7 Books About The Highwaymen
June 10, 2022
If you've been in Florida for much time at all, you've probably heard of them. These midcentury landscape artists were known as "The Highwaymen" because they sold their work on the weekends, hitting the road like old-fashioned traveling salesmen. At the time, their vibrant depictions of Florida scenery sold for about $25 a painting (now, they fetch thousands at auction). Books about these artists can also be quite rare, so I thought I'd give you an overview of titles that feature these talented men (and one woman).
Harold Newton the Original Highwayman by Gary Monroe (2018, $80)
"Harold Newton was an unrecognized vagabond artist who not only captured the beauty of the Florida landscape but transformed it with an artistry that invoked its drama of light, color, and form while hinting at its dark, primordial forces. One of his fellow Highwaymen once observed of his work, 'It don't have to be signed to know it's a Newton.' Combining samples of his paintings with biographical details and reminiscences of family members, customers, and fellow Highwaymen, Monroe creates an homage to the man whose work contributed perhaps more than anyone else's to shaping the romantic imagery and identity of modern Florida."
Alfred Hair: Heart of the Highwaymen by Gary Monroe (2020, $40)
"Shot and killed in a barfight at the age of 29, Hair lived his short life fully, with a zest and intensity that informed his art. In high school he made canvas frames in the Fort Pierce studio of A. E. Backus (the painter who inspired the style of the Highwaymen) and soon became the artist’s protégé. By the time Hair graduated in 1961, he was painting luminous South Florida landscapes and selling them door to door. One of the few formally trained Highwaymen, he spurred on the collective of artists as they traversed the state in search of the clientele who would buy their artwork."
The Highwaymen Murals: Al Black's Concrete Dreams by Gary Monroe (2009, $42)
"As demand soared, Al Black (b. 1946) emerged as a salesman par excellence. Often earning 35 percent commission, he was discouraged from creating his own paintings. But gradually he learned, partly from repairing damaged works that had been loaded into his car while still wet. Inevitably, the boom times went bust--. Black struggled with drugs and eventually went to prison. While in the Central Florida Reception Center, a short-term stop for most inmates in the Florida prison system, "Inmate Black" was recognized as painter "Al Black" after the warden read a story by St. Petersburg Times columnist Jeff Klinkenberg about the Highwaymen. Soon, with the warden's encouragement and permission, Black was painting murals throughout the prison, classic Highwaymen landscapes in unexpected venues. When he left CFRC in 2006, Black had created more than 100 murals for the Department of Corrections. The Highwaymen Murals is the only record of these images available to the public. As such it will quickly become a must-have for any connoisseur of their work."
Mary Ann Carroll First Lady of the Highwaymen by Gary Monroe (2014, $40)
"Mary Ann Carroll is the never-before-told story of a black female artist's hard-fought journey to provide for her family while also making a name for herself in a man's world. Carroll sold her first painting at eighteen--remarkable for any young artist, unheard of for a black woman in the South. Like her Highwaymen brethren, she travelled across the state, selling her art at hotels, offices, and restaurants where she was not allowed to drink, eat, or even sit. If the Highwaymen faced discrimination at every door they knocked on, then the challenges--and dangers--were magnified for Carroll. "
A Journey through the Eyes of An Original Highwaymen Artist by Robert Lewis III (2015, $30)
"The paintings by R. L. Lewis are widely admired by Florida residents and visitors alike. Throughout his fifty-five plus year career, Mr. Lewis has established a sterling visual legacy of Florida's rapidly changing Backwoods and Waterways. He has always aspired to share Almighty God's gift of painting with others. As you read about his humble beginnings, your imagination will be captured. From his encounter with his high school art teacher, to his evolution into becoming an accomplished artist and teacher of students, you will be inspired."
Highwaymen Artists: An Untold Truth by Robert Butler (2014, $25)
This book is interesting because it includes 43 of the approximately 200 Robert Butler paintings that were lost in a horrific fire in Lakeland, Florida, February 10, 2008.
These two books are much harder to find, but I didn't want to leave them off the list. Florida's Highwaymen: Legendary Landscapes by Bob Beatty (2005) and The Journey of the Highwaymen by Catharine Enns (2009). If you're seeking a copy of either of these, let me know! We sometimes have the hard-to-find titles on the shelf and I'm always happy to check for you.