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"The Highwaymen" and "Highwaymen Paintings" 

January 27 - March 9, 2008


The Leepa-Rattner Museum of Art is presenting two exhibitions featuring the work of Florida's Highwaymen artists.  The Highwaymen, is a national touring exhibition from the collection of Geoff Cook being circulated by the Orange County Regional History Center, Orlando, Florida, and Highwaymen Paintings is a premiere exhibition of 22 paintings from the family collection of George Algernon Speer, Jr.  Speer was a prominent prosecuting attorney in Sanford, Florida and one of the early collectors of Highwaymen art. (right: Harold Newton (American, 1934-1994), Poinciana Tree (descriptive title; unknown date), Oil on canvas or Upson board . Orange County Regional History Center)

The Highwaymen were a group of 26 African-American self-taught artists who lived and painted in Fort Pierce and Brevard County, Florida.  Most notably the group included Alfred Hair, the artist who developed the fast method of oil painting that came to define the style of the Highwaymen, and Harold Newton, an artist who specialized in painting landscapes.  A.E. (Beanie) Backus, a southern white and well-known Florida landscape artist, is credited with teaching and encouraging Hair and Newton to paint.  The other 24 Highwaymen, including Mary Ann Carroll, the only female in the group, were apprentices to either Newton or Hair and each developed their own distinctive style, brush strokes and trademarks. 

The Highwaymen started painting in the 1950s and enjoyed successful artistic careers throughout the 1960s, 70s and 80s.  A renewed interest in the Highwaymen began in the 1990s when collectors came to recognize their contribution to Florida's artistic and natural history.  The value of their work has increased dramatically from the $25 - $35 originally paid.  Today the paintings are worth thousands of dollars and are receiving national acclaim.

The Highwaymen painted many of their landscape scenes in an hour or less and sold their art to motels, banks, doctors' and lawyers' offices, restaurants and the general public.  Many paintings were sold out of the trunks of their cars, often before the oils had time to dry.  For many of the Highwaymen, painting and selling landscape art was an escape from their laborious jobs in factories, orange groves and fields.


Gary Monroe, documentary photographer and author of three Florida Highwaymen books, gave the lecture "The Story of the Highwaymen" on Sunday, January 27, 2008 in the Leepa-Rattner Museum of Art auditorium.

Monroe holds a master's degree in fine arts from the University of Colorado.  He has written The Highwaymen: Florida's African-American Landscape Painters (2001); Harold Newton: The Original Highwayman (2007); and, with Annegreth Hill, Highwaymen Newton and Hair: The American Dream in the Sunshine State.  The last book accompanied the Museum of Art/Fort Lauderdale's 2006 Highwaymen exhibition of the same title.

The lecture is part of the Museum's Exhibition Lecture Series sponsored by Progress Energy. This project was funded in part by the Pinellas County Commission, through the Cultural Development Grants Program of the Cultural Affairs Department.

Highwaymen Family Festival

The Leepa-Rattner Museum of Art presents A Highwaymen Family Festival, from 1:00 to 4:00 p.m. in the Fine Arts Lobby on Saturday, February 16, 2008. The event is designed to introduce children and adults to Highwaymen art and the rich history of Florida's Highwaymen artists.

Highwaymen artists will be present to demonstrate their artistry and painting techniques. Participants will have the unique opportunity of using what they have learned and implementing it on their own landscape art creations.  To add to the excitement of the day, attendees will enjoy the stimulating sound and rhythm of Tampa's well known Kuumba Dancers and Drummers. For further discovery and fun, the documentary, The Highwaymen: Florida's Outsider Artists will be shown continuously and docent tours will be available.

Editor's note: RL readers may also enjoy:

and this video:

Highwaymen: Florida's Outsider Artists, The is a 58 minute story of a group of young, untrained African-American landscape painters that emerged from the small central Florida town of Fort Pierce in the late 50s and early 60s. Segregation and racist attitudes of the time prevented them from working with traditional art galleries. Instead, they traveled throughout the state selling their paintings out of the trunks of their cars. The Highwaymen had no pretensions about their art. They saw themselves as craftsmen, painting pictures strictly to earn a living. They mainly painted Florida back-country scenes -- coastal savannahs, hardwood hammocks, lonely tannin-stained rivers... expansive skies, capacious clouds, using bold strokes of dramatic colors. Theirs is an inspirational story of ingenuity and entrepreneurship, and ultimately, of perseverance in the face of societal limitations.

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