Florida Highwaymen: Seventh decade and still painting

In the 1960s and 1970s, if you had visited Southeast Florida doctors, dentists, accountants and other professionals’ waiting rooms, chances are you spent some time checking out the wall art — Florida landscapes were most common.

And it’s a good bet that many of those paintings were by one or more members of a group of 26 African-American artists — men and women — known as the Highwaymen. These Fort Pierce-based folk artists started painting and selling in the 1950s, trained by famed Florida painter A.E. Backus. They traveled the East Coast of Florida, selling their paintings door-to-door, mostly to small businesses and office dwellers.

A few of the original Highwaymen are still painting, traveling, wheeling and dealing, and make several appearances and sales events every few weeks in Central Florida.

Seven of them recently displayed their current and vintage work, June 3 at the Orange County Regional History Center, downtown Orlando.

Curtis Arnett, Arnett, Al Black, Mary Ann Carroll, James Gibson, Issac Knight, Robert Lewis, and Roy McLendon held forth, fielding questions and making deals on their classic Floridiana.

Al Black with one of his early-1970s landscapes.

A classic folk-art tableau by Al Black.

Robert L. Lewis does a live demo June 3 at the Orange County History Center.

Isaac Knight displays his work at several art shows through the year.

Grayscale Indian River-scape, by Isaac Knight.

Two Questions for Al Black:
Q1) “How many paintings have you done in your lifetime?”
Answer: “I have no idea. They said 200,000.”
Q2: “How many do you paint a week now?”
A: “About 10.”

Three Questions for Isaac Knight:
Q1: “How long have you been painting?”
A: “About 60 years.”
Q2: “How many of these shows do you do in a year?”
A: “Quite a few. My wife, Lillie helps me get around.”
Q3: “That grayscale painting really stands out — what promted you use black & white?”
A: “My son has a friend who takes black & white photographs. So he [son, Cedric] asked me, ‘Can you do that?’ ”

Watch CentralFloridaTop5.com for upcoming Highwaymen dates.

A current exhibit in the area is at
DeLand’s Stetson University’s Homer and Dolly Hand Art Center, 139 E. Michigan Ave.

Photographer and author Gary Monroe narrates a walking tour of the show, “The Florida Highwaymen: Art Innovators in a Civil Rights Epoch,” through July 29. Visit www2.stetson.edu/hand-art-center, or call 386-822-7271.

This show features more than 30 paintings from private collections throughout the state, many of which have never been shown publicly. “Each work is a testament to the entrepreneurial spirit of these struggling artists and bears witness to the beautiful unspoiled Florida landscape,” exhibit organizers said.