Florida Highwaymen art show 2023 opening at in Fort Pierce

The first Florida Highwaymen art show 2023 opens at the A.E. Backus Museum & Gallery in Fort Pierce, continuing an annual series of special exhibitions celebrating the Florida Highwaymen, a unique art movement that traces its beginnings to the community. Dashboard Dreams: The Florida Highwaymen and the American Road considers the iconic imagery and inspirational story of the celebrated artists in the context of the American auto industry of the era. Dashboard Dreams is on view January 6 through February 26, 2023 at 500 N. Indian River Drive in Historic Downtown Fort Pierce.

The Florida Highwaymen are a loose collective of artists who learned landscape painting techniques, but in the 1950s and 60s needed to develop a plan to reach the people that would buy their art. This movement started in Fort Pierce at a time in the racially segregated South when opportunities were limited for African Americans, yet the artists who later became known as The Highwaymen persevered and succeeded.

It was a practical solution for these artists to use cars to cross the color lines of the day. The automobile was the key to finding the audiences who would look beyond the artists’ race and become enthralled by their luminous paintings of the Florida landscape. Meanwhile, the American auto industry was kindling aspirations for car ownership through alluring advertisements, depicting the promise of a fashionable lifestyle — and for the first time including African Americans as part of that visual narrative of the American dream.

“Cars and driving are obviously a central part of these artists’ amazing story,” J. Marshall Adams, Executive Director of the Backus Museum, said. “It’s been a clear understanding that automobiles gave African Americans in the South a degree of freedom from the race-based social practices of Jim Crow – you can see that here in the remarkable success for the Highwaymen artists at the time. And this was happening in the same moment that Detroit was making car ownership appealing to new audiences, advertising in Ebony and Jet magazines, building it into the status symbol for an expanding middle class. It all enabled and accelerated their artistic triumphs, one trunk-full of paintings at a time.”

This Florida Highwaymen art show 2023 presents these dreams realized, the freedom achieved, and the success the Florida Highwaymen negotiated on the road. Featuring more than 50 paintings by Harold Newton (1934-1994), Alfred Hair (1941-1970), R.A. “Roy” McLendon (b.1932), Willie Daniels (1950-2021) Mary Ann Carroll (1940-2019), Livingston Roberts (1942-2004), and more, this collection of significant and rarely or never-before-seen works of art first traveled the highways and byways on their way to history.

The January 13 Members Opening Reception for the Florida Highwaymen art show 2023, Dashboard Dreams: The Florida Highwaymen and the American Road, is 6:00-8:00 pm, free of charge to Museum Members, not-yet members $20 (or join at the door and enjoy free access to all exhibitions and receptions for the year).

Highwaymen Exhibition in Stuart

The next Highwaymen exhibition in 2023 I’m aware of takes place at the Elliott Museum in Stuart and traces the groups founding through inclusion at the Smithsonian Institute.

Highwaymen Celebration Weekend

The Backus Museum is planning to present its annual favorite Highwaymen Celebration Weekend on February 17-19, 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. 

Dashboard Dreams will be on display inside, with free gallery talks for the public each day. The 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.

(Please Note: at this time, the City of Fort Pierce is not planning for the return of their annual Highwaymen Heritage Trail Art Show and Festival in 2023.)

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 is home to the state’s only permanent multimedia exhibition on the Florida Highwaymen. In addition to preserving and perpetuating the artistic and humanitarian legacy of Backus, 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.

Regular Hours: Wednesday – Saturday, 10 AM to 4 PM; Sunday, 12 Noon to 4 PM (closed Monday-Tuesday).

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.

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