22 3/8" x 19 1/4" Oil on Masonite
Why I Wrote
by: Gary Monroe
When I was doing research for my book, The Highwaymen: Florida’s African-American Landscape Painters, I received a phone call early one Sunday morning in the winter of 1999. Upon answering, an unfamiliar and unidentified voice abruptly asked, "Who are you to write a book about the Highwaymen?" The only polite response that came to my mind was, "Huh?" Thus began a conversation that was the start of a good friendship between Tim Jacobs and me. Whether he wanted to engage me in an argument or just wanted to badger me is still open to debate. The phone call ended when I agreed to come to his house to meet a group of collectors of Highwaymen art.
At that time the story of the Highwaymen and their art was relatively obscure. The facts were sketchy at best, but nevertheless, widely accepted.
No critical discussion existed, about either the artists or their art. I realized that this story, possibly the last great untold tale of modern Florida, needed the facts sorted, interpreted, and set in print before this wonderful art could be appreciated by the masses. I eagerly accepted the challenge to do just that.
On my way to Tim’s house I stopped to buy a dozen bagels and some cream cheese. After knocking on his front door, I was greeted with indifference by Ed Volinnino, Henry Bosma, Mike Griffin and Bob Hommel. Tim, however, began to immediately question me. Eventually, I seemed to have passed their scrutiny but not before I had endured a few interesting moments. When I had estimated the number of Highwaymen paintings to be, perhaps, in excess of 50,000, Tim blurted out, "Try 200,000." Tim believed that Harold Newton alone produced 40,000 paintings, based upon the assumption that he completed four paintings daily, five days a week, for forty years. However, my research put the number at less than that. Newton didn’t paint daily nor did he share Alfred Hair’s sense of urgency. The bottom line concerning Harold Newton’s productivity was the one offered by his brother, Lemuel Newton, who told me, "There’s got to be a lot of ‘em."
Tim later affirmed that collectors of Highwaymen art would invariably gravitate toward collecting Harold Newton’s paintings because they were the popular favorites. Harold Newton’s body of work was viewed by art fanciers as being in a class of its own. His art was even revered by the other Highwaymen, despite their own individual successes; their art was of a different genus which required other criteria for appreciation. Understanding that fact is what had motivated me to write The Highwaymen.
As the meeting continued around Tim’s dining room table, I was going into a near-academic explication of the Highwaymen phenomenon while praising Alfred Hair. I continued to relate the details about Hair’s unimaginable social and artistic achievements when Mike stopped me. "You got it all wrong. You should title your book, Harold Newton and His Followers," he asserted. Mike knew I understood the point that he was trying to make when I said, "That’s another book."
And, now, that book is hot off the press.
Harold Newton: The Original Highwayman examines the life and art of this extraordinary man and painter. As I reveal the story of his accomplishments, I trace Newton’s roots from his childhood until his untimely death. Newton’s story, like those of the other Highwaymen, shines a fresh new light on the 1960s in Florida through the exposition of his personal and professional journeys. As he traveled around the Sunshine State while selling his paintings from the back of his car, Newton left an unsurpassed testament to Florida as Paradise. His aesthetic was perfectly suited to the new Floridians who had relocated here during the years after World War II, believing that living was better here. In the eyes of these newcomers, his paintings affirmed that the magical place they imagined existed. Most importantly, my new book offers the first intimate view of the masterful Florida landscape paintings created by this one-of-a-kind loner - Harold Newton.
About the author:
Please visit his website, www.garymonroe.net to read Highwaymen articles and to view galleries of their paintings. Mr. Monroe can also be emailed through the site