold Newton and the original Highwaymen, will also be included in this exhibition.
This exhibit is free and open to the public.
Putnam County: Florida School of the Arts Gallery, October 17 - November 21 5001 St. Johns Avenue, Palatka, FL 32177 | Phone: 386-312-4300
Opening Night: October 17, 2019 Time: 7:00 p.m.
Exhibit: October 18 - November 21 The gallery is open Monday - Friday from 9:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.
Books at the SJR State Library
Books may be checked out by community patrons as well as SJR State students, faculty, and staff. If a title is located at another campus, the book may be sent to another campus upon request.
Call Number: All campus libraries -- ND1351.6 .M66 2001
Publication Date: 2001-11-20
"The Highwaymen introduces a group of young black artists who painted their way out of the despair awaiting them in the citrus groves and packing houses of 1950s Florida. As their story recaptures the imagination of Floridians and their paintings fetch ever-escalating prices, the legacy of their freshly conceived landscapes exerts a new and powerful influence on the popular conception of the Sunshine State." "While the value of Highwaymen paintings has soared in recent years, until now no authoritative account of the lives and work of these black Florida artists has existed. Emerging in the late 1950s, the Highwaymen created idyllic, quickly realized images of the Florida dream and peddled some 100,000 of them from the trunks of their cars."--BOOK JACKET.
Call Number: Palatka and St. Augustine -- ND237.B5949 M66 2009
Publication Date: 2009-04-26
"In 1960, a group of self-trained African American painters, led by Alfred Hair and Harold Newton, produced an astonishing number of landscapes. Eventually known as the Highwaymen because they sold their works to people out of the trunks of their cars rather than from an indoor gallery, they worked with materials at hand, often painting on Masonite. They worked quickly, creating bold images that depicted a faraway place of windswept palms, billowing clouds, placid wetlands, and lush sunsets." "As demand soared, Al Black (b. 1946) emerged as a salesman par excellence. Often earning 35 percent commission, he was discouraged from creating his own paintings. But gradually he learned, partly from repairing damaged works that had been loaded into his car while still wet." "But in the 1980s, the party came to an end. New Florida was uninterested in pastoral scences. Sales dried to a trickle too small to support anyone, let alone a man who had recently become addicted to crack cocaine. In 1997, Al Black was found guilty of fraud and possession of drugs. Inroncially, this low point marked the beginning of Black's most productive period as a painter - a decade spent in correctional facilities." "While in the Central Florida Reception Center, "Inmate Black" was recognized as painter "Al Black" after the warden read a story by St. Petersburg Times columnist Jeff Klinkenberg about the Highwaymen. Soon, with the warden's encouragement and permission, Black was painting murals throughout the prison, classic Highwaymen landscapes in unexpected venues. When he left CFRC in 2006, Black had created more than 100 murals for the Department of Corrections."--BOOK JACKET.
Call Number: All campus libraries -- ND237.C2825 M66 2014
Publication Date: 2014-10-07
As one of the "original" nine members of the group of entrepreneurial African American regional painters now known as the Highwaymen, and its only woman, Mary Ann Carroll's story is a vivid and interesting journey told in this book.
Call Number: St. Augustine -- ND1351.6 .N4875 M66 2007
Publication Date: 2007-05-27
"The Florida landscape is a drama composed of light, color, and form that hints at dark, primordial forces. Perhaps no artist has captured that dichotomy better and more prolifically than Harold Newton." "Newton sold his paintings up and down the east coast of the state at hotels, banks, doctors' offices, and anywhere else he could park his car. Often, the sale was made before the paint had time to dry. Like the other young black artists who would later become known as the Highwaymen, Newton was painting his way out of the citrus groves, the packing houses, and Jim Crow laws that fueled the despair of African Americans in 1950s Florida." "By the 1980s, Highwaymen paintings could be found scattered in untold numbers, an unwitting find at a garage sale or stumbled upon in an attic. In the years since, there has been a resurgence of interest in this band of disenfranchised blacks whose regional landscape paintings sparked an artistic movement. As the first Highwayman - and in classical terms the best - Newton's paintings are among the most highly prized. As a fellow artist once observed, "It don't have to be signed to know it's a Newton."" "This volume includes reminiscences from relatives, customers, and Highwaymen, combining the little-known story of Harold Newton's life with a selection of his paintings. Author Gary Monroe explores the appeal of this artist and provides a glimpse of mid-century African American life in the Indian River area that gave birth to the movement."--BOOK JACKET.
"Painter A.E. Backus (1906-1990) portrayed an unspoiled Florida that has made his paintings synonymous with the state: backcountry terrain is often described as "Backus landscape," emotive clouds as "Backus sky," and translucent waves as "Backus water." As more and more of the state's wilderness is lost to development, Backus's paintings emerge as poetic testaments of Florida's lost paradise. Defining his artistic roots as "part Cracker and part Monet," Backus was drawn to tropical nature as defined by light, which he rendered using complementary colors. His avant-garde use of a palette knife to create entire compositions produced paintings that combined a sensitive observation of nature with gestural paint application. Backus excelled at capturing the essence of traditional Florida: rustic fishing camps, magnificent beaches, tidal rivers fringed with palms and mangroves, and the abrupt changes in the weather that characterize Florida's tropical light to both natives and visitors. This is a lush celebration of the life and work of a remarkable regional painter"-- Provided by publisher.
Season 2, episode 126 of Florida Frontiers is about the Highwaymen and features commentary from Gary Monroe and interviews with several artists including Isaac Knight, Al Black, and Mary Ann Carroll whose paintings are among those to be exhibited this fall at SJR State.
Celebration • Education • Reflection
H.R.1242/Public Law 115-102, the 400 Years of African American History Commission Act, establishes 2019 as a year of "commemoration of the 400th anniversary of the arrival of Africans in the English colonies, at Point Comfort, Virginia, in 1619." The commemoration is intended “to recognize and highlight the resilience and contributions of African-Americans since 1619; to acknowledge the impact that slavery and laws that enforced racial discrimination had on the United States; and to educate the public about the arrival of Africans in the United States; and the contributions of African-Americans to the United States.” In recognition of this commemoration and with the Act serving as a guide, the SJR State Library has organized a year-long series of events that will provide educational experiences and resources to students and the community that celebrate the history and culture of African Americans.
Site created and maintained by Dr. Christina Will. Pages will be added and maintained throughout 2019.
Maintenance will cease at the end of 2019 but this site will remain accessible.