A.E. Backus, a white Southerner during a time when racial equality was not yet taken seriously, cultivated friendships with Highwaymen artists Harold Newton and R.A. McLendon. In the mid- and late-1950s other self-taught African American artists started painting with Backus, or making frames in his studio.
The only Highwayman artist believed to have ever taken formal lessons from Backus was Alfred Hair. Hair organized the other (nearly 30) Highwaymen artists and was instrumental in directing the “mass production” of Florida landscape paintings.
They painted landscapes with available paints and materials, framing them with molding from doors, ceilings and baseboards. Sometimes with the paint still wet, the artists would travel the state selling their paintings out of the trunks of their cars (hence the name, “The Highwaymen”). By selling directly to the public, they set the standard for other self-taught African American artists who started painting Florida landscapes using the highwaymen-like art motif.