Program Details

Florida's Highwaymen: African-American Landscape Painters and the Fort Pierce Art Phenomenon Delray Beach

Brian McConnell

Course Description

Join Dr. Brian McConnell as he explores the story of Florida's Highwaymen, a group of 26 African-American artists that exhibited resourcefulness and creativity, forging a unique style of painting that offered them economic independence amidst the Jim Crow era. Starting in the 1950s and inspired by A.E. "Bean" Backus and Alfred Hair, these self-taught artists depicted Florida's landscapes in a vibrant manner, using a "fast painting" technique. Scenes of serene wilderness—beaches, marshes, sunny days, and storms -- were crafted from memory and experience into landscape abstractions that nevertheless created a very real image of an emerging Florida, America's last frontier. Using inexpensive materials, they stacked paintings in cars for efficient sales, showcasing ingenuity and adapting to expanding automobile access to the state in a manner very different from turn-of-the-century art colonies. Florida's Highwaymen turned to art as a means of livelihood, leaving a lasting legacy of artistic style and entrepreneurial spirit that remains active today.

About the Instructor

  • Brian McConnell, Ph.D.'s research interests span the Old World from prehistory through the Middle Ages. He concentrates on the island of Sicily, where he has conducted archaeological field research for over three decades, including FAU’s summer study abroad excavation program at ancient Palikè (Rocchicella di Mineo). He has published a book on the journey through Sicily by painters Thomas Cole and Samuel James Ainsley (Agli Albori del Viaggio Moderno in Sicilia, Il viaggio di Thomas Cole e Samuel James Ainsley per la Sicilia 1842, Domenico Sanfilippo Editore, Catania 2014) and a documentary and analytical monograph on Wall Illustrations from the ‘Grotte di Caratabia’ (University of Palermo/Franco Serra Editore 2015), as well as a variety of articles and reports in international journals and convention proceedings. He teaches undergraduate art history surveys and upper division courses that focus on ancient and medieval cultures of the Mediterranean and Europe. He has taught graduate seminars on such varied topics as Picasso, Minimalism, the Art of Internment, Art & Human Rights, and Art & Sound, and he has directed and served on MFA committees for the Department of Visual Arts & Art History and Ph.D. committees for the D. F. Schmidt College of Arts & Letters.