In the 1950s during the Jim Crow era, African-American self-taught artists from the Treasure Coast began painting Florida’s vivid landscapes, looking for a better way to earn a livelihood. Coined as the “Highwaymen,” they sold their art out of their car trunks as they traveled the highways, leading to their nickname. Today, Highwaymen paintings have deservedly earned a place to hang in the Smithsonian, and all of the Highwaymen artists are represented in the Florida Artists Hall of Fame. A new Florida Highwaymen exhibit opens at the the Elliot Museum in Stuart, FL March 11, 2023.
The “Highwaymen—From the Street Corner to the Smithsonian” exhibition includes paintings that have never before been exhibited. While many of their paintings focus on well-known Florida landscapes and poinciana trees, the focus of some of these exhibit paintings tell a story as they depict people from the 1950s, animals and intimate vistas.
This Florida Highwaymen exhibit will feature an extensive “Canvas Board Wall” of their early works, including Harold Newton, one of the founding members, along with a Tribute Wall to Roy McLendon, who was inspired by Newton, his neighbor. The Florida Highwaymen exhibit will be on display through July 14, 2023.
WHERE: The Elliott Museum, 825 Ocean Blvd., Hutchinson Island, Stuart
WHEN: Opening weekend: 10 a.m.-5 p.m., March 11 and 12
Included throughout the weekend — live painting demonstrations by Roy McLendon, one of only seven living Highwaymen artists, gallery walks conducted by noted collectors Roger Lightle and Steve Carr, a film crew will be on site taking footage for a documentary, and a presentation and book signing by Catherine Enns, author of “The Journey of the Highwaymen”
FLORIDA HIGHWAYMEN FUN FACTS:
- The Highwaymen’s unique tools consisted of oils, tree trunk easel, Upson Board and their car trunks.
- Painting and selling landscape art was an escape from working laborious jobs in factories and field work.
- The Highwaymen painted Florida landscapes scenes in an hour or less, often selling the oil paintings before they were dry.
- They made their own frames fashioned out of crown molding painted with house paint and highlighted with gold paint.
- There were 26 original Highwaymen and only one female artist: Mary Ann Carroll.
- The Highwaymen sold paintings themselves or hired salesmen to sell them to banks, motels, doctors and lawyers’ offices, restaurants, businesses and the general public throughout Florida. They usually charged $25 to $35 per painting. Some paintings today sell for tens of thousands of dollars.
- Interest in their landscape art escalated when Jim Fitch coined the name “Highwaymen” in 1995.
- It is estimated the Highwaymen have painted and sold more than 200,000 paintings.