Brevard County

Who were the Florida Highwaymen?

ORLANDO, Fla. — From the 1950s to the 1980s, 26 self-taught Black artists -- including one woman -- painted vivid landscapes and seascapes depicting the scenery of old Florida.

The artists became known as the Highwaymen because they spent their weekends selling their artwork out of their vehicles.

The group focused on offices, motels and salons along Interstate 95 and Highway A1A in Fort Pierce, Vero Beach and surrounding areas.

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During segregation, African Americans were unable to sell their artwork in galleries.

Painting served as an alternative source of income for those who might otherwise be working in citrus groves or packinghouses.

Instead of canvas, artists painted the oil paintings on Upson board, an affordable fiberboard composed of recycled wood.

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The Highwaymen painted as many as 200,000 pieces, selling them for anywhere from $25 to $45 apiece.

Today, those highly coveted works and can fetch thousands of dollars each.

Robert Lewis, one of the eight surviving Highwaymen, told Channel 9 that he and his fellow Highwayman, Sylvester Wells, would travel to medical and legal offices to sell their artwork thus increasing their exposure.

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“Some would show an interest, and some would say, ‘Not today,’” he said.

Lewis, who now lives in Cocoa, said he was inspired to first pick up his paint brush by his high school art teacher. He said he still paints to this day.

Although there were only 26 Highwaymen, many artists have followed in their footsteps, mimicking the unique style of folk art.

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“I don’t think they would be doing it today if it was not for the Highwaymen breaking ground,” Lewis said.

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Jason Kelly

Jason Kelly,

Jason Kelly joined WFTV Channel 9 in 2014. He serves as the station's Digital Executive Producer.

Jeff Levkulich

Jeff Levkulich,

Jeff Levkulich joined the Eyewitness News team as a reporter in June 2015.

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