Saturday, April 24, 2010
I still have a special fondness for palm trees and sandy beaches, and so these days my wife and I take our own kids south at Easter break to visit my mother on the Gulf Coast. We fly to save time, but the experience while there is not a bit diminished from my childhood (the Gulf Coast being far less developed than the East). Now, of course, I always keep my eye open for anything folk art related.
It was a great stroke of luck that our week in Florida coincided with the final week of an exhibition at the Art Center Sarasota of the paintings of the Highwaymen. This was a group of African American landscape painters who sold their work on the roadsides of Eastern Florida (around Fort Pierce) in the 1950s and 1960s. Over the years their story has made its way into the literature on American folk art, but their paintings have not yet worked their way into major collections that are readily accessible. Thus I had never actually seen a Highwaymen painting.
All of the paintings that I saw in the exhibition were signed by the artist, which tells me a lot about their self image. Therefore it is worth knowing all 25 of the Highwaymen by name, to ensure that you do not pass up one of their works if you happen to run across it at a shop or show. Historians estimate that they painted about 200,000 works, meaning there must be many out there waiting, as their makers did, for someone to acknowledge their worth.