A J Brown, 2nd Generation carries on the Florida Highwaymen legacy. Beginning in the 1950’s, a group of black artists painted Florida, the picturesque paradise that it was. “ Highwaymen”, a name given later in the late 90’s, were fitting for the men doing just that – selling their art along the side of major highways. People, who saw them along Florida’s highways, still remember the young entrepreneurs and enjoy sharing their memories. A J Brown, a renown Second Generation Highwaymen, shares a detailed history of the Highwaymen and introduces her iconic artwork in this Rickie Report article.
A J BROWN
2nd Generation Highwaymen
AJ Brown tells us, “Harold Newton and Alfred Hair started a tradition of recruiting mostly friends and a few relatives, as they taught each other to paint; watching and learning from each other; then took to US Highway 1 to sell their recent productions, most times together, sometimes alone, sometimes in competition. Hair was the only painter mentored by prominent white artist, A E Backus. Florida scenes came from the trunks of their cars while the paintings were still wet dripping with oils. Who sells wet art? Signatures scratched in with nails? The Highwaymen did! Using tree trunks as easels, Upson board for canvas, a knife or finger as a brush, crown molding for frames, 2×4’s and plywood as the assembly line. Makeshift materials served well, a means of getting by. They had to paint fast during segregated times of the Deep South as a matter of survival. They were searching for an escape, a way out living a hard life working orange groves, packing houses, and tomato fields”.
“Primitive Poinciana” by A J Brown
Their use of color on top of more colors, mixing and matching was eye catching to locals and tourists, who bought their art, returned to their homes, transporting what was not yet history to far away countries and unknown parts of the world. Twenty five men and one female of the first Original group emerged from painters to artists. Each worked the highways which played a significant role to the development of the movement which brought about multiple changes in the history of black cultural and America. The young artists sold their paintings door to door for $15.00 – $35.00.
“Stormy Palms” by A J Brown
The Original Generation of Highwaymen Artists began in Fort Pierce. These African American painters finally gained the recognition they deserved, as 26 of them were inducted into the Florida Artist Hall of Fame in 2004. The Original movement led to The 2nd Generation Historic movement, as a selected few African Americans were mentored by an Original, Johnny Lee Daniels. He painted for over four decades and dedicated his life to teaching and helping so many. Daniels was the “only Original investing years of mentoring protégés as one close family”: Jimmy and Johnny Stovall; Kelvin Hair, A J Brown and Richard Edwards. This distinct Generation is collective of blood relatives and a few close friends. As one group, the 2nd Gen produces their original hand painted raw essence of nature, passed down from their predecessors. The group’s serene landscapes speak across generations.
“Daniels owned two Highwaymen Art Galleries in Fort Pierce, Florida; made Johnny and Kelvin his business partners in his first gallery and A J his business partner. This well-respected, self-taught entrepreneur was gifted with impeccable talent and known for reflecting his personal love for God’s nature and wildlife in his paintings. Never realizing, he bridged an important historic connection from the Originals to the 2nd Generation. Salsa painted orange skies, pink clouds, red trees and water ways were some of our subjects”, AJ reminisces.
“Picking’ Oranges” by A J Brown
A J Brown shares, “Help us preserve the importance of America’s educational art history for future generations to embrace…The Originals supported and encouraged us, because our generation, our history, our lives matter! The magic remains in the beautiful historic landscapes of our generation…The 2nd Generation goals honors leaders Newton, Hair and twenty four pioneers by preserving America; painting Florida’s historical landscapes while keeping our history accurate, as it is passed on. Highwaymen Art is a magical nostalgic representation of a time lost, a distinctive brand worthy of preserving. Both generations are Grand enough for the White House”!
Born in Virginia and raised by a single mother and Seminole Indian grandmother in northern FL, A J Brown’s family were migrant fruit and vegetable pickers, from Tallahassee, FL. She tells us, “ Life offered hardships of living in camps traveling from highway to highway…during elementary years, attending Means Court Elementary in Fort Pierce, and over ten different schools, and fifteen addresses, I had no permanent home to call my own, a “Highwaymen” in every sense of the word. Growing up during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s, in the Deep South, I was among the first students to end segregation… before day break, early each morning I woke to take three buses out of my neighborhood across town to desegregate one white school in another town in 1970”.
