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ORIGINS: BACKUS, NEWTON, & HAIR

The groups origin begins with the influence of the prominent Florida landscape artist Albert "Beanie" Backus. Local Fort Pierce artist, Backus was known in the area for his generosity and kindness to all people, regardless of race or background. His studio was known as a place of art, music, conversation, and parties. In the legendary "Old Studio" at the mouth of Moore's Creek is where the two young artists would find their start. Harold began first in 1954 by watching Backus paint; usually with a rum in one hand and lively conversation in the background. Backus encouraged him to recreate the scenes they had around them: Backwoods Hammocks, Coastal Inlets, Swaying Palms, etc. He showed Harold first what paintings to create, and what type of paintings would sell.

Harold Newton, while never formally mentored by Backus, spent a considerable amount of time in his studio learning how to paint. Born in Gifford, Florida, Newton and his family moved to Tifton, Georgia in the early 1940s. Harold had a natural talent for painting even at a young age, and in his early years he originally painted religious scenes on velvet. When he moved back to Gifford in 1954, interest in religious scenes disappeared and his artwork sales slowed. It was not until after meeting Backus in 1954 that Newton changed his subject matter and began painting Florida landscapes.

 

Over the next few years Newton would refine his skills as an artist, learning from Backus informally at his studio and then practicing on his own back at home. He began to master the use of a palette knife like Backus, and was always very intentional in his work. He cared deeply about the quality of everything he painted, and more importantly he cared about preserving the techniques that were taught to him.

 

While Harold Newton met Backus first sometime around 1954, Alfred Hair was the only member to be formally mentored by Backus. Zanobia Jefferson (Hair's art teacher at Lincoln Park Academy in Fort Pierce) first introduced Hair to Backus in 1958. First hand accounts note that Hair would occasionally skip school to watch Backus or even the young Harold Newton paint. Hair began by making frames for Backus at his studio, and shortly after began taking formal lessons as his protege.

A.E. Backus Last Painting

BACKUS PAINTING IN STUDIO, c. 1990s

First Lady with an Original Backus Oil Painting

FIRST LADY OF FLORIDA WITH BACKUS PAINTING, c. 1970s

A.E. Backus, James Hutchinson, Zora Neal Hurston, and friends in Backus Studio

BACKUS, FRIENDS, & STUDENTS , c. 1950s

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