Albert E. "Beanie" or "Bean" Backus was born in Ft. Pierce, Florida, on January 3, 1906. His nickname of Beanie stemmed from his original nickname of "Beanpot" when he was a baby which was later shortened to "Bean." During the 1920s it was stylish to add an "ie" after one's name so it evolved into "Beanie." Nevertheless, many of his friends refer to him as "Bean."
As a child, Backus would repeatedly copy a picture of tall ships. He later studied at the Parsons School of Applied Art in New York from 1922-23 during the summer, but he is considered by most to be a self-taught artist. He was employed as a painter of theatrical signs, posters and displays during the Depression. In 1931 he had his first art exhibition in Fort Pierce, and in 1936 he participated in an exhibition in Palm Beach along with established artists such as Jane Peterson and Charles C. Curran.
He enlisted as an apprentice seaman after Pearl Harbor where he developed as an artist, sketching aboard ship. Returning to Florida after the war, he concentrated on the state's landscapes. In 1952 his first one-man show in Miami was held, consisting of around thirty of his landscapes, which received positive reviews in the Miami Herald.
Known as a humanitarian and the inspirer of the Highwaymen painters (see Backus and the Highwaymen), Backus would also become known as a character who spouted amusing adages.
Backus was happily married, but his wife, Patsy, died when she was just 29. After her death his drinking increased, but he remained an extremely prolific painter throughout his life, accomplishing thousands of works. His accolades abounded during the 1960s and '70s and numerous successful exhibitions occurred during those years. In 1968 he had a one-man exhibition at the Flagler Museum at which about 7,000 people attended. Later there was an exhibition of his works at the Ann Norton Gallery.
A. E. Backus became known as the "Dean of Florida Landscape Painters." No other 20th century artist captured the Florida light quite like Beanie Backus. His works are in the Johnson Library, the Thomas F. Fleming Gallery, the Vickers Collection, the Edward and Deborah Pollack Collection, and many other collections, both private and public. He also was inducted into the Florida Artists Hall of Fame. -Deborah C. Pollack
Sources: Fielding's (G. Opitz, ed.), several newspaper clippings, interview, exhibition catalogues and A. E. Backus by Olive Dame Peterson, 1984.