Exhibit showcases prison murals by Highwaymen artist

Published: Thursday, January 5, 2012 at 3:09 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 5, 2012 at 3:09 p.m.

A forum on whether art can be used to redeem convicts or as a crime prevention method is planned in conjunction with an exhibit called "Redeemed by Art: Al Black's Highwaymen Murals, Photographs by Gary Munroe."



What: “Redeemed by Art: Al Black's Highwaymen Murals, Photographs by Gary Munroe” exhibit and forum.

When: Exhibit on display Saturday-Feb. 25; forum and reception is 3-6 p.m. Jan. 14.

Where: Thomas Center, 302 NE 6th Ave.

Cost: Free.

Information: Call 352-393-8532.

The exhibit will be on display beginning Saturday through Feb. 25 in the Main Gallery at the Thomas Center at 302 NE 6th Ave. Gallery hours are 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday, 8 a.m.-7 p.m. Tuesday and 1-4 p.m. Saturday. The forum and reception, which is free and open to the public, will be held from 3-6 p.m. Jan. 14 in the Spanish Court at the Thomas Center. The forum is being funded in part by the Florida Humanities Council in partnership with the Matheson Museum.

Mallory O'Connor, outgoing acting visual arts coordinator at the Thomas Center Galleries, said the exhibit will feature photographs taken by Munroe, a professor of art photography at Daytona State College, of murals painted on the walls of the Central Florida Reception Center in Orange County by Black, an original Highwaymen artist who was incarcerated from 1997-2006 after being convicted of fraud and possession of drugs.

The Highwaymen were a group of black oil painters whose works captured the landscape of their surroundings in the Fort Pierce area.

They are known as The Highwaymen because they used to sell their work on the highways near Fort Pierce to tourists visiting Florida beginning in the 1950s.

O'Connor, who is turning over the operation of the galleries to Russell Etling, said Black identified himself as a Highwaymen artist to Dr. Dianne Rechtine while she was the medical executive director at the prison. Rechtine had read an article about the Highwaymen that mentioned Black, and when she asked Black if he was indeed a Highwaymen artist, he confirmed her suspicions.

Soon afterward, she asked the warden of the prison at the time, Ron McAndrew, if Black could paint murals on the walls of the prison. Already a fan of the Highwaymen artists, McAndrew readily agreed.

In a Thomas Center press release, McAndrew wrote that he learned a lot by allowing Black to paint more than 100 murals at the prison.

"Al's work on the murals at the prison in Orlando was not only therapeutic for him, but for the inmate population as a whole," McAndrew wrote. "It was a great lesson for me to witness this single man reach within for rehabilitation and grace all in one breath."

O'Connor said McAndrew and Rechtine will be among the panelists who will lead the discussion at the reception following a gallery talk by Munroe that will begin at 4 p.m. She said they will be joined by panelists Dr. Mildred Hill-Lubin, a retired University of Florida educator, and Kim Berry, director of the Hippodrome Improvisational Teen Theatre and director of education at the Hippodrome State Theatre in downtown Gainesville.

O'Connor said the goal of the forum is to make the public aware of the benefits of art as a way to rehabilitate criminals and as a crime prevention method. She said research, especially that of Dr. David Gussak, associate professor of art education and clinical coordinator of the art therapy program at Florida State University in Tallahassee, has shown the benefit and value of art programs in prisons.

She said Gussak contends that it is not easy for some inmates to talk about their emotions and pain to mental health specialists, but are better off when they paint about it.

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