Polk Museum of Art brings Florida Highwaymen exhibition to Central Florida

The Polk Museum of Art present nearly 70 works of the prodigious and widely popular group of artists known as the Florida Highwaymen in an original exhibition entitled “The Art of the Highwaymen: From the Woodsby Family Collection.” The Florida Highwaymen exhibition, featuring works drawn entirely from the Woodsby family’s private collection, will be on view from February 12 through May 22, 2022 in the Museum’s main galleries.

While the paintings themselves showcase beautiful Florida landscapes, including lush wetlands, warm beaches, and native Florida flora, the story of the artists behind these successful paintings is one of perseverance and determination. During 1950s America, still in the throes of segregation, a group of self-taught African American painters decided to follow their passion, despite the obstacles of racism and poverty set in their paths. Over the next forty years, the Highwaymen created nearly 200,000 works, traveling along Florida’s highways and selling their art from the trunks of their cars or door to door, allowing Florida natives and tourists to take home an original oil painting and a piece of Florida all their own.

A. Hair, 'Untitled,' Oil on Panel. Woodsby Family Collection.
A. Hair, ‘Untitled,’ Oil on Panel. Woodsby Family Collection.

This large-scale academic Florida Highwaymen exhibition revisits the the group, examining their legacy and key place in art history, studying the complete story of their rise and seeking answers for their unexpected mass appeal. Finally, Florida art that was once deemed lowbrow and rejected from museums and galleries but celebrated widely by eager consumers receives its moment in the sun, right here in Lakeland.

“The Highwaymen hold a unique, if under-recognized, space in the history of art, and we are so grateful to the Woodsby family for sharing their vast collection with our audiences,” Dr. H. Alexander Rich, executive director and chief curator of the Polk Museum of Art, said. “Beyond their fame in Florida, remarkable itself for a group of Black artists working in the mid-20th century American South, the Highwaymen were as pioneering a set of artists as in any era, something textbooks simply don’t recognize today.”

Intended originally as decor for the Woodsby family restaurant, Johnnie’s Hideaway, to evoke its nostalgic mid-century Florida atmosphere, the collection has grown and grown alongside the Woodsby’s deep interest in the remarkable story of the Highwaymen. This is the first time these incredible works have been displayed in the space of a museum as a Florida Highwaymen exhibition.

H Newton, 'Untitled,' Oil on Panel. Woodsby Family Collection.
H Newton, ‘Untitled,’ Oil on Panel. Woodsby Family Collection.

About the Polk Museum of Art at Florida Southern College

The Polk Museum of Art at Florida Southern College is a not-for-profit, teaching museum that seeks to enhance lives through inspirational and engaging art experiences for all. It is the largest and only nationally accredited visual arts organization in Polk County and the only Smithsonian Affiliate art museum in Central Florida.

The Museum’s hours are Tuesdays–Saturdays 10 am to 4 pm, Sunday 1 pm to 5 pm, and closed Mondays and major holidays. The facility is handicapped accessible and special needs assistance is available.

Admission is free, thanks to our Strategic Partner, the Ting Tsung and Wei Fong Chao Foundation.

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