I’m taking a break from the rough and tumble of the battle we’re in to reclaim America (which, by the way, is the name of the upcoming national Tea Party Express tour later this month).
Not long after I came to Florida in 1982, an itinerant artist had visited my husband’s workplace, offering an armload of paintings for $25 each.
That evening, my husband came through the door with one of those paintings, a tranquil scene of a moonlit Florida night. The predominant colors were deep turquoise and black. The focal point was a silvery full moon reflected on a calm river beneath, the nightscape framed by the dark shadows of palm tree fronds tipped in the same shining silver. The view was reminiscent of one we’d enjoy when the moon was full, gazing out from our top floor condo at Cocoa Beach’s Thousand Islands salt marsh, scattered with small spoil islands covered in mangroves in the Banana River Lagoon. Those islands were home to manatees, dolphins and coastal Florida wildlife, and I can still hear the cacophony of bullfrogs in the stillness of a summer night.
We hung the painting — framed in rustic wood — in our dining area, adding a point of interest to the bland white wall. The painting remained there until we moved.
Fast forward to now and I have no idea what happened to the painting. As sometimes happens over time, things just disappear. Now I realize what a treasure this folk art was, worth much more than our $25 investment, and I’m sorry it’s no longer among my home furnishings.
The Florida Highwaymen, a group of 26 African-Americans, broke convention to paint beautiful iconic landscapes. Originating in the mid 1950’s, an era marked by racism, poverty and brutality, these self-taught entrepreneurs mentored each other while they painted on basic materials like Upson board for canvasses, and crown molding for frames.
Local galleries shunned their work, so they peddled their art from car trunks along area roadways, hence their name. Their art freed them from work in citrus groves and labor camps, and they created a body of work that has become not only a timeless collection of a natural environment, but a symbol of determination and belief in oneself.
The surviving Highwaymen, now in their sixties and seventies, are an important chapter in America’s culture and history, indeed, a National Treasure. Their self-determination in the face of adversity remains an important story of perseverance, inspiration and creativity.