I was first turned on to the Florida Highwaymen painters in 2019. Consciously, anyway. In hindsight, I realize the group’s color-soaked beach scenes and sunsets had imprinted on my brain during much earlier visits to Florida, probably during childhood family trips to the Sunshine State in the 1985, 1986, 1987 range.
Hundreds of thousands of original Florida Highwaymen paintings once filled restaurants and hotels around the state, creating a visual image of coastal, rural Florida as paradise many, like myself, kept with them for decades.
Without question, the best place to see original Florida Highwaymen paintings today is the A.E. Backus Museum & Gallery in Fort Pierce along the state’s Atlantic Coast one town south of Vero Beach. Fort Pierce was the epicenter of production for the loosely-aligned group from the 50s through the 80s. A.E. Backus was a supporter of the Florida Highwaymen, a rare thing for a white man in Jim Crow Florida.
For 2024, the A.E. Backus Museum & Gallery’s annual series of special exhibitions celebrating the Florida Highwaymen art movement traces its beginnings in Fort Pierce. Fast Forward: The Original Florida Highwaymen on the Way to Fame marks the 50th anniversary of the painters’ induction into the Florida Artists Hall of Fame. Fast Forward is on view January 13 through March 3, 2024 at 500 N. Indian River Drive in Historic Downtown Fort Pierce.
When a nineteen-year-old Harold Newton became inspired to paint the Florida landscape in 1954, his vision, courage, and accomplishments encouraged his friends and neighbors to take up paintbrushes and follow a new path as professional artists. Over time, dozens of individuals joined the fast painting venture that elevated the natural beauty of the Sunshine State and unintentionally founded a movement.
Yet their progress over the decades was no secret. Their achievements were recorded in contemporary newspapers, documenting their work for local and regional audiences.
After more than fifty years in becoming an overnight success, the 26 landscape artists now known as The Original Highwaymen were inducted in 2004 into the Florida Artists Hall of Fame.
Fast Forward presents an exhibition of more than 50 rarely or never-before-seen paintings assembled from 10 private collections from around the state, including works by Harold Newton (1934-1994), Alfred Hair (1941-1970), Livingston Roberts (1942-2004), R.A. “Roy” McLendon (b.1932), Sam Newton (b. 1948), Mary Ann Carroll (1940-2019), Willie Daniels (1950-2021), and more. The exhibition includes notable newspaper appearances from the past, all celebrating the artists’ first 50 years of fame and charting their bold course forward to the hard-won triumph of statewide recognition – exemplified by the original Florida Artists Hall of Fame award “La Florida,” conferred to the group in Tallahassee in 2004 and presented for public display in Fast Forward for the first time in 20 years.
Fast Forward: The Original Florida Highwaymen on the Way to Fame’s opening reception will be held on Friday, January 19 from 6:00 – 8:00 pm, with remarks at 6:30 pm. Current members are always free; not-yet members are $20 – or join this evening as a member for 12 months of inspiring arts and culture.
Florida Highwaymen Weekend
The Backus Museum is planning to present its annual favorite Highwaymen Celebration Weekend on February 16-18, featuring free admission during regular hours. Visitors to the Museum can enjoy a range of special offerings outside and inside.
The highlight of the weekend takes place on the Museum’s Outdoor Mural Plaza, where people seeking to start or build their personal collections of Highwaymen paintings will be able to browse an impressive selection offered for purchase by professional dealers, specializing in the vintage works of these artists. This is an excellent opportunity to learn about the current state of the art market and to explore owning an original work of art for your home or office.
Fast Forward will be on display inside, with free gallery talks for the public each day. The annual special exhibition expands upon the year-round display of Highwaymen paintings on view, a display which includes video excerpts from the award-winning documentary film “The Highwaymen: Legends of the Road.”
For more information, please visit www.BackusMuseum.org/celebration.
About the A.E. Backus Museum & Gallery
Since its founding in 1960 and the first day the doors opened in 1961, the A.E. Backus Museum & Gallery has been a center and catalyst for creativity and culture in our region. The Museum houses the nation’s largest public presentation of artwork by Florida’s preeminent painter, A.E. “Bean” Backus (1906-1990), and also continues its more than sixty-year tradition of exhibiting and celebrating the paintings of the original Florida Highwaymen, who got their start here.
In addition, the Museum organizes and hosts changing exhibitions from artists of regional, national and international acclaim. The Backus Museum was recognized as the 2022 Best of the Best Community Choice Award for Best Art Gallery; and the 2021 Best Tourist Attraction – 2018 Best Museum / Best of the Treasure Coast by the readers of Indian River Magazine.
Schedule: The Museum’s regular hours are Wednesday – Saturday, 10 AM to 4 PM; Sunday, 12 Noon to 4 PM. Admission is $5 per person; AARP, AAA, and Veterans with appropriate ID receive a $2 discount. Students with school ID, children under 18, active duty military, and current members are always free. Visitors are asked to follow the latest public health guidance for the safety and comfort of guests, staff, and volunteers.