Painter Kelvin Hair and Gary Monroe, noted Author, Advocate and Archivist of Florida Self Taught Art, will share stories from the Highwaymen and it’s enduring legacy on Thursday, February 23, 2017 at 7 PM. Doors open at 6:30 at the Old Davie School Museum.
“Old Davie School is excited to be part of such a great event!,” said Leslie Schroeder, Executive Director, of Old Davie School Historical Museum. “The beautiful landscapes painted by the Florida Highwaymen show the Everglades and natural settings of Old Florida which relates to the early days of our community. Our mission is to educate people about the heritage, culture and history of Davie and western Broward County and this workshop and exhibit allows us to continue this mission. “The Florida Highwaymen’s story needs to be told and kept alive for future generations as does history, she added.”
How does one explain the power of a self-taught artist in a world that is accustomed to credentials as a means to success? The enduring power of a generation of Florida Self Taught painters, a band of brothers of sorts and one sister who bucked the Jim Crow system of discrimination in the 1950–60’s, is their brand of beauty — at a time when life was anything but that for them. Their lush landscapes quickly painted on gymsum board with crown-molding frames (construction materials essentially) sold for $20 — in bulk. Their timing was perfect because many White retirees were coming to Florida. Hotels were popping up to house the tourists and builders developing tracks of homes.
A handful of young men began to work for Alfred Hair, who was essentially the ‘ring-leader’ of this band of painters, and they took the knowledge shared by a White painter, Beanie Backus, to logical economic ends. Beanie, according to Kelvin (son of Alfred Hair), didn’t want Al and his friends to paint fast. He wanted them to be ‘artists.’ And they wanted to be artists too. But they had no choice but to paint fast in order to sell their paintings cheaply in a market that would not allow them access to higher pricing in galleries and elite circles. The hotel owners and homeowners who encountered the painters on the ‘highway’ were more than happy to purchase these beautiful paintings from Black Artists for little money as the imagery was vibrant, fresh and pastoral — dream-like.
“That’s the Florida that was being peddled, a play-land reserved for a select few,” said curator Clare Vickery of Grace Arts FL. “Their enduring popularity is in part due to the great workmanship of their art, but also their personal stories of overcoming obstacles. Sharing their artwork with a new generation helps us learn about history, culture and lessons for Florida’s future.”
In addition to the Thursday night presentation by Gary Monroe with Kelvin Hair at the historical Old Davie School Museum campus, the artwork of original Highwaymen Artist, R. L. Lewis, will be available for purchase during the 80th Annual Orange Blossom Festival at the Historical Society booth both Saturday all day and Sunday 1–3 PM.
About Artist Kelvin Hair
Kelvin Hair, a second generation Highwaymen Artist, is the son of one of the most famous of the original Highwaymen, Alfred Hair. Kelvin grew up surrounded by art and was introduced to the genre as a toddler. Today Kelvin is a widely collected Florida artist with a loyal fan base.
As a Lieutenant and veteran of the St. Lucie Fire Department, Kelvin says he treats art as an escape from his hectic work life. “When I paint I go into my own world and there are no worries,” Kelvin said. “I love my job as a firefighter but it is very stressful most of our calls are ambulance runs, so painting is my way of getting away from the stress at work.”
About Art Historian Gary Monroe
Nationally recognized art historian, photographer and scholar, Gary Monroe’s book, The Highwaymen: Florida’s African-American Landscape Painters, is a seminal work on the famed first generation of this uniquely Florida art genre. Monroe told the story of these artists and their contribution to shaping Florida’s popular image. He successfully nominated Florida’s Highwaymen into the Florida Artists Hall of Fame.
About R.L. Lewis
Robert Lewis’ subject matter is more extensive than most of the other Highwaymen. Besides lush landscapes, he paints cows, deer, dogs, cowboys, birds, and buildings. His range of foliage is diverse and he sometimes paints still life’s.
Lewis was accepted into the Highwaymen group in part by knowing the Newton brothers. He chose to get a degree in art in order to teach professionally. Lewis graduated with his degree in 1966 at a time when segregation was still in place. After he retired from full time teaching he began selling his art more freely around the state and garnering commissions around the nation.