By Dawn Krebs
ST. LUCIE COUNTY -- With their depiction of wind-bent palm trees, sunsets on the water and beautiful landscapes, 26 African-American artists from the Treasure Coast wrote a chapter for themselves in American art history.
Of course, they didn't know it at the time.
In that time period in history, the artists were unable to have their work seen in art galleries because of they were unknown, self-taught African Americans. So the artists took to the road, selling their work out of their cars and from the side of the road.
The term "Highwaymen" was created in 1995 by author Jim Fitch, who was studying the history of the group. Since then, the artwork has maintained its popularity, and books and documentaries have detailed the long, hard road of the Highwaymen Legends.
"Art was a part of my life, all my life," said Mary Ann Carroll, the only female Highwaymen artist. Ms. Carroll started painting in the late 1950s, and since that time, has lost count of how many paintings she has done.
"I met Harold Newton, one of the original Highwaymen, and he showed me how he painted," she said. "I'm still learning, and still painting."
Her work is hanging in the Tallahassee Capitol, the Orlando and Miami airports and the Florida House in Washington, D.C. One of her more recent accomplishments is being able to present her artwork to First Lady Michelle Obama.
Al Black was another of the original Highwaymen artists, but his focus was more on selling the artwork.
"I was the number one salesman of the Highwaymen artists," Mr. Black said. "I was working for the Fort Pierce Typewriting Company doing deliveries, and I met the artists selling their work. I started going with them to sell their work, and showed them they could get a lot more money for it."
Now, Florida Highwaymen art can be found all over the world, and has become a collector's item, and in 2004 the 26 original Florida Highwaymen were inducted into the Florida Artists Hall of Fame.
One of the original artists, Alfred Hair, studied under A.E. "Bean" Backus in the early 1950s. Now deceased, his son, Kelvin Hair, has become part of the next generation of the Highwaymen, called the Highwaymen Legacies.
"I didn't know at the time I was going to paint, I didn't even know I was going to like it," Mr. Hair said. He completed his first painting in high school in 1982, and credits his father for blazing the trail for local future African-American artists.
"My Dad kicked the door open," he said. "I still meet people all the time that talk about him and his work."
There is now an opportunity to meet some of the original Highwaymen and Highwaymen Legacies and see hundreds of their paintings at the same time.
"We are the 'Founders of the Floating Gallery,'" said Ms. Carroll. "There's more to a piece of artwork than just the colors. It's all about happiness."
The Vienna Trading Antique Mall is holding the Florida Highwaymen Art Show and Sale from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on June 1 at the mall, located at 3401 U.S. 1 in Fort Pierce. More than a dozen of the actual Highwaymen artists will be on hand to talk about their work. There will also be food, beverages and raffles throughout the day.