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The Highwaymen

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The Highwaymen were a group of young, African-American artists who painted their way out of the despair awaiting them in citrus groves and packing houses of 1950's Florida. As their story recaptures the imagination of Floridians andtheir paintings fetch ever-escalating prices, the legacy of their freshly conceived landscapes exerts a new and powerful influence on the popular conception of the Sunshine State.

Emerging in the late 1950's, the Highwaymen created idyllic, quickly realized images of the Florida dream, and peddled some 100,000 of them from the trunks of their cars. Working with inexpensive materials, the Highwaymen produced an astonishing number of landscapes that depict a romanticized Florida—a faraway place of wind-swept palm trees, billowing cumulus clouds, wetlands, lakes, rivers, ocean, and setting sun. With paintings still wet, they loaded their cars and traveled the state's east coast, selling the images door-to-door and store-to-store, in restaurants, offices, courthouses, and bank lobbies.

Sometimes characterized as motel art, the work is a hybrid form of landscape painting, corrupting the classically influenced ideals of the Highwaymen's white mentor, A.E. "Bean" Backus. At first, the paintings sold like boom-time real eastate. In succeeding decades, however, they were consigned to attics and garage sales. Rediscovered in the mid 1990's, today they are recognized as the work of American folk artists.