News Section: Arts and Entertainment
Sunday Favorites: Nine Wandering Highwaymen Reach their Destination
Art Exhibit and Sale at Palmetto Historic Park July 16, 2011.
PALMETTO -- In the dimly lit hotel room, they worked throughout the night, ignoring pains of soreness in their wrists and elbows. It could be a tedious task, turning enough cheap construction material from the housing projects into profitable pristine Florida environments. After they met their quota, they packed their moneymaking masterpieces in the trunk and took to the open road.
In the early 1950’s through the 1980’s, a group of twenty-six African-American artists known as the Florida Highwaymen from the Fort Pierce area, used vivid colors to display the sultry Florida landscape. They painted hastily on inexpensive Upson board, often constructing frames from crown molding. On the weekends, they would travel and sell their Highwaymen paintings to hotels, offices, businesses and individuals for about $25 a piece – today they are widely sought-after collectibles.
Since June 10, collector Don Ball has exhibited his extensive collection at the Palmetto Historical Park, but on Saturday July 16, nine of the original highwaymen will have their innovative works for sale, and residents are welcome to meet with the artists from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.
Artist Robert Lewis will do a live demo for the crowd from 12:30 p.m. - 1:30 p.m. and unveil his vintage Palmetto creation. He generously offered to donate an original work of a Palmetto landscape to the Carnegie Library. Library employees thoughtfully chose a beautiful image of a scenic palm tree shading Riverside Drive with Green Bridge in the background and Lewis will produce a rendition of serene scene.
“We just thought the painting represented Palmetto as well as Florida,” said Diane Ingram.
The following highwaymen will attend the event:
- Born in Pelham, Georgia, on March 23, 1932, McLendon moved with his family in 1946 to Delray Beach, Florida, to a small farm where the family earned a living picking beans, a crop they followed as migrant workers.
- When he was eighteen, he set out on his own and moved to Miami, where he worked as a dishwasher. Considered the second Highwayman, McLendon eventually moved to Gifford, Florida, where he met Harold Newton, his neighbor across the street. Harold Newton was the original Highwayman; it was he who established the precedent of landscape painting and door-to-door sales. McLendon is responsible for most of the paintings depicting people.
- Completely self-taught, McLendon is highly successful and runs a gallery in Fort Pierce with his son, Roy McLendon Jr., who is also an artist.
- Gibson, who was born January 1, 1938, in Fort Pierce, Florida, attended the local Catholic school for blacks (where his father was the custodian). He is the fourth generation of his family to have been born in Florida. The eldest of eight children, he later attended Lincoln Park Academy.
- Gibson was a self-taught artist who started sketching scenes from comic books as a youth. He was also a life-long friend of Alfred Hair. While attending Tennessee State University, Hair wrote him and encouraged him to come down to Fort Pierce and take formal art lessons from a man named Bean Backus. Gibson was going through financial troubles and decided to take advantage of the opportunity. Hair encouraged him and other Highwaymen to produce paintings as quickly as possible – sometimes selling them before the oil paint could dry and promoted the on-the-road lifestyle.
- Gibson was always a sharply-dressed man and now counts among his collectors Gladys Knight and Steven Spielberg, who used one of his paintings in his 2002 movie Catch Me If You Can. One of his paintings hangs in the White House. He forged a friendship with the former Florida governor Jeb Bush and his wife, Columba, and was commissioned to create several paintings for the Florida Governor’s Mansion. Today, he has a long list of commissions for his paintings. He has received numerous awards for his work within the state’s school system. Gibson is listed as one of the state’s famous African-Americans.
|Mary Ann Carol|
Mary Ann Carol
- Mary Ann Carroll was born in Sandersville, Georgia, and grew up in Fort Pierce, Florida. She always liked to draw. Of the 26, Carol is the only female.
- Harold Newton taught Carol to paint in the 1960s after she showed a genuine interest when she observed him painting on Avenue Q in Fort Pierce. The two initially dated, but when things didn’t work out Carol was still regarded as an essential asset to the group because she had a car that allowed expansion of business excursions.
- In the early days, she would put her paintings in her 1964 Buick Electra and go around the state to sell. Her first paintings bear the signature M. A. Snead, referring to her maiden name. At age sixty-six, she became pastor of the Foundation Revival Center in Fort Pierce.Carol continues to paint, but she invests most of her time into her family and church.
