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AN ENTREPRENEURIAL ENTERPRISE

Although the two young men now obtained the skills to paint, they still had another problem to overcome: sales method. Harold knew when he started that even if he could paint as well as Backus, he would never be able to sell paintings at his price point. This was for two main reasons:

1.  Since Backus' buyer base primarily consisted of upper class white customers, those customers would not be interested in purchasing directly from him. 

2. Due to racial barriers at the time, he would not receive proper representation in an art gallery as an African American artist.

Harold Newton found the solution to their problem: by taking to the highways and byways of Florida's east coast, Newton would go door to door into businesses and sell his artwork. Whether it was the business itself, employees, or customers walking in, people found themselves drawn to the artwork and eager to purchase.

Newton shared his sales strategy with Alfred Hair and his friends, offering to teach anyone how to paint if they wanted to make some extra money. Eventually Hair picked it up and did the same as Newton; recruited friends, family, and neighbors to join in on the newfound enterprise. Some would learn and paint, some would make frames, and some would become salesmen, taking the paintings to prospecting businesses each day. After some time, the backbone of the group began to form.

From Harold Newton and Alfred Hair, a core group of eight members had been established. This informal group included Alfred Hair, Harold Newton, Sam Newton, Roy McLendon, James Gibson, Willie Daniels, Mary Ann Carroll, and Livingston Roberts, along with the group's head salesman, Al Black.

This group took to the roads, traveling all across Florida looking for possible customers. They would pile five to ten wet-to-the-touch paintings (waiting for them to dry would take too long) into the back of their cars, and head to local businesses and locations where they thought they could find buyers. After many days of success, and failure, they found their market and began to work it.

A. Hair Painting in the Miami Herald

ALFRED HAIR IN THE MIAMI HERALD, c. 1962

H. Newton Painting

HAROLD NEWTON PAINTING, c. 1980s

Livingston Roberts Painting

LIVINGSTON ROBERTS "PLEIN AIR" PAINTING, c. 1990s

Upson Board Advertisement
Highwaymen Painting Upson Board
Highwaymen Painting Upson Board
EXAMPLES OF UPSON BOARD, c. 1970s

KEEPING COSTS LOW, AND PROFITS HIGH

Now in possession of the three things necessary to succeed - subject, skill, and sales method - the young men got to work.

 

They started in the early years (1950s-1970s) painting on a material called "Upson Board", which was far cheaper than canvas at the time. Along with the Upson Board, they constructed original frames from crown molding to save on costs.

 

With these inexpensive and accessible materials, they would then paint each day in the backyards of each others homes, sometimes multiple paintings at a time. Tacking paintings to trees and fence lines, they would paint for a few hours each day, attach frames, and while the paintings were still drying, load them into their cars to take on the road.

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