A native of Fort Pierce, Fla., Charles Walker has spent a lifetime painting Florida’s wild landscapes – and considers himself only loosely affiliated with Alfred Hair and Harold Newton’s group of artists who came to be known as the Florida Highwaymen painters.
Born to a family of three children in Fort Pierce in 1945, Walker was interested in art from an early age and began drawing at the age of five. He attended the Lincoln Park Academy and was a student in art teacher Zanobia Jefferson’s class, as several of the other Highwaymen painters were. By the time he was in 9th grade, the aspiring young painter had won his first art competition and had earned himself a reputation as the artist in his class.
Despite this early interest in painting and the encouragement he received from his family and Mrs. Jefferson, it wasn’t until he was well into his twenties that Walker began pursuing art as a means to support himself and his family. His wife Gertrude was a sister of Livingston “Castro” Roberts, a well-known and much-admired painter among Alfred Hair’s collective of artists working in Fort Pierce, and she was an accomplished painter in her own right. Highwaymen artist and renowned salesman Al Black even sold her paintings with other Highwaymen works after Hair’s death in 1970. It was around this time that Walker began moving away from drawing, his primary interest at the time, and began focusing on creating landscapes.
Despite the close family association with his notable Highwaymen brother-in-law, however, Walker never adopted the group’s “fast painting” style and can take as much as a month and a half to finish a piece. He has developed his skills over the years through careful and constant study and effort, learning from watching other painters and from observing nature. “You need to pay attention to what you’re doing,” he told The Highwaymen Trail, a heritage trail organization run by the city of Fort Pierce and the Florida Humanities Council. “It’s about taking things seriously.”
Walker’s early career was one of evolving as a painter and learning how to best communicate the details he observed in Florida’s landscapes, especially in terms of wildlife. The beautifully depicted turkeys and animals that typically inhabit his paintings are less common in the work of other Highwaymen painters and a characteristic which sets him apart from the group.
By the 1980s Walker had established himself and has spent the ensuing years a well-known and much respected landscape painter in Florida. He gets his ideas from the time he spends outdoors exploring what wilderness still survives around Fort Pierce, the hours he spends at the beach “watching the waves,” from memories from his childhood, from photographs, and from his wife. It was Gertrude who first suggested he paint the loggerhead turtles his later paintings are known for.
Inducted into the Florida Artists Hall of Fame in 2004, Charles Walker continues to live and paint in Fort Pierce and refers to himself simply as “a painter of nature, wildlife, and its habitat,” and without the fanfare of being a Highwaymen painter. He is a lover of Florida’s natural habitats and a member of the American Society of Marine Artists. He is a well-known and respected landscape painter in the U.S., and his work has hung in many important collections and been featured in numerous wildlife and art-focused magazines.