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
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
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
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 Womans Club annual exhibition. Notwithstanding the
long and arduous drive to Miami, Beans 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. Its no wonder today that AE
Bean Backus is considered one of Florida's great
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
& Art Around Florida
The Best Antiques Guide Magazine
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