The Florida Highwaymen
Collectors of Our Scenery and History on Display at The Florida History Museum
The vibrant collection of artworks painted by the Florida Highwaymen provide a unique look into Florida’s scenery and history. The Florida Highwaymen were a group of 26 African American painters in the 1950s whose art was sold by going door-to-door to businesses and families across Florida. At the time, black artists were excluded from traditional galleries, leading the Highwaymen to come together to find new ways to make a living. They often sold their work directly from the trunks of their cars- earning them their name. Along the way, they captured Florida’s unique landscape, and today their work stands to memorialize the artistry and Florida’s natural beauty.
Works of the Highwaymen at The Museum of Florida History
These works, painted by the Highwaymen are pieces of Florida’s history. The Highwaymen Exhibit is on permanent display at The Museum of Florida History. The scenery depicted in this collection of paintings takes the viewer to a different and colorful time and place. In their works, the Florida Highwaymen captured every hue found in Florida’s landscape, from its sunsets and Spanish moss to its swaying palm trees, bright flamingos, and vivid sunsets.
The exhibit features pieces by 23 of the original 26 artists, including the works of Mary Ann Carroll, who famously painted vivid Royal Poinciana trees, and R.L. Lewis, one of the more active highwaymen who has been painting since 1967.
Florida Highwaymen painter, R.L. Lewis photo courtesy of FloridaMemory.com
His work is one of the first ones on display in the Highwaymen permanent exhibit, features Spanish moss, soaring egrets, and flowing rivers. Alfred Hair, considered a founder of the Florida Highwaymen, started painting in his teen years. His artwork at the museum, which is over 50 years old, focuses on the vivid orange colors of a fleeting sunset. In addition to older pieces, the museum also displays some recent works from artists who have been painting landscapes for decades. These artists continue to do what they love, sharing the natural beauty of the Sunshine State.
The Highwaymen have since become known nationally for their craftsmanship, with Highwayman Mary Ann Carroll, also known as the First Lady of the Highwaymen, presenting artwork to First Lady Michelle Obama in 2011. Select works are also featured in The National Museum of African American History and Culture. Together, the largely self-taught artists forged a legacy of black artistry.
Open seven days a week at varying times, the Museum displays exhibits that reflect on the cultural, historical, and natural environment found in Florida. Some of the Florida Highwaymen have passed away since their time of selling artwork on the road, but their art continues to tell their story. Despite racial barriers, these artists produced thousands of paintings that continue to live on in Tallahassee.