Highwayman captures Florida’s beauty on Juneteenth

This Juneteenth, the Spady Cultural Heritage Museum will welcome noted Florida painter Robert Lewis, a member of the famed Highwaymen, to share his distinct style of art with local fans.

On Sunday, June 19, 2022, Lewis will paint in front of a live audience while his works are on display and available for purchase at the Spady Museum’s Williams Cottage as a “one-day-only” commemoration of the national holiday. The Spady Museum previously welcomed Highwaymen Lewis, Isaac Knight, Curtis Arnette and Willy Regan to share their art during Black History Month 2019.

Highwayman Robert Lewis creates art on-site at the Spady Cultural Heritage Museum. (Images courtesy of Spady Cultural Heritage Museum)

Who are the Highwaymen?

According to Artsy.com, Florida’s “Highwaymen” were a group of about two dozen black painters who made a living selling their landscape paintings in the Jim Crow South. Their style has been passed down to, and re-imagined by, modern-day African-American painters.

From the 1950s through the ’70s, the Highwaymen produced more than 200,000 paintings of Florida’s diverse ecology – vivid scenes depicting fiery red sunsets over aquamarine bays or the Spanish moss-covered banyan trees stretching over the state’s backwater regions. Selling their work straight from their car trunks, the group sold paintings to day-tripping tourists along U.S. Route 1 on Florida’s Atlantic Coast and to predominantly white business owners in the banks, motels, and laundromats of their native Fort Pierce, even as galleries turned them away.

The paintings originally went for $25 or $30 each, and were typically sold on the same day they were made, transported in bundles by car or bike in handmade frames and often still glistening with wet oil paint. Today, paintings by the Highwaymen are included in the Smithsonian Collection; they can clear $10,000 at auction or in private sales; and originals by the group’s most prominent figures, Al Black, Alfred Hair, and Harold Newton — who is estimated to have made more than 30,000 paintings alone — are coveted by a diverse fan base that includes the Obamas and Steven Spielberg.

“Living legends walk among us, and it is a privilege to be able to appreciate them while they are still here,” said Charlene Farrington, director of the Spady Museum.

Over the years, the Spady Museum has created several ways for South Florida residents to recognize Juneteenth’s importance – from performances by nationally known artists to moving readings by local talent. 

What is Juneteenth?

On June 19, 1865, the Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, arrived at Galveston, Texas with news that the war had ended and that the enslaved were now free. Note that this was two and a half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, which had become official January 1, 1863. 

The Emancipation Proclamation had little impact on the Texans, due to the minimal number of Union troops on hand to enforce the new executive order. With the surrender of General Lee in April 1865 and the arrival of General Granger’s regiment, the forces were finally strong enough to influence and overcome the resistance.

“The ‘end of slavery’ in the United States is highly contemplated concept and has a deeplayered meaning to our South Florida community,” said Farrington. “Some would not agree that slavery has ended, others cannot comfortably talk about it because of denial or guilt, others think the past should be buried along with the dead.”

“The Spady Museum’s goal is to make sure the events surrounding this time period are not lost forever. Younger generations should at the very least be aware of these important dates in our shared history. As much as the Fourth of July is celebrated, so should Juneteenth.

Juneteenth celebrates not only the national day, which is also known as Emancipation Day, but also a corresponding day in Florida’s history. In Florida, Union Brigadier General Edward M. McCook established his headquarters at the Hagner residence, known today as the Knott House, in Tallahassee. Immediately following the Civil War, General McCook was responsible for announcing the Emancipation Proclamation. A series of celebratory events are normally scheduled in Tallahassee on and around May 20.

Stop by the Spady Museum on Juneteenth to witness Florida’s natural beauty captured on canvas, by one of its historical Black artists. On Sunday, June 19, 2022, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Florida Highwayman Robert Lewis will return to the Spady Museum’s Williams Cottage in Delray Beach, for one day only, to paint, display and sell his famous works. The Spady Museum previously welcomed Lewis and Isaac Knight, Curtis Arnette and Willy Regan to share their art during Black History Month 2019.

By The New Tropic Creative Studio
The WhereBy.Us Creative Studio helps clients big and small engage locals, through campaigns that use creative marketing, storytelling, events, and activations to build community, conversation, and impact.