I can, without a doubt directly correlate my mom’s love for the arts, especially performing arts, to my love for it! It’s important that you know this (so stick with me) because dressing up and going to the theater, live music concerts, museums, arts festivals, hands on activities, and even performing arts elementary school was ALL, because my mom felt my life should be colored by the arts.
She often times found ways for us to go backstage to meet the cast members, authors, and dancers up close and personal. I always loved that - though I’d get shy and barely say a word. , I am eternally grateful for her shear joy of art, love for it and for exposing me to it so intentionally.
The Florida Highway Men
Not a Floridian herself, My mom, learned of the Florida Highway men aka Highwaymen on PBS. When the Florida Highway men exhibit came - we went! Their story by far, is one of my favorite artist stories. In some ways it's always felt like folklore.
A group of 26 black men (and in some version of the story, one lady), where like an artist collective. They got together, mostly all self taught, and used the supplies they had (and could afford), to paint the beautiful Florida landscapes. I should insert here that I am a Floridian! Yup, explains the love for color right! :)
They painted along the highways and sold their art, sometimes wet, out of their trunks. They couldn’t sell in galleries because they where unknown, self taught, and black.
So here you have this “band of artist” that paint and sell the landscapes door to door for $25.00 a painting. These days, if your a Floridian that happens to own one of these original works it’s easily worth $3,000.00!
Today, what the Florida Highway men did, sounds like a legit hustle. But then in the mid 1950s,the Florida Highway Men, were counter cultural.
In this way, The Florida Highway Men, reminded me of many of the characters I’d often been captivated by in the folklore tales of Zora Neal Hurston, another great Florida artist. The Heros of the story never had much, developed their own “techniques”, but stayed one step ahead of the rest and uninhibited by the barrier that came with being black and a male in society.
The Florida Highway Men, inspite of society's beliefs - believed in themselves and their value. And in their ability to create breath taking landscapes and risk A LOT selling them up and down the florida highways and door to door! Gives another definition to the hustle and struggle being real!
Speaking of struggle…. Me and My Friend Court, had a lady phone date the other day and we both agreed that art is the great equalizer and unifier. You may not understand another person life experience through discussions and eloquent speeches, but art some how creates a universal expression that can’t be ignored. It puts humanity in front of us and dares us not to feel.
The Florida Highway Men showed us beauty, in spite of strife and inequality. Their story, becoming a pivotal story, woven into the fabric of american history and art history. They expressed the desire that we all have to hitch hike the serenity,peace, and beauty of nature and live in it. May we as a nation hitch hike that same desire and respond to that which scares us with love.
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