They say time flies when youre
having fun and thats certainly true for me. Its been
six years since my job as curator of The Florida Masters Collection
afforded the opportunity to begin the research that ultimately
led to the discovery of the Highwaymen. Their story is fairly
well known by now. For those readers who want to learn more about
the groups beginnings, you can access previous articles about
the Highwaymen at aarf.com, the website of Antiques
and Art Around Florida or get other information at mofac.org,
the website for The Museum Of Florida Art And Culture.
attention was first focused on the Highwaymen in January of 1995
when my article about the Highwaymen was published in this magazine.
Consequently, Jeff Klinkenberg, a columnist for the St. Petersburg
Times and a well respected Florida author, became interested
in the story behind the Highwaymen. He wrote two feature articles
about them in the Times and the cat was out of the bag.
EDDIE'S PLACE by Harold Newton.
20x24" on canvas board, ca. 1960. Still standing on Avenue
D in Fort Pierce, this local tavern or juke joint
was the scene of Alfred Hairs demise. Courtesy of Mr. &
This article is an update
of much that has taken place since that beginning, nearly six
years ago. In addition, the pictures that accompany this article
have been chosen to reveal an interest by the artists that goes
beyond the typical landscapes that are most familiar to us. The
Highwaymen were (and are) keen observers and when opportunity
and circumstance allowed, ventured well beyond landscape painting.
Its possible that the paintings shown here more
accurately represent who they are then the Backus inspired Florida
PIRATES AT ANCHOR by Harold Newton.
24x12", oil on canvas. Harold undoubtedly found the carefully
detailed rendering of the ship's rigging to be enjoyable and a
definite change from the usual ala prima landscapes. Courtesy
of John Phillips, American Fine Art & Collectibles.
The most noticeable change
in this ongoing story is the price of the paintings. When I began
acquiring for the limited partnership, I could (and did), buy
all I wanted for twenty five to thirty five dollars apiece and
often much less. When the collection reached one hundred paintings,
I started to get a little nervous and pulled back, a big mistake!
I knew the art and the artists were important but at that time
I wasnt sure how many people would agree with me. Many
did! A reliable source recently told me the new high dollar amount
paid for a Highwayman painting is $6,000. It was paid for a very
desirable Alfred Hair painting.
There are a number of factors
that have fueled the interest in art produced by the Highwaymen.
I have touched on some of them in previous articles. Perhaps
the single, most important one, at least to date, is the involvement
of dealers who recognized a ground floor opportunity and added
their resources to getting the story out.
Belinda Hulin wrote an article
for Boca Magazine about the Highwaymen. She insightfully
noted that their story (was) heavily laced with the ironies
that inevitably surface when art and business and haves and have-nots
I like that! Talk about strange
bedfellows. Art and business, a most interesting couple.
STORMY WASHDAY by Harold Newton.
24x30" on Upson board. Genre painting in its purest
form. Courtesy of Mr. & Mrs. Tim Jacobs.
John Phillips of American
Fine Art & Collectibles was one of the first to become
a major dealer of Highwaymen art. John has a good eye and more
of a gamblers nerve than I do. He began selling seriously at
places like the Piccadilly Antiques Shows in West Palm Beach
and the Renningers Extravaganzas in Mt. Dora. Johns
sales were brisk and his efforts to maintain inventory were noticed
by other dealers who decided to get more involved. David and
Sue Folds at Dixie Folk Art, Mike Pullen at Antique Workshop
in Vero Beach, and Tim Jacobs, a collector, have all played significant
roles in promoting the Highwaymen as have many others. I understand
there are several websites devoted exclusively to these artists
and their work. The Folds started the Highwayman Collectors
Society and have published Collecting Highwaymen Art,
which is usually available on E-bay.
SAILBOAT HARBOR by Harold Newton.
20x24", canvas board, ca. 1955. A good example of Harolds
ability to produce bold brushwork. Courtesy of Mr. & Mrs.
Feature articles about the
Highwaymen have appeared in just about every major newspaper
and journal in Florida. Besides the St. Petersburg Times
and this magazine, they have been covered in the SunSentinel
in Ft. Lauderdale, the Orlando Sentinel, Boca Magazine,
Florida Living, and South Florida History magazine.
A copy of Florida Living containing the article
about the Highwaymen was auctioned on E-bay and sold
for over ten times its original value. It was not even
two years old. Three hundred seventy four Highwaymen paintings
were offered for sale on E-bay between February, 1999 and February,
2000. E-bay magazine had an article about the work.
MISS MINNIE by Roy McLendon,
1997. Roys longtime lady friend. This is a copy of the painting
Roy did for Miss Minnie. The Museum of Florida Art And Culture
tried to buy the original from her but she couldnt be tempted.
Roy made a copy and the museum was tempted. Courtesy of The Museum
of Florida Art And Culture.
I have been interviewed by
documentary film makers from New York, an interior designer with
studios on 5th Avenue, and the author of a scholarly work about
the Highwaymen now in final draft. The writer, Gary Monroe, is
also a Florida Humanities Council lecturer on the Highwaymen.
Exhibits this winter at the Safety Harbor Museum near Clearwater
and the Thomas Center in Gainesville broke all attendance records
for art receptions. The Safety Harbor Museum hosted the first
ever Highwaymen symposium in conjunction with their exhibit.
Anchoring the panel of specialists who contributed to
the event were this writer, Gary Monroe, Tim Jacobs, Jeff Klinkenberg,
and Robert Butler. Three of the original Highwaymen were there
and offered paintings for sale. James Gibson, one of the artists
who came, returned thirty days later and presented a program
and sale. Other cultural institutions that have hosted Highwaymen
exhibits are the Center for the Arts in Vero Beach and the A.E.Backus
Gallery in Fort Pierce. The Museum of Florida Art And Culture
has produced a forty-five minute video about the Highwaymen.
NIGHT STREET by Harold Newton.
24x20",ca. 1955. Courtesy of Mr. & Mrs. Tim Jacobs.
Where do we go from here?
a pretty good guide. I suspect interest in these artists and
their work will continue to grow and sales will be brisk. Serious
collectors will be more discriminating. The commercial aspect
of the work is what provided the initial motivation for their
creations and its what is driving the activity now. The
next major movement will be when the paintings are recognized
for their artistic value.
STILL LIFE by Roy McLendon. 24x20",
ca.1960. Roy has been as diverse as any of the Highwaymen. He
has a flair for doing the figure that is evident in the painting
Miss Minnie. Courtesy of Mr. & Mrs. Tim Jacobs.
I am personally very excited
about the new found work being previewed in this issue of Antiques
and Art Around Florida. It represents untapped potential.
I hope the Highwaymen will take a closer look at their urban
environment, realize its uniqueness, and record it as they have
the natural environment. If that happens, future articles will
most likely be appearing in the Wall Street Journal.
About the author:
Jim Fitch discovered this group of black artists in 1994
and coined the title "Highwaymen" due to their practice
of selling their art on-the-road from their cars or trucks. Jim
can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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