FORT PIERCE — Harold Newton did article that took guts.
An African American artisan from Georgia, Newton in 1955 absolved through the advanced aperture of a acclaimed white artist’s home in Fort Pierce, Florida, to ask A. E. Backus for advice.
“Backus had a acceptability actuality in boondocks for actuality across-the-board and accessible to bodies no amount their gender, no amount their beliefs, no amount their race,” said J. Marshall Adams, Executive Director of the A.E. Backus Museum and Arcade in Fort Pierce. “Backus was actual auspicious of his work, gave him critiques, gave him demonstrations, gave him art food to advice animate him.”
Newton blood-soaked up aggregate Backus accomplished him.
Selling paintings forth the highway
But Newton had one added hurdle to affected if he capital to advertise his own mural paintings.
“He couldn’t set up his own gallery, his own amplitude in those absolute times and allure white audience to a atramentous flat so he had to amount out a way to get his art to his clients, to his customers,” Adams said.
Newton’s solution: advertise his paintings out of his car forth U.S. 1. That adjustment advance and was adopted by added than two dozen artists in the area, arch to added than 200,000 paintings and a active African American art arena up and bottomward the Treasure Coast. The artists were afterwards accustomed the name: Highwaymen.
The adventure of Alfred Hair
One of the artists advised to be the scene’s baton was Alfred Hair. Back Hair was 14 years old, he, like Newton, fell into Backus’ orbit.
Hair went to the adjacent absolute academy in Fort Pierce — Lincoln Park Academy. It was Hair’s abecedary who appropriate Backus booty him beneath his wing.
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Backus accomplished Hair how to acrylic landscapes and how to accomplish frames. Hair started to accept he could about-face painting into a career, article exceptional of for blacks of the time.
“The alone jobs you could get was alive in the fields, that was your job, in the orange groves,” said Hair’s widow, Doretha Hair Truesdell. “Alfred didn’t see himself accomplishing that. He said painting is what I’m activity to do. This is my job. This is my employment.”
As Hair grew in the industry, he knew he would accept to do things abnormally from his white mentor, who could set up in galleries and allotment his paintings with accumulation audiences.
So Hair came up with his own business model.
A new business model
“What he could do is angular into his talents, and one of those talents was painting fast,” Adams said. “If he could apprentice how to acrylic faster and acrylic added aggregate he would accept added to advertise — he would advertise them for a beneath big-ticket amount point than an accustomed artisan — but at the end of the day accomplish as abundant money.”
Soon, Hair took a folio from Newton’s playbook. He began active up and bottomward the avenue affairs his paintings.
It worked. During the aboriginal allotment of the 1960s Hair, and abounding added artists with a agnate painting style, thrived.
“On Oct. 16, 1965, we confused into our abode that we had congenital from those paintings,” said Hair Truesdell. “When we confused into that abode that’s back we absolutely exploded. We could aftermath about 20 paintings a day. We assassin salespeople. Some of the bodies that are Highwaymen now were our salespeople. They awash for us, so we were absolutely authoritative a lot of money for that time.”
Hair and Newton’s convenance of affairs art out of their cars came to be acclimated by abounding African American artists forth the U.S. 1 aisle on Florida’s Treasure Coast.
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Many begin success.
When aggregate changed
However, in 1970, the African American art arena absent its absorbing baton back Hair was gunned bottomward in a bar. He was alone 29.
“Overnight, aggregate dies,” said Hair’s widow. “Nothing is left.”
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Many of the African American mural artists connected to paint, but crumbling absorption afterwards Hair’s afterlife accompanying with new tastes and styles in the 1970s and 1980s saw abundant of the success achromatize away.
“We survived it all,” Hair Truesdell said. “We’re still living. Still continuing and still we accept the anamnesis and we will consistently accept the anamnesis of Alfred, of his vision.”
In the mid-1990s Jim Fitch, a Florida art historian, discussed the African American painting movement of the 1960s in the St. Petersburg Times, application a characterization to call their art.
How the ‘Highwaymen’ came to be
“That appellation is ‘The Highwaymen,’” Adams said. “The name came from the avenue of U.S. 1 actuality the arch way to go up and bottomward and advertise your works of art. So it’s accessible for us to, now that we accept a term, to call these artists.”
This created a new absorption in their art, which is estimated to accommodate 200,000 paintings.
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One of the characteristic things that accomplish the Highwaymen art altered is the frames and active colors of the landscapes.
Especially aboriginal on, because they lacked the assets and supplies, Hair and others would acrylic on upson board. They affected paintings with acme abstraction and brushed them with gold or argent to accord them a rustic look.
“I absolutely anticipate the lath that we corrective on, I aloof anticipate it gave it action that you don’t get from canvas,” Hair Truesdell said. “Also, we shellacked our board, and again we put a adhesive on the board, and again the acrylic aloof adhered to that adhesive and I aloof anticipate that it gave it life.”
The accurate cardinal of Highwaymen artists has been debated, with some actuality advised additional or third bearing Highwaymen.
However, in 2004, the cardinal of articular Highwaymen was set at 26 back they were inducted into the Florida Artists Hall of Fame.
They include: Curtis Arnett, Hezekiah Baker, Al “Blood” Black, brothers Ellis Buckner and George Buckner, Robert Butler, Mary Ann Carroll, brothers Johnny Daniels and Willie Daniels, Rodney Demps, James Gibson, Alfred Hair, Isaac Knight, Robert Lewis, John Maynor, Roy McLendon, Alfonso “Pancho” Moran, brothers Sam Newton, Lemuel Newton and Harold Newton, Willie Reagan, Livingston “Castro” Roberts, Cornell “Pete” Smith, Charles Walker, Sylvester Wells and Charles “Chico” Wheeler.
“Even admitting they ability be painting agnate capacity in a agnate address they anniversary accept their own alone viewpoints,” Adams said. “I anticipate it’s important to account these alone artists as able-bodied as the aggregate group. The aggregate adventure is absolutely important, but it shouldn’t abstruse the abstraction that these are individuals who are attractive at capacity and painting with their own style. If you attending carefully you can see a advanced ambit of altered perspectives of how they approached a distinct subject.”
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Highwaymen paintings can be apparent at the A.E. Backus Arcade & Museum in Fort Pierce, as able-bodied as the Museum of Florida History in Tallahassee.
Many can be purchased at assorted websites in their honor.
There are additionally some pieces on affectation at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture.
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“It’s admirable that these artists are actuality accustomed today and they’re continuing to be recognized,” Adams said. “These works accept a around-the-clock beauty. They are of a assertive time and there were assertive amusing and political and cultural armament that shaped how they were fabricated and how the bodies fabricated them, were able to accomplish them. They absolutely allege above that.”
This adventure originally appear to floridatoday.com, and was aggregate to added Florida newspapers in the new Gannett Media network.
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