During the 1950s through the 1970s, you could walk into any professional office (doctor, lawyer, accountant etc.) and see beautiful scenes of Florida captured in oil paintings adorning their walls. Area banks also were the home of these popular paintings. People could buy these paintings but not from any art galleries in the area. Since the artists were African-Americans, these simply were not carried in Florida galleries with social conditions being as they were at the time. The groups responsible for painting these works of art were known as “The Highwaymen” or “The Florida Highwaymen” a group of 26 African-Americans that painted landscapes mostly in the Fort Pierce area. This self-taught group of artist created a body of work of over 200,000 paintings.
[PHOTOS: Highwaymen art]
The relatively inexpensive landscape paintings were not done on conventional art supplies. Due to their cost, construction materials such as Upson board or Masonite was used then framed with crown molding painted with an “antique” look. Paintings were often painted so quickly then stacked and loaded into trunks of cars that the oils used on the paintings were still wet and had to be handled carefully.
Unable to sell their art in galleries, this group of artist set up shot along the highways, mainly U.S. 1 and A1A . They sold to motorist that stopped to look at the make-shift galleries that were set up along the roadway. They also traveled throughout the south-eastern coast of Florida selling them door-to-door to businesses and individuals. They have been called “the last great American art movement of the 20th century.”
In 2004, the Highwaymen artists were inducted into the Florida Artist Hall of Fame and consisted of: Curtis Arnett, Hezekiah Baker, Al “Blood” Black, brothers Ellis and George Buckner, Robert Butler, Mary Ann Carroll (the only woman in the group), brothers Johnny and Willie Daniels, Rodney Demps, James Gibson, Alfred Hair, Isaac Knight, Robert Lewis, John Maynor, Roy McLendon, Alfonso “Pancho” Moran, brothers Sam, Lemuel and Harold Newton, Willie Reagan, Livingston “Castro” Roberts, Cornell “Pete” Smith, Charles Walker, Sylvester Wells, and Charles “Chico” Wheeler. Nine of these twenty-six were considered “originals” (earliest) Highwaymen: Harold Newton, Alfred Hair, Roy McLendon, James Gibson, Livingston Roberts, Mary Ann Carroll, Sam Newton, Willie Daniels, and Al Black.
Today the 200,000 plus paintings have become very collectible and auctions of some of the “original” artist have garnered high prices.
In 2008, PBS produced a one hour documentary film entitled, “The Highwaymen: Legend’s of the Road.”