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Selby Gardens to Feature “Florida Highwaymen” in 2024 Summer Exhibition

SARASOTA, FL., June 13, 2024 – Marie Selby Botanical Gardens is pleased to announce its summer exhibition, The Florida Highwaymen: Interstate Connections, on view inside the Museum of Botany & the Arts at Selby Gardens’ Downtown Sarasota campus, July 20, 2024, through September 15, 2024.

The legendary Black landscape artists known as the Florida Highwaymen emerged in the 1950s in the agricultural communities of Fort Pierce and Gifford, Florida. Largely self-taught, these talented artists produced colorful scenes of Florida’s unique landscapes that appealed to residents and tourists alike. Their iconic images captured the natural beauty of the Sunshine State prior to the impact of increased urbanization.

They were prolific painters, who sold their artwork from the trunks of their cars during the post-World War II boom because they were unable to exhibit through traditional means due to the color of their skin. While making ends meet, they also made a significant contribution to the genre of Florida landscape painting.

“The Highwaymen represent a group of very talented and beloved artists,” said Jennifer Rominiecki, president and CEO of Selby Gardens. “Their works collectively capture colorful scenes of Florida’s unique landscapes with universal appeal. To appreciate their art in our botanical setting is an experience perfectly suited to our bayfront sanctuary during the summer.”

This exhibition celebrates the artistic achievements of the Highwaymen and makes connections between their remarkable story and the experience of the African American community here in Sarasota in the 1950s and 1960s. While the Highwaymen were depicting the windswept palms and golden sands along the shores of the Atlantic, residents of Sarasota’s predominantly Black neighborhood of Newtown were striving to gain access to the segregated beaches on the Gulf. Protests in support of beach integration in Sarasota were early efforts in the fight for equal rights for all Americans, resulting in the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964. Integration of the city’s beaches was an essential part of providing everyone with access to the natural environment that makes Sarasota a tropical paradise.

The story of the Highwaymen is, in many ways, one of art triumphing over adversity. These enterprising individuals turned to painting as an alternative to a life of manual labor, as experienced by many African Americans under the Jim Crow laws that enforced segregation in Florida and other Southern states during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Denied representation by commercial galleries on account of their race, the artists sold their works door to door from the trunks of their cars along main thoroughfares such as U.S. Route 1 and State Road A1A.

This innovative sales method is the inspiration for the name Highwaymen, first applied to the group by gallerist Jim Fitch in 1994. The important contribution of this group to the cultural life of the state was formally acknowledged when 26 Highwaymen were inducted into the Florida Artists Hall of Fame in 2004. Long overlooked and under appreciated by the arts establishment, works by The Highwaymen can now be seen in museums across the country.

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Images: Courtesy of the Asselstine Collection: