FLAMBOYANT & COTTAGE by Alfred Hair. 20x29", oil on Upson board. Alfred Hair is credited with being the organizer behind the Highwaymen. His paintings that deviate from pure landscape are very collectible. Courtesy of Mr. & Mrs. Tim Jacobs.

Flamboyant & Cottage" by Alfred Hair


by Jim Fitch

Ed. note: Five years ago, in our Winter/Spring 1995 issue, we reported on a group of black artists who have been labeled the Highwaymen.
The article was written by Jim Fitch of Sebring, Florida. Jim was the acquisition agent for the Florida Masters Collection, Ltd., and the person most responsible for bringing their work to the attention of art collectors and patrons. He has written this update exclusively for Antiques and Art Around Florida and can be seen on the following link: THE HIGHWAYMEN by Jim Fitch

They say time flies when you’re having fun and that’s certainly true for me. It’s been six years since my job as curator of The Florida Masters Collection afforded the opportunity to begin the research that ultimately led to the discovery of the Highwaymen. Their story is fairly well known by now. For those readers who want to learn more about the groups beginnings, you can access previous articles about the Highwaymen at aarf.com, the website of Antiques and Art Around Florida or get other information at mofac.org, the website for The Museum Of Florida Art And Culture.
Statewide attention was first focused on the Highwaymen in January of 1995 when my article about the Highwaymen was published in this magazine. Consequently, Jeff Klinkenberg, a columnist for the St. Petersburg Times and a well respected Florida author, became interested in the story behind the Highwaymen. He wrote two feature articles about them in the Times and the cat was out of the bag.

EDDIE'S PLACE by Harold Newton. 20x24" on canvas board, ca. 1960. Still standing on Avenue D in Fort Pierce, this local tavern or “juke joint” was the scene of Alfred Hair’s demise. Courtesy of Mr. & Mrs.Tim Jacobs.

 Eddie's Place by Harold Newton

This article is an update of much that has taken place since that beginning, nearly six years ago. In addition, the pictures that accompany this article have been chosen to reveal an interest by the artists that goes beyond the typical landscapes that are most familiar to us. The Highwaymen were (and are) keen observers and when opportunity and circumstance allowed, ventured well beyond landscape painting.

PIRATES AT ANCHOR by Harold Newton. 24x12", oil on canvas. Harold undoubtedly found the carefully detailed rendering of the ship's rigging to be enjoyable and a definite change from the usual ala prima landscapes. Courtesy of John Phillips, American Fine Art & Collectibles.

Pirates at Anchor by Harold Newton
It’s possible that the paintings shown here more accurately represent who they are then the Backus inspired Florida scenes!
The most noticeable change in this ongoing story is the price of the paintings. When I began acquiring for the limited partnership, I could (and did), buy all I wanted for twenty five to thirty five dollars apiece and often much less. When the collection reached one hundred paintings, I started to get a little nervous and pulled back, a big mistake! I knew the art and the artists were important but at that time I wasn’t sure how many people would agree with me. Many did! A reliable source recently told me the new high dollar amount paid for a Highwayman painting is $6,000. It was paid for a very desirable Alfred Hair painting.
There are a number of factors that have fueled the interest in art produced by the Highwaymen. I have touched on some of them in previous articles. Perhaps the single, most important one, at least to date, is the involvement of dealers who recognized a ground floor opportunity and added their resources to getting the story out.
Belinda Hulin wrote an article for Boca Magazine about the Highwaymen. She insightfully noted that their “story (was) heavily laced with the ironies that inevitably surface when art and business and haves and have-nots intersect.”
I like that! Talk about strange bedfellows. Art and business, a most interesting couple.

STORMY WASHDAY by Harold Newton. 24x30" on Upson board. Genre painting in it’s purest form. Courtesy of Mr. & Mrs. Tim Jacobs.

