Pinellas County Painter Taught By ‘Florida Highwaymen’ Artist Helps Honor Legacy

West Evans is usually in a park or along a street in St. Petersburg with his easel set up and his oil paintings. He’s a transplant from Florida, but his love for the sunshine state shines through in his art.

The uniquely styled speed painter had never picked up a brush until about four years ago.

“These are Florida landscape paintings,” Evans said of her work. “Most people look at it and they say it looks like a painting of highway robbers,” Evans said.

That’s because he was taught to paint by Al Black, one of 26 African-American artists of the 1960s known as the Florida Highwaymen. The group debuted at Ft. Drill during segregation. They were not allowed to exhibit their work in galleries, so they sold their paintings from the trunks of their cars.

“I went to doctors, lawyers, motels, and anyone who looked at the paintings and asked them if they would buy them,” Doretha Hair Truesdell recalls.

Truesdell’s late husband, Alfred Hair, was the founding member, and she said the Highwaymen produced around 200,000 paintings.

“We were selling about $25 a board. Meanwhile, if you were making $100 a day, you were making a lot of money,” Treusdell said.

After Alfred’s death in 1970, interest in art waned. It wasn’t until the mid-90s that vivid scenes became popular again. All 26 painters have been inducted into the Florida Artists Hall of Fame, and these days their paintings cost tens of thousands of dollars.

“Now we are planning a Highwaymen’s Museum to house the Highwaymen’s paintings, so their legacy will continue long after their eyes are closed,” Truesdell said.

The remaining artists have formed a non-profit organization and are working to build the Bandit Museum and African American Cultural Center on Avenue D in Ft. Pierce. They have received a grant to bring the building up to museum standards, and are raising funds for the project through donations as well as presales for a Florida special license plate.

The plan is to display about 50 paintings in total, featuring at least one of each member of the Florida Highwaymen. They hope to be open for business in January.

On Monday, April 18, a benefit for the project is held at Chuck’s Seafood Restaurant on the Treasure Coast. The goal is to raise approximately $20,000 for museum operating costs.

“I think they deserve it. So anything I can do to help them,” Evans said.

This Saturday, April 16, he is accepting donations and selling some of his own works. Evans will be at Elva Rouse Park in St. Petersburg from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m.

“If I had never met Al, I wouldn’t be painting at all. So the least I can do is try to help him put him in this museum where, you know, it’s them, it’s just for them,” Evans said.

Only eight Florida highway bandits are still alive, and the museum will ensure their art never dies.




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