In 1954, self-taught artist Harold Newton met well-known Fort Pierce painter A. E. “Bean” Backus, who encouraged him to paint landscapes rather than religious works. Lacking an agent, Newton started selling his art on the streets, and the Highwaymen were born.
More that anywhere else, the Treasure Coast is the focus of paintings by the Highwaymen, that loose-knit group of black Fort Pierce artists who produced a cultural explosion unlike any other in our state’s social history. But as well established as the story of these unlikely artists is, there’s been an interesting development since the publication in 2001 of my book, The Highwaymen: Florida’s African-American Landscape Painters. Given the growing popularity of the paintings and near-stardom of the artists, others have been attracted to the scene, joined the ranks and are painting in the Highwaymen manner.
Clearly, a new perspective is needed.
First, it’s important to realize that the Highwaymen never formed a school of art or developed an organization. The movement emanated from a series of chance meetings with well-known Fort Pierce painter A.E. “Bean” Backus, who mentored their early works and encouraged them to offer their work up and down the Treasure Coast. The Highwaymen didn’t even have studios; they painted at home, often in their yards. Though they turned out oil paintings prodigiously and enjoyed the fruits of their labor, most of them were nameless during their active years.
Read the entire article in the September 2003 issue