Focus on Florida’s Highwaymen

ORLANDO, Fla. – Several original works of art by Florida’s legendary Highwaymen – the loosely affiliated group of African-American artists who eked out a meager living mainly in the Fort Pierce area of Florida, from the 1950s to the 1970s – will be sold at the Baterbys Art Auction Gallery 2011 Winter Auction, slated for Feb. 19 and 26 in Delray Beach and Orlando.

Roy McClendon_painting.jpgOriginal untitled oil on canvas by Roy A. McClendon, framed, signed in paint lower right. Photo courtesy Baterbys Art Auction Gallery.

The Highwaymen were so-named because they’d often sell their works – still wet – on the side of the road or out of the trunk of a car. The paint surface was whatever was handy – usually inexpensive roofing material. The frame (if there was a frame at all) was simple crown moulding. There were 26 Highwaymen. All were men (except one woman, Mary Ann Carroll).

The birth of the Highwaymen can be traced to 1954 in Fort Pierce, Fla., when the young African-American painter Harold Newton met an established white painter named Albert “Beanie” Backus. Backus encouraged Newton to paint landscapes, and the young protégé eagerly obliged. Soon Alfred Hair joined them, as did a widening circle of artistic associates.

Taking their stylistic cues from Backus, the young, raw painters often worked with a heavy palette knife to create the swaying palms, shifting skies and crashing waves of the Atlantic Ocean. Scenes of marshes, birds, boats, moss-laden trees and the St. John’s River were also rendered.

They sold their works for about $25 to tourists or appreciating locals. The images were raw and primal, depicting idyllic views of the Florida landscape, before rampant development would reconfigure the state’s topography forever.

Over the years, all of the Highwaymen developed and refined their own personal styles, ranging from realism to impressionism. But the Florida folk art they created in the ’50s and later is generating huge attention, especially among collectors. Collecting art by the Highwaymen has become an expensive (but increasingly expensive) hobby, as values trend sharply upward.

There will be no buyer’s premium in the auction. A portion of the proceeds will go to benefit UCP of Central Florida, an organization that serves children with disabilities and developmental delays in the Orlando area.

The auctions will begin promptly at 5 p.m. (EST) at both venues, with previews from 4-5 p.m. Online bidding will be facilitated by Phone and absentee bids will also be accepted.

Baterbys can also be reached at 866-537-0265.

Sam Newton_painting.jpgAlfred Hair_painting.jpg

Above Left: Original oil on canvas by Sam Newton, titled “Sunset Over the Water,” framed, signed in paint.

Above Right: Original oil on board by Alfred Hair, titled “Fort Pierce, Atlantic Ocean,” framed and signed.


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