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He tells the tale of the Highwaymen

(ran PW, PS editions of Pasco Times)

They sold the American dream.

Each painting, awash with all the colors of Florida's pristine landscape, defined an ideal tropical paradise.

They are known simply as the Highwaymen, a group of 26 self-taught African-American landscape painters from Fort Pierce, who, in the days following World War II, dared to strive for financial prosperity by selling their only marketable commodity _ artistic talent.

On Saturday, author and photographer Gary Monroe will present a free slide lecture on the Highwaymen at the West Hernando/S.T. Foggia Branch Library near Weeki Wachee.

"I've always had an interest in contemporary folk artists," said Monroe, whose 2003 book, The Highwaymen: Florida's African-American Landscape Painters, has thrust him onto the Florida lecture circuit. "But this group of artists was something distinctly different. This was a group of outsiders."

During the 1950s and early '60s, the group was loose and nameless, Monroe said. With no rules and no dues, the artists were held together by the energy of their own momentum.

"This was a group of young blacks in "Jim Crow' Florida," said Monroe, who teaches photography at Daytona Beach Community College. "And through their art, they were empowered to fly above their social destiny."

The young artists sold their framed oil paintings from the trunks of their cars along Florida's east coast. They went door-to-door offering their canvases to business owners and workers for $10 or $20.

Though there was no formally named artistic movement, many of the estimated 200,000 paintings began popping up at flea markets and at yard sales during the early 1990s, Monroe said. It was then the group was saddled with a name often associated with robbers and thieves.

"Nobody asked them what they wanted to be called," said Monroe. "The Highwaymen was a name that was pinned onto them. But, in truth, you couldn't have paid for the recognition that kind of moniker creates."

In March, the group will join the likes of playwright Tennessee Williams and novelist Ernest Hemingway when they are inducted into the Florida Artists Hall of Fame.

The lecture program, funded by the Florida Humanities Council and locally sponsored by the Friends of the Library of Hernando County, is free and open to the public. For more information, call 540-6391.

Gary Monroe's book tells the story of a fabled group of Florida artists of the 1950s and '60s.

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