The Day I Chased Away the Highwaymen
by Mike Miller
(Mount Dora, Florida)
I went to school to become a civil engineer. There were no art appreciation courses for engineers back in the days I attended the University of Florida. What little art education I have was learned the hard way: by making dumb mistakes.
In the 1970s and 1980s I owned a small engineering firm in Indialantic, Florida. Our office was on State Road A1A in a salty old motel directly on the ocean. My drafting and design staff were all surfers, and their favorite lunchtime pastime was grabbing their boards and surfing in the ocean right in front of our office. Sometimes it would take a little extra encouragement to induce them back to work and a bunch of extra coffee to keep them from taking a nap.
The drafting room looked like a miniature version of Ron Jon's Surf Shop with brightly painted surf boards and wet suits hanging all over the walls. In spite of the festive environment, we got a lot of work done. But I certainly didn't need any more distractions.
One afternoon I came back to the office and saw my staff gathered around a big old rusty car in the parking lot. The trunk was open and two black men were holding up objects and showing them around. When I got closer I could see the men were trying to sell paintings to my staff. On my time. The paintings were on cheap particle board - Masonite or Upson board - and portrayed Florida scenes of palm trees waving in the wind, roiling surf crashing on the beach, various beach side shacks and tropical trees with blossoms of red and every other primary color.
I did not recognize it as art, but as just another distraction keeping my always fun loving staff from their labors. I chased my people back into the office and strongly advised the black men to pack up and move on. They offered no argument, quickly packed up and drove off to their next destination. I had the feeling they were accustomed to being chased off properties.
It was some years later when I realized that I had chased a couple of the now famous Highwaymen off my parking lot. Some of those paintings I didn't appreciate back then are probably work $5,000 or more today. I cry every time I go to one of Florida's many art shows and see what I was missing.