African American Landscape Artists – The Highwaymen

 

Twenty-six African American landscape artists of Florida were known as “The Highwaymen”. These men (and a few women!) painted their native Florida landscape and would evolve to become a social group of itinerant artists who ventured along local Florida highways (hence their name) to sell works to hotels and businesses for $25 a piece.

The original artist, Alfred Hair, was introduced to the art world by white artist A.E. “Bean” Backus in the 1950’s. Bean encouraged Hair to sell his works, which was a very challenging feat for black artists in the racialized South. But Hair’s passion for making landscape art was persistent — and infectious. He encouraged several of his friends to paint. Together, these self taught artists produced hundreds of pieces over time out of their backyards and garages. Made of inexpensive and practical materials, these works were an important source of livelihood for the artists until demand for their plein air works fell off.

Today however, the value and collectability of Highwaymen paintings have skyrocketed as a result of publicity in the 1990’s that fueled a renewed interest of these artists, who painted passionately and relentlessly outside of the American mainstream gaze.