The rich sapphire and amber tones of an Everglades sunset; the sweeping panorama of a group of coconut palms along a sun drenched beach; the sudden burst of color exhibited by a grand royal poinciana tree as it begins to bloom are scenes etched indelibly in the minds of most Floridians as they view the rich landscape that our state, Florida, possesses. These likenesses have been recorded by many painters travelling through our state. However, only one native son, Albert E. Backus, could capture the spirit and feeling of our surroundings in their truest sense.
Backus was born in the year 1906 in the coastal farming community of Fort Pierce, Florida. Both his parents originally came from New Jersey in search of a warmer climate and a better life for their family. The family garnered an early interest in the arts as both parents were musically inclined and encouraged their children, in particular, Albert, to “engage themselves in some form of artistic endeavor.”
At the early age of six, Bean (a nickname given to him by a neighbor because of his fondness for all types of beans) was given a set of watercolors by his mother. Throughout his childhood, Backus could be seen sketching and painting the surroundings in and around his home, the water front and the landscape near Fort Pierce. In the summer of 1924, as he neared high school graduation, Backus chose to drop out so he could earn money to attend the Parsons School of Design and Art in New York. These lessons would prove to be his only experience with formalized art training.
Upon returning to Fort Pierce, Bean was hired by land speculators to paint signs and artistic views of local land developments and, in general, he kept fairly busy painting murals in restaurants and backdrops in the local theatres. Unfortunately, the land boom bubble burst as did much of Backus’ real estate work. Still, Bean was convinced, at the age of 25, that an artist's life was one he wished to live.
In 1931, Dorothy Binney Palmer, a local Backus patron, helped promote Bean's first exhibition in Fort Pierce. Fueled with the success of selling his work for $5 and $10 per painting, he entered regional art contests both locally and as far south as West Palm Beach. Acknowledgment of his work was slow at first, but awards, although sometimes modest, were greatly appreciated by the artist.

In 1939, the IBM Corporation, working with the Golden Gate exhibition held in San Francisco, promoted a search for the forty eight most promising artists (one from each state). Bean submitted his painting titled “The Beach at Eden” and was astonished and pleased to learn his work was selected to represent the State of Florida in the exhibition. From this significant award, Backus was to receive further recognition by winning the coveted “Bemis” award in 1938-1939 and 1940. The award, named by the Florida Federation of Arts, was in recognition of superior work on a Florida subject. AE "Bean" Backus was on his way to achieving both local recognition and nationwide acclaim.
At the out set of World War II, Backus enlisted and was assigned duty on the USS Hermitage which traveled to a great many ports of call; particularly the south sea islands of Bora Bora and Tahiti. To Bean's benefit the ships captain was an ardent art enthusiast and permitted the artist to paint various and sundry places the ship visited. Fortunately, a few of his south sea paintings exist to this day and demonstrate the striking feeling and force his future admirers would grow to love, appreciate and cherish.

After the war, Backus began to travel further south to Miami to exhibit. He created a whole new clientele at shows like the Fairchild Tropical Gardens Art Show and the Miami Woman’s Club annual exhibition. Notwithstanding the long and arduous drive to Miami, Bean’s work was highly sought after. Commission work began to increase and Bean would be, more often then not, confined to the studio to catch up with his painting orders. Backus’ strong use of light and color, coupled with his palette knife style of impasto painting, was an immediate success with the Miami crowd. Everglades scenes featuring billowing cumulus clouds, the omnipresent wood storks lazily feeding in the swampy savannas, cabbage palms in harmony with mossy oaks, authentic scenes, captured the hearts of multitudes of collectors. Patrons were buying groups of painting to satisfy their eagerness to be as close to nature as the artist depicted it to be.
Beanie Backus was a people person! On Saturdays, in his studio, he conducted art lessons to both young and old and never charged for his instruction. Countless new artists, painting in the “Backus” style, would follow for generations to come. Backus believed his talent was a gift and thus felt obliged to share it with all.

In 1950, Bean married Patsy Hutchinson and for five years their marriage was filled with much love and support for each other. Tragically, Patsy succumbed following complications from open heart surgery in 1955. Expressing a need to travel and to reflect on his life, Backus visited many Caribbean islands and found the town of Port Antonio, Jamaica, to be what he viewed as his salvation after his tragic loss.
In Jamaica, Backus captured much of the countryside, its people, the grandeur of the blue mountains and the tropical splendor of Priestmans River and Boston Bay. He was truly amazed to find a ready market for his Jamaican work in Florida.
With a sense of renewed vigor, Backus embarked on a multitude of commission works that would continue up to and only a few days prior to his death in 1990 at the age of 84. Albert E. "Bean" Backus will long be remembered as a wonderful landscape painter capturing the many moods and likenesses of our state. In our book about the artist, we have tried to portray his feelings about his work, and the life he lived. Albert E. Backus, was as true and genuine as the subjects he painted. It’s no wonder today that AE “Bean” Backus is considered one of Florida's great artists.

Southern Skies Gentle Breezes,
the artistry of AE Backus
74 color plates, 103 pages.
Copies can be ordered directly through
Firestone Sales Company,
1008 East 16th Street,
Hialeah, Florida 33010
Florida residents please add $4.95
for postage and handling

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