Saturday, August 9, 2008

Who are the Florida Highwaymen?

Two months ago I started researching and reading about the "Highwaymen" in anticipation of the Festival happening this month. At first I had been a little skeptical ... the few paintings I had seen reminded me of a 1970s style decor. But I soon discovered there were many different styles of Highwaymen paintings, some monochromatic, some rich in deep colors, and some that were breathtaking examples of Florida's natural scenery.

I learned the reason for the variety of styles, there are 26 different artists included in the "Florida Highwaymen." A unique movement was started by these men (and one woman) during the 1950s and 60s. Against the odds, these African Americans with creative talent and an entrepreneurial spirit chose to become artists instead of working in citrus groves and other manual labor jobs available during that time.

Before I-4 and major theme parks came along, these artists peddled their paintings along Florida's highways, selling to businesses, motels and tourists wanting a souvenir to remind them of Florida. Often these artists painted with quantity as their goal, creating as many as 40 paintings in an day and selling them for the affordable prices. Sometimes they would even have a "painting party" with BBQ, music and lots of art supplies! Sounds like a good time to me!

Inspired by A. E. Backus, their paintings depicted Florida's unique landscapes including colorful sunsets, swaying palm trees on the beach, majestic pines draped in Spanish moss across wetlands, and the famous red royal poinciana trees.

The artwork gained popularity and value during the mid 1990's after Jim Fitch wrote and article about their rich and colorful history and first coined the term "Highwaymen." Now collectors inspired by their story go on treasure hunts throughout the state looking for Highwaymen paintings in estate sales, auctions and antique shops.

Be sure to attend the Florida Highwaymen Festival on August 23 in Mount Dora.

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