By A Treasure Coast essay by Paul Janensch
Fort Pierce, FL – Why do so many of us on the Treasure Coast love paintings by the Highwaymen? I'll tell you my theory in a minute. The Highwaymen are a group of African American artists, mostly self-taught and orginally based in Fort Pierce. Starting in the 1950s, they painted vivid Florida landscapes on inexpensive Upson board and sold them from their cars along U.S. 1 and State Route A-1-A. Hence, the name "Highwaymen." They painted green palms, pink sunsets, red Poinciana blossoms and blue ocean surf. Few of the paintings have any people in them - and no RVs, high-rise condos or shopping malls. Their work became popular in Florida and around the country partly through the efforts of A.E. "Bean" Backus, the white Fort Pierce artist. Right now, you can see new and vintage art by the Highwaymen at the A.E. Backus Museum - that's b-a-c-k-u-s -- near the city marina in Fort Pierce. The exhibition will culminate in the Highwaymen Festival on Saturday and Sunday, March 26 and 27. More than a dozen of the surviving Highwaymen will be there. For details, go to backusmuseum.com. Are paintings by the Highwaymen beloved because they show us Florida as it is? No. It's because they show us the way we would like Florida to be. For 88.9 FM, this is Paul Janensch.
Treasure Coast essayist Paul Janensch was a newspaper editor and taught journalism at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut.