Florida in the 1950s was a kaleidoscope of tropical landscapes that welcomed tourists as they traveled the highways through a wilderness
of mysterious swamps, meandering rivers, and sandy beaches. It was an Eden-like paradise unless you were an African American destined for a life of labor, working the fields and groves, following the crops from one farm to another, making just enough money to survive. In one Florida town, a remarkable teacher at a segregated school connected talented African American students with a regional artist, forever changing the lives of these enthusiastic young artists. A new genre of nature-based art was born and these artists would be named “The Highwaymen.” These outsider artists, unable to see their work in local galleries due to the color of their skin, sold paintings to roadside motels, real estate agents, and bankers. In this way, their colorful and inviting paintings crossed the boundary into the mainstream of Florida culture. The paintings that sold on the side of the road for $25 now sell for one-hundred times that amount.
John McCarthy, is the Executive Director of Gulf Coast Heritage Association and Historic Spanish Point. He has met many of the Florida Highwaymen artists and has collected dozens of their colorful paintings. Using images from his personal collection, John will share the origins of this purely-Florida genre of art, the techniques used by the artists, and what the art means to modern-day Floridians.