“Moonlite Over Rivers Edge” by A J Brown
Brown is a former community service work member helping scores of kids in need and is considered one of the best of the Second Generation. “Images of the vividly colored red Poinciana and purple Jacaranda trees along the southern coastal bayous of Florida are trademarks of my paintings. Taught to me by James Gibson, who said to me; “keep the Poincianas a secret”, and like a Highwaymen family recipe, I replied, “yes”.
AJ Brown’s Family Legacy of Serving Their Country
Highwaymen history lives on as President Obama and the First Lady added two of my paintings to their collection. During a military meet-and-greet, thanking soldiers and their families, in December, 2014, A J Brown was honored to present her painting to the First Family, President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama at Marine Corps Base Kaneohe Bay in Hawaii. She describes it as a “once in a lifetime experience! It was impressive and exciting” ! This was especially poignant because A J is a member of a longstanding family of veterans.
“Docks by Poinciana Palms” by A J Brown
Brown often speaks to people who say, they love their Highwaymen piece and are happy they bought it and meets those who regret they didn’t. “I live Highwaymen Art, I love Highwaymen Art because it has no rules; It’s kinda like the Wild Wild West, when there were no laws”, says Brown. Brown speaks from experience as she recalls growing up as an active part of the Civil Rights Movement as a time of inequality, ” for me as female, it still exists. Growing up during segregated times, night time didn’t catch you out or across the tracks in neighborhoods; beaten, arrested or worse would be your fate. Tradition among the Highwaymen has long been The Originals and the 2nd Gen. I am 2nd Generation. I strive for freedom of speech; promote respecting each other and asking that others respect us, equality for each member; unity for the Highwaymen; we are a group; we are also individuals trying to earn a living”.
Hall of Fame Original Florida Highwaymen Artist Johnny Lee Daniels painted 40 years when his life ended May 26, 2009. Daniels mentored The next 2nd Generation Historic group of five. A J Brown was authorized to construct his grave-site monument at Pine Grove Cemetery in Fort Pierce, Florida. 1000 block avenue L section 2-N.
“In the 1950’s Highwaymen paintings captured the raw mystique of Florida: Swaying Palms, Royal Poincianas, backcountry wet marshes and woodlands, with moonlit skies and waterscapes. Discover this nostalgic art brand. A traditional part of America’s history is an investment collected by thousands since the 50’s. Future generations may share the same experiences as the generation before them. Collect the art of all the Generations”!
Relaying more history, AJ says, “In May, 2009 the Highwaymen established the first historical 501c3 to open a museum, electing the first President MaryAnn Carroll. I was honored to be officially appointed and authorized to perform the duties of the Secretary. The group was Florida Highwaymen Artist and History Center, Inc. During meetings the Highwaymen acknowledged and agreed on blood and non-blood artists to continue their traditions. Artists painting before 2009 and the establishments of both 501c3’s were included. The 2nd Generation wishes to pass it on and acknowledge their 3rd & 4th Gen, including Jalisa R Broughton, known as Salsa, age ten”. A collection of her paintings is archived by A J Brown, her grandmother, dating back to 2009.
“Tangerine Skies” by A J Brown
“The Florida we grew up in is the Florida they painted and now we paint. Each generation holds an important specific role for their era and is of great relevance to the other. Distinctive expressions of the Deep South were painted by this unlikely group of African Americans. I persevere to exist.. to eat from my art. I am female, African American and one person, in America and in this group. I am grassroots. I strive to bring about change and awareness so others see my true representation. Our paintings, our history, our Florida, through our eyes; worthy of significant recognitions for our hard work to open doors for extraordinary earnings that would sustain our livelihoods and honors our place in time; in history, so both generations can finally enjoy the fruits of our labor. Both generations are recognized, valued for our art; honored for our history; our endurance, and unity, crossing barriers of all times”, AJ states.
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A J Brown 2nd Generation
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