Highwaymen exhibit on display at Thomas Center
Published: Thursday, January 12, 2012 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 11, 2012 at 10:47 a.m.
Artworks created by the Highwaymen, a group of black painters whose works captured the landscape of their surroundings in the Fort Pierce area beginning in the 1950s, have long captured the imagination of viewers.
Al Black exhibit forum
What: Discussion and reception for the new exhibit “Redeemed by Art: Al Black’s Highwaymen Murals, Photographs by Gary Munroe.”
When: Forum and reception 3-6 p.m. Saturday; exhibit on display through Feb. 25
Where: Thomas Center, 302 NE Sixth Ave.
Now, photographs of murals painted on the walls of a state prison near Orlando by Al Black, an original Highwaymen artist who was incarcerated there for nine years beginning in the late ’90s, are on display in the new Thomas Center exhibit: “Redeemed by Art: Al Black’s Highwaymen Murals, Photographs by Gary Munroe.”
The exhibit features 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, who was incarcerated there from 1997-2006 after being convicted of fraud and possession of drugs, said Mallory O’Connor, outgoing acting visual arts coordinator at the Thomas Center Galleries.
On Saturday, a forum on whether art can be used to redeem convicts or as a crime prevention method is planned in conjunction with the new exhibit, which runs through Feb. 25 in the Thomas Center’s Main Gallery.
The forum and reception is planned from 3-6 p.m. Saturday 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.
The artists known as the Highwaymen earned their name — and the beginning of their reputation as Florida artists — after they began selling their work, often inexpensive landscapes, on the highways near Fort Pierce to tourists who visited Florida starting in the 1950s.
Exhibits featuring works by Highwaymen artists have been featured nationally. And in 2004, 26 artists identified as original Highwaymen artists including Black were inducted into the Florida Artists Hall of Fame.
O’Connor said Black identified himself as a Highwaymen artist to Dianne Rechtine while she was the medical executive director at the prison. Rechtine had read an article about the Highwaymen that mentioned Black, and after learning that Black was indeed a Highwaymen artist, asked prison’s warden 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 Saturday’s discussion at the reception following a gallery talk by Munroe that will start at 4 p.m. She said they will be joined by panelists 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 Theatre in 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 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.
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, O’Connor said.
Hours of the exhibit at the Thomas Center, at 302 NE Sixth Ave., are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday, 8 a.m.-7 p.m. Tuesday and 1-4 p.m. Saturday.