Quilts, Florida paintings on display this summer at museum
By Jessica Tuggle
VERO BEACH -- Florida landscapes and colorful pieces of fabric will adorn the halls of the Vero Beach Museum of Art this summer.
Two exhibitions, "Along the Road: Paintings of the Highwaymen" and "Visual Systems: The Quilter's Eye," will open in June and run through September, museum administration said.
The paintings of the Highwaymen focus on the beauty of natural Florida through landscapes and nature. The paintings have an established history and following in the Treasure Coast area, as the art style was conceived by two painters inspired by Fort Pierce painter A.E. "Bean" Backus, said Jay Williams, museum curator.
The exhibition will open on June 29 in the Holmes Gallery, he said.
The Highwaymen were a group of young black painters, largely self-taught, who painted tropical Florida scenes, including birds, palms, brilliant red Poinciana trees in the late 1950s through the 1970s and sold their work along U.S. near Fort Pierce, a press release said.
"'The Highwaymen' was a term coined in the 1990s, the artists never called themselves that," Mr. Williams said.
The exhibition will feature the work of several Highwaymen, but mainly the two original artists, Alfred Hair and Harold Newton.
The young painters lived in a time when it was difficult for them to find a job because of the color of their skin, but found a way to use their talent and earn money, Mr. Williams said.
"They developed a rapid way of working and producing paintings while keeping the quality high enough to keep their customers happy," he said.
There are 26 painters considered in the original Highwaymen group, and one was a woman, Mary Ann Carroll. All of them were inducted into the Florida Department of State Artist's Hall of Fame. As of 2012, 18 of the original artists were still alive, a press release said.
Though on the surface Florida landscapes and quilts don't seem to have much in common, there actually is a thread, an artistic brushstroke, that ties the two exhibitions together.
"They are a different kind of medium, but both come out of the folk roots of America," Mr. Williams said.
"Both are art forms that came from the people doing something in the community, from the ground up," he said.
"Visual Systems: The Quilter's Eye," which opens June 8, is all about how art can exist in unexpected places and appear in a wide variety of forms, Mr. Williams said.
A lot of the craft-type art, such as metal-working, weaving, pottery or quilting, were not considered fine art for a very long time, only within the past 50 years have people begun to see those media as art.
The exhibition has been selected from the collection of the International Quilt Study Center and Museum at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln, Neb., and is the largest publicly held quilt collection in the world, a press release said.
Though quilts in the 1900s were usually made for a functional purpose, to decorate a bed or to keep warm, individuals that made them were quite creative and artistic in putting together the patterns and colors, Mr. Williams said.
The earliest quilt in the collection is from 1870 and the youngest quilt will be from 1991. The exhibition will include traditional quilts and contemporary variations on traditional patterns and constructed quilts reminiscent of abstract paintings, a press release said.
"It really shows how quilt makers made creative choices to make a beautiful object that can be looked at as art," Mr. Williams said.
For more information about exhibitions and activities at the art museum, call (772) 231-0707 or visit www.verobeachmuseum.org.