Who are the original Florida Highwaymen artists?

In the early 1950’s through the 1980’s a group of twenty-six African-American artists painted beautiful landscapes that displayed the serene, undeveloped Florida landscape of their time.  Today these artists are known as the “Florida Highwaymen” and because of the tranquil scenes and history involved, their original paintings are highly demanded by collectors and enthusiasts.

The Florida Highwaymen used vivid and bright colors in their paintings to display the beautiful untouched Florida landscape.  They painted wind-bent palm trees, serene sunsets, churning oceans and bright red Poinciana trees.  These paintings looked great on the walls of businesses and homes.

The original Florida Highwayman, Alfred Hair, was introduced to a prominent white artist named A.E. “Bean” Backus in the early 1950’s.  Under the arm of Mr. Backus, Alfred was encouraged to paint landscapes and realized that he could make a living doing it.  Alfred encouraged several of his friends to begin painting as well, and soon the Florida Highwaymen became a sort of social group.

The Highwaymen artists knew they could make a living painting, but they knew they had to be different.  Mr. Backus was a prominent white artist and could sell his paintings for hundreds of dollars in galleries and shows; no gallery would show the work of unknown, self-taught African-Americans. Instead, they painted from their garages and back yards on inexpensive Upson board and then on the weekends they would travel and sell their paintings to hotels, offices, businesses, and individuals who appreciated the artwork for around $25 a piece.

In the 1980’s the Florida Highwaymen unofficially disbanded after consumer tastes changed.  But because of a recent surge in demand for their work several of the original highwaymen have come back to painting.

Why are the Florida Highwaymen Famous?

In the early 1990’s an interest in “outsider art” or art which is created by artists who are outside mainstream society, developed in the art world and in 1995 an article was written for a journal by Jim Fitch who coined the group the “Highwaymen” because of their tactics of traveling I-95 and A1A to sell their artwork.  Not long after this, the New York Times wrote an article on the Florida Highwaymen and two books on the group have been published since then, causing the value of Florida Highwaymen art to skyrocket.

In 2004 the 26 original Florida Highwaymen were inducted into the Florida Artists Hall of Fame.  The Highwaymen are credited for encouraging the beginning of the “Indian River School” and “Backus” art movements and have many followers but these 26 individuals are the only true “Highwaymen”.

The twenty-six Florida Highwaymen artists are:

Curtis Arnett
Hezekiah Baker †
Al Black
Ellis Buckner †
George Buckner †
Robert Butler
Mary Ann Carroll
Johnny Daniels †
Willie Daniels
Rodney Demps
James Gibson
Alfred Hair †
Issac Knight
Robert L. Lewis
John Maynor
Roy McLendon
Alfonso Moran †
Harold Newton †
Lemuel Newton
Sam Newton
Livingston Roberts †
Willie Reagan
Cornell Smith
Charles Walker
Sylvester M. Wells
Charles Wheeler

† deceased