Many people confuse the Highwaymen, the group of African American painters, with A. E. "Bean" Backus. Backus was not part of the Highwaymen, but he is known for inspiring that Florida group of painters, mainly via Alfred Hair, the only person in the Highwaymen group who Backus taught. Alfred Hair's high school teacher introduced him to Backus because of Hair's innate artistic talent. Backus took Al Hair under his wing to try to show him how to paint the rich Florida landscape at which Backus was so adept. Al Hair taught the other members of the group, not Backus, although Backus influenced them. One member, Harold Newton, was closest to Backus in style.
Hair had an intense style and was responsible for organizing the group of painters. He had the idea of copying paintings by Backus to produce quickly painted works for sale in order to improve his and his friend's lives. According to Backus expert, Sherrie Johnson in the excellent book, A. E. Backus and the Backus School, written by Johnson and other Backus experts, Backus, being the generous artist that he was, gave them permission to copy his works but asked if they would please sell them in locations other than Ft. Pierce, so his clients would not be upset seeing copies. Therefore, the term "Highwaymen" was invented years later to describe the group because they piled their paintings into their cars, sometimes when the paint was still wet, and sold them door to door as far north as Georgia and down to Miami at a fraction of a price that Backus could command. Unfortunately, Alfred Hair was killed by an envious individual in a barroom in 1970.
Because the Highwaymen copied Backus paintings, their work, while dramatic in color and intensity, does not possess the same quality as paintings by Backus. They knew they could never match the fineness of his art so they chose to make up for that fact by painting as many works as they possibly could in the shortest amount of time.
The formal students of A. E. Backus are members of the Indian River School, trained Florida landscape artists, some of whom studied under Backus for several years. They are, as professional exhibiting artists, still closely following their teacher's technique and incorporating it into their own creativity. -Deborah C. Pollack