Al “Blood” Black
- Born in Mississippi, Black ran away from home to his grandmother’s house in Fort Pierce, Florida, in 1960 at the age of 13. He sold typewriters working his way up from deliveryman to salesman.
- Black was hired to sell Alfred Hair’s paintings on commission, and eventually began selling for other artists associated with the group. He started painting his own works in the 1970s after Hair died, but was arrested and sent to prison for fraud in the late 1980s. While in confinement he taught art classes. He was released in 2006 and continued his Highwaymen career, Most of his works feature a signature keynote, three birds to signify the holy Trinity, with a fourth out of formation to symbolize man’s fall from grace.
- Knight was Black’s brother-in-law that worked with him in sales before starting his own artistic career in 1968.
- Born in Tallahassee, Knight moved to Fort Pierce in 1955. He had a career with Northrop Grumman Aerospace, from which he is retired. He met Alfred Hair through his brother-in-law, Al Black, and began painting.
- He maintained a full-time job throughout his Highwaymen profession, which hindered his ability to travel during the week. On weekends he would travel as far north as Gainesville and as far south as Miami to make a sale. Since retiring in 1990, he concentrated on his artwork. He uses his garage as his studio and continues to paint.
- Born in Palm Beach County, Reagan moved to Gifford, Florida, in 1944 and graduated from Gifford High School. He was a running back for Florida A & M University, where he received a B. A. in Art Education. He worked as a teacher in the Indian River County school system. After 30 years of teaching, he retired and focused on his painting career.
- Although loosely connected to the original Highwaymen, Lewis adopted their style for many of his illustrations. He is a college graduate in art education. Lewis is known for adapting his paintings to appeal to people on a budget.
- Today a retired teacher, he owns a gallery in Cocoa Beach, Florida, where he lives, which is operated by his son, Robert L. Lewis III. It features Lewis’ paintings along with those by other Highwaymen.
- Born in 1946 in Fort Pierce, he attended Lincoln Park Academy and had an interest in art from an early age. His father used to take him hunting for turkey and deer in the backwoods around Fort Pierce, an inspiration for his large-scale paintings.
- Walker was more of a solo artist. He considers himself a wildlife illustrator, painting scenes of Florida’s animals and ocean creatures for much of his life. His depiction of wild animals and religious undertones set him apart from the other artists. He does not like to be called “a Highwayman,” but he is included in the 26 because of his primitive landscapes.
- Born in 1950 in Greenville, Florida, Arnett moved to Fort Pierce in 1955. He attended Lincoln Park Academy and graduated from Dan McCarty High School. He began painting as a youth and sold his first painting when he was only sixteen.
- Arnett met A. E. Backus, the white artist that instructed Alfred Hair, in the early 1960s. He began selling his work to businesses starting at age seventeen. He first painted the tropical scenes typical of the Highwaymen, but now creates landscapes of central Florida.
Carnell “Pete” Smith
- Smith earned his nickname “Pete” while skinny-dipping with friends as a boy. A police officer came upon the naked children yelling “Halt!” The kids scattered, but the officer singled out Smith but couldn’t catch the fleeting child. In a local newspaper article, the officer referred to Smith as “Quick Peter” and the name stuck.
- Born in 1950 in West Virginia, Smith moved to Fort Pierce, Florida, when he was nine. Smith attended Lincoln Park Academy and became friends with Alfred Hair, who later married his sister, Doretha. He was one of Hair’s salesmen and would occasionally paint.
Doretha Hair Truesdell
- Truesdell is not considered a Highwaymen but her late husband, Alfred Hair, was the mastermind behind the Highwaymen lifestyle. He came up with the concept of producing paintings as quickly as possible and selling them door-to-door. Often Truesdell would paint the backgrounds while Hair filled in the details in order to save time. She will be at the Palmetto Carnegie Saturday selling prints of Hair’s artwork, as well as original paintings of her own.
Come out meet the artists on July 16, 2011 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.!
Palmetto Historical Park
515 10th Ave. W.
Palmetto, FL 34221
Merab is a writer at the Bradenton Times. She can be reached at email@example.com
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