Alphonso “Poncho” Moran
Of all the Florida Highwaymen painters, perhaps the least is known about Alphonso “Poncho” Moran (often listed “Alfonso”). Very few works have been confirmed to be Moran’s, and those who knew him told various researchers, including The Highwaymen Trail, a heritage trail organization run by the city of Fort Pierce and the Florida Humanities Council, that this was most likely due to the fact that Moran was a skilled pool player and gambler, who made much more money with those talents than he did with painting and so devoted most of his time to those pursuits.
Born in Vero Beach, Fla. on October 14, 1930, it is believed Moran moved to Gifford, Fla. with his mother and three siblings sometime in his childhood and attended Gifford High School. Not much is known about his early years or when his interest in painting developed, but those familiar with his days with the Highwaymen say he was a friend of Alfred Hair, one of the artists credited with organizing the group. Those who knew them in the Highwaymen’s early days, including Hair’s widow Dorothea Hair Truesdale, told The Highwaymen Trail that Moran most likely began by making frames for the group and later graduated to learning the “fast painting” style of the Highwaymen from artist Harold Newton. Few of his fellow Highwaymen knew Moran well because, as The Highwaymen Trail describes it, Moran was older than most in the group and his reputation as a gambler and pool player didn’t sit well with most of the younger painters’ parents and they were encouraged to keep their distance.
In addition to gambling, Moran supplemented his income as an artist by working as a barber in Gifford, and as a house painter. Al Black, one of the Highwaymen artists’ earliest salesmen and painters, told The Highwaymen Trail that one of the reasons Moran’s works are such a rare find today is because he painted far less than the other artists, finding his time better spent – and more profitable – wowing spectators and opponents alike with his skills at the pool table. In typical Highwaymen style, Moran plied his trades, both as a pool player and a painter, on the road, playing pool up and down the East Coast during his most active years.
Similar in style and subject matter to the other Highwaymen artists, Moran’s paintings depict familiar scenes of Floridian landscapes, beaches, Poinciana trees, and skies full of motion, and sunsets. His skill as a painter is clear in the few confirmed Moran works available, demonstrating he favored the use of bold colors typical to the Highwaymen and had a technical affinity for developing his canvases in layers of thickly applied paint. Unusual among the Highwaymen, Moran occasionally also incorporated people into his scenes.
Inducted into the Florida Artists Hall of Fame in 2004, Alphonso Moran didn’t live long enough to fully enjoy the Highwaymen’s renaissance and fame. After suffering a stroke later in life, he died in Vero Beach on March 3, 2003 of complications from diabetes.