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Ottawa artist pays tribute to Florida Highwaymen at Griffintown gallery

Click to play video: 'Florida Highwaymen' Florida Highwaymen
The Florida Highwaymen were 26 African-American painters who began selling their landscapes to tourists along the Florida highways in the 1950s.Their story is told in a new exhibition at the Montreal Art Centre. Global's Billy Shields reports – May 6, 2016

MONTREAL – A Griffintown art exhibition showcases the underappreciated talent of black artists in Florida, something that perhaps couldn’t have happened without the efforts of a Canadian art collector.

Florida Highwaymen is running from May 6 to May 25 at the Montreal Art Centre on William Street.

The exhibit captures the art of 26 black artists who worked in segregation-era Florida.

In an effort to escape the menial work reserved for persons of colour at that time, the artists – 25 men and one woman – would paint landscapes on construction materials and use window panes as frames.

They would sell them out of car trunks and truck beds along Route 1 and the A1A highway for as low as $10.

The exhibit, and the artists it showcases, likely wouldn’t have come to light were it not for Ottawa collector Tony Hayton.

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Hayton developed a passion for the artwork while visiting Florida in 2000.

Over the course of 15 years, he bought some 80 paintings and decided he wanted these artists to have some sort of recognition in the U.S.

The U.S. Embassy in Ottawa decided to sponsor the exhibit of the work in February, later bringing it to Montreal.

“Visually it’s beautiful. It evokes a time and place that is a distinct landscape,” said Vicki Heyman, a U.S. cultural representative.

Florida Highwaymen is on display until May 25.

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