Friday, April 29, 2005

Art That Saw Past Color

Art That Saw Past Color: 'You can't be selfish. Got to paint what the customer wants,' said Gibson, who still paints. 'The most important thing is selling.'

In 1970, at age 29, Hair was shot dead in a barroom quarrel in Fort Pierce's Blacktown neighborhood. That day, Gibson recalled, Hair had completed 35 paintings. Though many of the Highwaymen would continue to produce art, Hair's death seems to have marked the end of whatever cohesiveness the painters had as a group.

"We used to get together every once in a while to see who could paint the best, who could paint the fastest," Mary Ann Carroll said. During those soirees of art, beer and barbecue, she said, "we were the same body of people, laughing and talking."

For some of the painters, the income was a welcome supplement to what they earned elsewhere — Carroll and George Buckner did yard work; Isaac Knight worked as an assistant production foreman for an aerospace company; Baker owned a small restaurant; Willie C. Reagan, who had received art training at Florida A&M University, taught in the public schools.

For others, including Hair and Gibson, painting was a full-time, and remunerative, craft. Among the neighbors, Gibson recalled, a Highwayman became known as "the man with the money."

Nobody kept written financial records, and some seasons were leaner than others, but Gibson figures he averaged $250 to $300 a week, a large sum in a community where people struggled to get by. Hair, whose goal had been to make $1 million, was able to buy a Cadillac. Gibson quickly made enough to purchase a nearly new Chevrolet Impala.