Thursday, August 10, 2006

Highwaymen Art Recalls Old Florida

Old Florida was as exotic as a South Seas island, as depicted in oil paintings of the Highwaymen group. This group of self-taught artists flourished in the Fort Pierce area in the 1950s, 1960s, and into the 1970s.

The work of Alfred Hair and Harold Newton, two of the most prominent artists of the group, is currently featured in a show at the Fort Lauderdale Museum of Art. Their paintings of brilliant sunsets, rustic cabins, and vivid red royal Poinciana trees recall an era before developers paved over paradise.

There are several interesting facets to this group of approximately 26 artists. First, some of this group was able to escape the cane fields and orange groves by using their creativity to invent a style of painting that appealed to tourists.

In addition to being highly creative, the Highwaymen artists were entrepreneurial, selling their work at the side of the road, going door to door, and traveling to crafts fairs. In fact, the art was often framed using wooden molding with a steep angle so that wet paintings could be set one on top of another without smearing the paint. The stack could be set in a car to drive on the way to a fair.

Third, the Highwaymen often used the system of the old European masters. Less accomplished artists filled in the backgrounds, while the better artists filled in the details. According to material at the Fort Lauderdale Museum of Art, work might be accomplished in a kind of assembly-line fashion during a barbecue.

Last, the value of Highwaymen art has tripled in recent years, thanks to national marketing via eBay. The museum show is a tribute to how the artistic vision of this group, who deserve a place in U.S. art history.

I wish I could include an example of their work, but I must respect the creative property of these artists. If you Google Highwaymen Art or Artist, you will find many interesting examples.

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