I love the paintings of The Highwaymen artists. They are colorful, show movement, and depict images of “Old Florida” with palms, water, birds, boats, and sunsets. The paintings are mostly landscapes although I have seen a few with people in them.
According to Gary Monroe in The Highwaymen: Florida’s African-American Landscape Painters, “The Highwaymen didn’t exist, so to speak, until 1994, when art aficionado Jim Fitch assigned the name to an unknown group of African-American artists. Suddenly, thousands of the Florida landscape paintings they had produced since the end of the 1950s, which had been stored for years in Florida attics, were brought down, dusted off, and viewed with renewed interest”. Monroe states that “They made upwards of 50,000 paintings; some estimates exceed four times this amount”.
The artists painted on construction material called Upson board, named after the company that produced the material, and sold their paintings around Florida from the backs of their cars. The paintings were sold inexpensively, but now original Highwaymen art can sell for very high prices.
Recently, The John G. Riley House and Museum in Tallahassee was the recipient of 13 original Florida Highwaymen paintings donated by Tallahassee resident Grace Dansby. The Riley House is a member of the Florida African Heritage Preservation Network — a statewide web of 40 museums and groups. The downtown museum is now the largest holder of Highwaymen art in the network.
In his book, Monroe has identified one woman and twenty-five men as members of The Highwaymen: Mary Ann Carroll, Curtis Arnett, Hezekiah Baker, Al “Blood” Black, Ellis Buckner, George Buckner, Robert Butler, Johnny “Hook” Daniels, Willie Daniels, Rodney Demps, James Gibson, Alfred Hair, Isaac Knight, Robert Lewis, John Maynor, Roy McLendon, Alfonso “Pancho” Moran, Harold Newton, Lemuel Newton, Sam Newton, Willie Reagan, Livingston “Castro” Roberts, Cornell “Pete” Smith, Charles Walker, Sylvester Wells, and Charles “Chico” Wheeler. In our Florida Collection, in addition to Monroe’s The Highwaymen, we also have his Harold Newton: the Original Highwayman.