The Highwaymen: Florida's African-American Landscape Painters

Overview

"For the first time, the real story behind the Highwaymen has emerged . . . a well-researched, lively, and comprehensive overview of the development and contribution of these African-American artists and their place in the history of Florida’s popular culture."--Mallory McCane O’Connor, author of Lost Cities of the Ancient Southeast

The Highwaymen introduces a group of young black artists who painted  their way out of the despair awaiting them in citrus groves and packing ...

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Overview

"For the first time, the real story behind the Highwaymen has emerged . . . a well-researched, lively, and comprehensive overview of the development and contribution of these African-American artists and their place in the history of Florida’s popular culture."--Mallory McCane O’Connor, author of Lost Cities of the Ancient Southeast

The Highwaymen introduces a group of young black artists who painted  their way out of the despair awaiting them in citrus groves and packing houses of 1950s Florida. As their story recaptures the imagination of Floridians and their paintings fetch ever-escalating prices, the legacy of their freshly conceived landscapes exerts a new and powerful influence on the popular conception of the Sunshine State.

While the value of Highwaymen paintings has soared in recent years, until now no authoritative account of the lives and work of these black Florida artists has existed. Emerging in the late 1950s, the Highwaymen created idyllic, quickly realized images of the Florida dream and peddled some 100,000 of them from the trunks of their cars.

  Working with inexpensive materials, the Highwaymen produced an astonishing number of landscapes that depict a romanticized Florida--a faraway place of wind-swept palm trees, billowing cumulus clouds, wetlands, lakes, rivers, ocean, and setting sun. With paintings still wet, they loaded their cars and traveled the state's east coast, selling the images door-to-door and store-to-store, in restaurants, offices, courthouses, and bank lobbies.

 Sometimes characterized as motel art, the work is a hybrid form of landscape painting, corrupting the classically influenced ideals of the Highwaymen’s white mentor, A. E. "Bean" Backus. At first, the paintings sold like boom-time real estate. In succeeding decades, however, they were consigned to attics and garage sales. Rediscovered in the mid-1990s, today they are recognized as the work of American folk artists.

 Gary Monroe tells the story behind the Highwaymen, a loose association of 25 men and 1 woman from the Ft. Pierce area--a fascinating mixture of individual talent, collective enterprise, and cultural heritage. He also offers a critical look at the paintings and the movement's development. Added to this are personal reminiscences by some of the artists, along with a gallery of 63 full-color reproductions of their paintings.

Gary Monroe, professor of visual art at Daytona Beach Community College, is a documentary photographer with a long-time interest in "outsider" and vernacular art. His work has been recognized with numerous exhibitions and awards, including grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Fulbright Foundation, and he has been a popular lecturer for the Florida Humanities Council’s Speakers Bureau. His photographs have been published in Cassadaga: The South's Oldest Spiritualist Community (UPF, 2000), which he coedited; Life in South Beach (1989); and Florida Dreams (1993). He lives in DeLand, Florida.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780813022819
  • Publisher: University Press of Florida
  • Publication date: 11/28/2001
  • Edition description: First
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 160
  • Sales rank: 388,133
  • Product dimensions: 9.96 (w) x 8.32 (h) x 0.79 (d)

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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 11, 2010

    Florida Treasure

    If you love the concept of "Old Florida," your impressions were likely influenced (whether you knew it or not) by the remarkable group of artists called the Highwaymen. The loose band of African American painters quickly painted vibrant, romantic and evocative pictures of the Florida landscape as it used to be (no strip malls or big box stores) and then sold them at the roadside to hundreds of thousands of itinerant customers, thus disseminating their imagery over much of America. Originally dismissed as "motel" art, Highwaymen art has had a recent renaissance and now commands high prices. The author, Monroe, obviously loves their story. His research is thorough and his knowledge broad. The reproduced images are beautiful and representative of the artists' undeniable skill. I would have liked, however, to have more detail accompany each print and I would have been interested to see more photos of the individual artists, along with quotes from Monroe's interviews. Regardless, it's an excellent and easygoing introduction to this mostly unknown Florida treasure. And, if you happen to own a Highwayman, it helps to explain their value (cultural and otherwise) to the uninitiated.

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  • Posted February 20, 2010

    Beautiful Illustrations

    I purchased this book as a gift for a very good friend for his birthday. His Aunt had just given him a painting from the Highwaymen and he was thrilled to get the painting. I can't tell you how much he appreciated the book/gift from me.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 9, 2005

    Idealized Florida

    In 1994, art aficionado Jim Fitch assigned the name ¿Highwaymen¿ to a loose association of young, mostly untrained black artists (including one woman) from the Fort Pierce area who created thousands of Florida landscapes and marketed them from the backs of their cars for about $25 in the 1960¿s and `70¿s. Theirs was an unabashedly commercial venture, and the artists collaborated to create and sell works as quickly and cheaply as possible. Dismissed as ¿motel art¿ at the time, these intense, lush and at times otherworldly depictions of an idealized Florida have become a subject of renewed interest and critical attention in recent years. Consequently, many myths and vague tales have grown up around the group. As part of his research, author Gary Monroe interviewed many of the remaining artists to bring the story to life, presented here in a 26-page annotated essay. In analyzing the art, he insists that the speed with which they worked was far from a detriment: ¿...they created a new form of fantasy landscape painting.¿ The artists found their strength as colorists, and the emotional hues capture the essence of Florida (or at least, as we imagine it.) As a northerner who visited Florida twice as a child in the pre-Disney days, I must confess that the 63 glorious full-color reproductions here gave me goose bumps of fond memory, real or imagined. A followup: This book launched an explosion of interest in The Highwaymen. Surviving members no longer need hawk their wares, since collectors now come to them and new works sell for as much as $18,000. The were inducted into the Florida Artists Hall of Fame in 2004.

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