"Stormy Washday" by Harold Newton

John Phillips of American Fine Art & Collectibles was one of the first to become a major dealer of Highwaymen art. John has a good eye and more of a gamblers nerve than I do. He began selling seriously at places like the Piccadilly Antiques Shows in West Palm Beach and the Renninger’s Extravaganzas in Mt. Dora. John’s sales were brisk and his efforts to maintain inventory were noticed by other dealers who decided to get more involved. David and Sue Folds at Dixie Folk Art, Mike Pullen at Antique Workshop in Vero Beach, and Tim Jacobs, a collector, have all played significant roles in promoting the Highwaymen as have many others. I understand there are several websites devoted exclusively to these artists and their work. The Folds’ started the Highwayman Collectors Society and have published Collecting Highwaymen Art, which is usually available on E-bay.

SAILBOAT HARBOR by Harold Newton. 20x24", canvas board, ca. 1955. A good example of Harold’s ability to produce bold brushwork. Courtesy of Mr. & Mrs. Tim Jacobs.

"Sailboat Harbor" by Harold Newton

Feature articles about the Highwaymen have appeared in just about every major newspaper and journal in Florida. Besides the St. Petersburg Times and this magazine, they have been covered in the SunSentinel in Ft. Lauderdale, the Orlando Sentinel, Boca Magazine, Florida Living, and South Florida History magazine. A copy of Florida Living containing the article

MISS MINNIE by Roy McLendon, 1997. Roy’s longtime lady friend. This is a copy of the painting Roy did for Miss Minnie. The Museum of Florida Art And Culture tried to buy the original from her but she couldn’t be tempted. Roy made a copy and the museum was tempted. Courtesy of The Museum of Florida Art And Culture.

"Miss Minnie" by Roy McLendon
about the Highwaymen was auctioned on E-bay and sold for over ten times it’s original value. It was not even two years old. Three hundred seventy four Highwaymen paintings were offered for sale on E-bay between February, 1999 and February, 2000. E-bay magazine had an article about the work.
I have been interviewed by documentary film makers from New York, an interior designer with studios on 5th Avenue, and the author of a scholarly work about the Highwaymen now in final draft. The writer, Gary Monroe, is also a Florida Humanities Council lecturer on the Highwaymen. Exhibits this winter at the Safety Harbor Museum near Clearwater and the Thomas Center in Gainesville broke all attendance records for art receptions. The Safety Harbor Museum hosted the first ever Highwaymen symposium in conjunction with their exhibit.

NIGHT STREET by Harold Newton. 24x20",ca. 1955. Courtesy of Mr. & Mrs. Tim Jacobs.

"Night Street" by Harold Newton
Anchoring the panel of specialists who contributed to the event were this writer, Gary Monroe, Tim Jacobs, Jeff Klinkenberg, and Robert Butler. Three of the original Highwaymen were there and offered paintings for sale. James Gibson, one of the artists who came, returned thirty days later and presented a program and sale. Other cultural institutions that have hosted Highwaymen exhibits are the Center for the Arts in Vero Beach and the A.E.Backus Gallery in Fort Pierce. The Museum of Florida Art And Culture has produced a forty-five minute video about the Highwaymen.
Where do we go from here?

STILL LIFE by Roy McLendon. 24x20", ca.1960. Roy has been as diverse as any of the Highwaymen. He has a flair for doing the figure that is evident in the painting “Miss Minnie”. Courtesy of Mr. & Mrs. Tim Jacobs.

"Still Life" by Roy McLendon
History is a pretty good guide. I suspect interest in these artists and their work will continue to grow and sales will be brisk. Serious collectors will be more discriminating. The commercial aspect of the work is what provided the initial motivation for their creations and it’s what is driving the activity now. The next major movement will be when the paintings are recognized for their artistic value.
I am personally very excited about the new found work being previewed in this issue of Antiques and Art Around Florida. It represents untapped potential. I hope the Highwaymen will take a closer look at their urban environment, realize its uniqueness, and record it as they have the natural environment. If that happens, future articles will most likely be appearing in the Wall Street Journal.


About the author:
Jim Fitch discovered this group of black artists in 1994 and coined the title "Highwaymen" due to their practice of selling their art on-the-road from their cars or trucks. Jim can be reached at jimf@htn.net


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