Highwaymen Exhibition at the Orange County Regional History Center, Orlando

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Are you one of the lucky ones who visits Florida regularly and who likes to experience something a little different? Maybe you are all ‘parked out’ having visited the wonderful theme parks regularly, or maybe you just want something out of the ordinary. Well, if you are also an art lover, or just have a passing interest in paintings, then why not visit the new exhibits at the Orange County Regional History Center in Orlando? For the next few weeks (from October, 2010 until January 2011) there is a new and fascinating exhibition of paintings completed by a group of 26 artists called the Highwaymen. Its official title is ‘Against All the Odds: The Art of the Highwaymen. ’

The history of the Highwaymen, or the Florida Highwaymen, goes back to the 1950s when a group of mostly self-taught African American artists, most of whom were from the Fort Pierce area began painting landscapes, selling them door to door, or from the boots of their cars, in order to support their families. It is important to recognize what the situation was for unknown self-taught African American artists at this time. It was impossible to find any galleries who were interested in selling their artwork, so they took it upon themselves to sell direct to the public. So these 26 artists formed an association, and during the 1950s and 1960s they painted around 200, 000 paintings of beautiful rural Florida. Their subjects included palm trees, calm water, tall grasses, together with the brilliant bright red flame tree or Royal Poinciana. The varied Florida birdlife often features in these stunning and most lifelike paintings. They captured the beauty of the brilliant blue skies and stunning pink sunsets of Florida, together with the luxuriant everglades.

It was one of the 26 artists who developed a technique which allowed them to produce large amounts of paintings in a very short space of time - in fact it is sometimes said that the oil paint on them was barely dry before they were stacked – leaving an imprint of the next frame on the base of some. The technique used was to line up several pieces of Upson board, and then each was painted simultaneously, using the same colour mix, before moving on to the next colour. Some of the artists could complete a painting in forty five minutes or even less, and the results were astonishing. The Highwaymen painted on inexpensive masonite (a sort of hardboard) or Upson board (similar to chipboard), and their pictures were framed with crown mouldings (usually used where the ceiling meets the wall) which had been brushed with gold or silver paint to ‘antique’ them.

At the time they were painted, these canvases would have fetched little more than $35 each, but now an original and authentic painting would be worth several thousand dollars, and are much sought after. It was in the mid 1990s that they were rediscovered by Jim Finch, and these artists are recognized today as an important part of American folk history.

This new exhibition will feature paintings by every one of the 26 Highwaymen, and there will be a special Highwaymen Weekend from Saturday November 20th to Sunday November 21st where visitors can meet some of those original Florida Highwaymen. They will display some of their work as well as being available to share their stories – you can even buy some of their paintings, which truly capture the beauty of Florida, and a trip to see this exhibition will be well worth the time spent.

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Page added on: 30 September 2010
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