Florida Highwaymen paintings at Orlando International Airport Terminal C

When the Orlando International Airport’s new $2.9 billion Terminal C opens on September 20, 2022, it will do so featuring numerous technological and design innovations revolutionizing the passenger experience. The most visible of those will be its interactive digital “Moment Vault” centering the main atrium, as well as “Windows on Orlando,” a video triptych 32-feet-tall spanning 110 feet. Florida Highwaymen paintings at Orlando International Airport will be shown across the massive display.

“Windows on Orlando” features panoramic views into live action scenes representative of the area such as shorebirds feeding in a natural area, sailboats bobbing in a Titusville marina, the impending launch of a Space X rocket. Three paintings by the Florida Highwaymen will also be shown among the 75 or so slides which will rotate on a loop throughout the day in Terminal C.

The original artworks come from Lance Walker, an Orlando-area super collector of original Florida Highwaymen paintings who previously loaned works to a Highwaymen exhibition at the Orlando Museum of Art. The Florida Highwaymen paintings at Orlando International Airport were painted by Mary Ann Carroll, Roy McClendon and Willie Daniels. They were chosen for representing iconic images of natural Florida as well as for their vibrant colors and how well they fit the screens’ formatting.

The original Florida Highwaymen were a group of 26 loosely affiliated Black artists working out of the Fort Pierce area starting in the 1950s. Their peak years carried through about 1980. The group were all men except for Carroll, all self-taught except for Alfred Hair. Only a handful are still alive today, including McClendon.

The Highwaymen were excluded from showing their work in galleries or museums in Jim Crow Florida, so they sold direct to consumer, piling their paintings in the trunks of their cars and selling them along U.S. Highway 1 which ran along the state’s east coast. That’s where the “Highwaymen” name comes from. They also sold door-to-door at homes and businesses across the state.

They painted fast and used inexpensive materials to keep their costs downs. Original Florida Highwaymen paintings would sell for $20 or so. No one at this time was going to spend a lot of money on artwork created by Blacks, so in addition to innovating as artists, the Highwaymen had to innovate as businesspeople. Their painting wasn’t simply a creative outlet. This is how they made a living to avoid backbreaking labor in the state’s citrus groves or produce fields, toiling under a scorching sun for a pittance.

More than 200,000 original Florida Highwaymen paintings were created. They filled dens, hotels and offices around the booming state. Thousands were purchased by tourists and spread throughout the nation. For millions of people, what the Florida Highwaymen painted became synonymous with Florida: fiery sunsets, poinciana trees, blowing palms along windswept beaches. Natural Florida. Pre-Disney Florida.

Theirs is a story of Civil Rights. Of American history. Florida history. Art history. Entrepreneurship.

The Florida Highwaymen paintings at Orlando International Airport were photographed in hi-resolution in a professional studio. Gentilhomme Studio, which developed both the “Moment Vault” and “Windows on Orlando,” used a computer graphic parallax effect to digitally “split” the paintings in layers, creating animations in depth and movements. The paintings’ horizon lines were matched to create continuity over the three “windows” of the feature. The individual Florida Highwaymen paintings at Orlando International Airport appear as one.

(Parallax is an effect whereby the position or direction of an object appears to differ when viewed from different positions.)

Highwaymen artwork fell out of favor in the 1980s before experiencing a resurgence of interest in the mid-90s. In 2004, the group was inducted into the Florida Artists Hall of Fame. Within the last five years, numerous museum exhibitions across the state have been dedicated to their work and significance. A documentary is in the works.

The Florida Highwaymen paintings at Orlando International Airport puts another feather in the group’s cap. Hundreds of thousands of visitors from around the world will see these images. Orlando International Airport (MCO) was the world’s seventh-busiest airport in 2021 accommodating over 45 million annual passengers. The new Terminal C will increase that capacity by 10 to 12 million travelers a year.

The Orlando International Airport rightly considers itself, “the gateway to Florida.” The Florida Highwaymen are now part of the welcoming committee.

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