Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Highwaymen... is this a coincidence?

She said that I should take off early Sunday morning from Gainesville so I could make it down to the Florida Antiques show at Sunken Gardens in St. Pete. About 10am I took off, making it to the Gardens by about 12:30. Walking through the doors, I passed 4 of the original Highwaymen artists showcasing their work. One, Roy McClendon, sat in the corner. A little, wrinkly and very modest old man, he received my barrage of questions. And in his modesty, my compliments on his work always made him point his finger at his son's pieces instead of his own. His son's beautiful, much more detailed work was a mere fraction of what McClendon, Sr. had to offer. Not only in form and ageless beauty, but in price. At a steep $800, I had to pass on McClendon's work.

Instead, I bought a pictorial history of the Highwaymen. Check out some of their art here: http://thelegendaryhighwaymenartgallery.com/Gallery.htm This is a shortened version of their story:

In the late 50's, a group of African American high school kids near Ft. Pierce, Fl. were recommended by their art teacher to be mentored by a well known landscape painter in town. For the next year or so, the kids were taught art and then sent on their way to practice the painting of picturesque scenes of East Florida. As time went on, the kids got a little older and a little better at this genre of painting so they set out for the shoulder of US 1. And as the highway shuffled tourists down the booming Sunshine State, tourists began buying their art as souvenirs of Florida. Everyone took a liking to the art, so much so that at $10 to $25 a pop, it was estimated that the highwaymen (about twenty total) sold 50,000 to 200,000 pieces over twenty years. But as the '70s rolled in, and technology replaced nature, these paintings (which critics feel had a large impact on the success of tourism in Florida) were tossed up into the attics by those who had forgotten the magic of Florida's sub-tropical oasis.

Fast forward to 1994. Some dude announces the Highwaymen as a unique phenomenon in the art scene. So people start pulling the pieces down out of their attics and before you know it, by 2007, originals are going from a couple hundred to a couple thousand dollars. The highwaymen craze was put into full effect.

So I, a couple weeks ago, had a decision. Buy: 1. original, or 2. a representational book. I'm on a budget: choice two is a better option.

I leave the antique show, enamored with these artists, hardly able to wait out the trip home to flip through my new book of edenic scenes. The next afternoon, I go riding at the skatepark really late. On leaving at 11pm, I noticed that I had missed 7 calls from Ariel. So I call her back immediately expecting the worst. No emergency--luckily--instead, she tells me to call her mom as soon as possible. I hesitate because of the hour, but in anticipation of a surprise, make the call. Tacie answers and begins to tell me a story of her thrift shopping in Ft. White, Florida. On milling through the piles of forgotten stuff from forgotten people, she stumbled upon 5 paintings of "scenic, Florida art." The lady at the counter wanted $30 for the lot, unfortunately Tacie only had $20. But, the clerk, wanting to get rid of them, settled for $20--fortunately.

So Tacie brings home five pieces of art and calls Ariel to let her know about the find. Ariel, remembering my episode of enthusiasm about the highwaymen a day prior, asks Tacie to read her the signature. It's W. Daniels, who happens to be one of the twenty Highwaymen, the brother to Johnny Daniels (the most prolific of the gang).

Tacie was calling to let me know that one of the pieces was mine... Here it is above. Am I going to sell it? The money wouldn't be worth the years I'll be able to repeat this story of coincidence. Instead, I've got a proud place for it in my dining room. Thanks, Tacie!

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