FORT PIERCE, Fla. — It’s a story out of Florida’s Treasure Coast that went unknown for decades, but 20 years ago it came to light along with the people behind the artwork. The Florida Highwaymen were a group of 26 artists who used ingenuity to seeks buyers, and today buyers from as far away as China are seeking their work.
If it were 1959 approximately 70 works done by 26 Black artists wouldn’t be in Stuart’s The Elliott Museum.
”They were black artists in an era of time that didn’t allow it to happen,” said Roger Lightle, Highwaymen Art Specialist, Inc. owner. “So they had to figure that path out. They had to go around that obstacle.”
They were Black self-taught artists from the segregated parts of Fort Pierce, Vero Beach, and surrounding rural communities, disenchanted by the idea of picking fruit. Their unique painting style gave them economic independence, but they earned it. Knocking on doors, and parking on A1A and I-95 selling from their vehicle trunks.
”Determination to succeed,” Lightle said.
Black ingenuity and determination are not mentioned in history books by artists like Willie C. Reagan.
“Art has been a part of my life. I guess all of my life,” Reagan said.
And it’s Reagan’s art and others that caught the attention of a retired Vero Beach firefighter who in 2001 started Highwaymen Art Specialists, Inc., an art gallery in Vero Beach.
”We are the only ones that sold a painting to someone in Shanghai at midnight, but the internet allows them to occur,” he said.
And his determination runs deep, his work with the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. ensures these artists are part of America’s story. But there’s more.
All of the Highwaymen weren’t men.
“There was one woman within the group and her name was Mary Ann Carol,” Lightle said. “Her work is here (at the Elliott Museum) on display.”
And if you’d like to know more, first hand, inside the Elliot Museum you'll have your chance.
”Wednesday and Thursday night we expose the story to the public,” Lightle said.
Two Florida Highwaymen, among the only remaining highwaymen, will do live painting demonstrations. They’ll also speak candidly about their lives, careers, legacy and contributions to American art and American history.
You can meet the Florida Highwaymen at the Elliott Museum on Oct. 20 and 21 from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. If you just want to learn more about the artwork you can visit the museum from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on both days. Learn more here,
And to learn more about the Florida Highwaymen click here.