Sam Newton would prefer to not be known as one of the Florida Highwaymen painters, but simply as an independent artist. “He claims to have had nothing to do with his name being placed in the Florida Artist Hall of Fame, and he distances himself from the group,” The Highwaymen Trail, a heritage trail organization run by the city of Fort Pierce and the Florida Humanities Council, reports. “When people refer to him as a Highwayman, he explains that his brother Harold passed away before there was a group of painters called the Highwaymen, and so thinking of the painters as a collective just doesn’t make sense. He simply wants to be known as Sam Newton, or sometimes a ‘Highwayman Not.’”
Born in Tifton, Ga. in 1948, Sam was one of three Newton brothers – including Harold and Lemuel – who are included in the group of painters now known as the Highwaymen. While Harold stands as the most notable artist of the three, Sam has had a long and accomplished career as a painter of Florida’s landscapes in his own right.
Newton left Tipton in his early teens to join his brothers in Gifford, Fla., where Harold was having success as a painter. He attended high school in Gifford and began learning how to paint at his brother Harold’s side, later painting with Highwaymen artists Willie Reagan, Rodney Demps, and Livingston Roberts.
Newton was “hyper, with a lot of talent,” Rodney Demps told The Highwaymen Trail. “’He’d fry fish and paint at the same time. And his paintings were superior.’”
In the beginning, Newton painted on Upson board, framing his works with molding as the other Highwaymen did. Later, always the individual, Newton began painting on canvases rather than Upson board, and in larger formats than the car-friendly sizes other Highwaymen utilized.
Committed to his work and to learning, Newton devoted himself to his art and is one of the few Highwaymen painters who has supported himself and his family throughout his life with his painting. “If people did not buy, I would just try somewhere else. I didn’t get discouraged. I just stuck with it, but I had a hard time over the years,” he told The Highwaymen Trail. By 2000, he was a well-established Florida painter, and customers would seek him out for commissioned works of Florida’s natural world, particularly scenes in Indian River County.
Although inducted into the Florida Artists Hall of Fame in 2004 along with the 25 other painters considered Highwaymen, Sam Newton continues to paint and sell his work without capitalizing on his membership in the group. Being recognized as an artist and not a salesman matters most to Newton and the “fast painting” style the Highwaymen are known for does not sit well with him. “He resented the notion that his artwork was hastily thrown together for quick sales in any cookie cutter type fashion,” Gallery Six wrote in their bio of Newton.
Appreciated for his richly detailed depictions of Florida’s natural beauty, Sam Newton’s work also includes scenes outside the traditional Highwaymen genre of swamps, interior landscapes, sunsets, and beaches. He is noted for his expert use of color, and realistic, rather than impressionistic, technique.
Samuel Newton continues to live and work as an artist in Florida, where he and his family operate the Samuel Newton Sr. Art Gallery & Studio in Cocoa. Still in high demand, his work hangs in collections and galleries throughout Florida.