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b. 1941

Robert Lewis attended the historically black Monroe High School in Cocoa. Here he met his biggest supporter, a white artist and art teacher named Alberta Leisure. One day in 1958, she brought a newspaper article to class; it was about Harold Newton who was making a name for himself as an artist. Impressed by Newton’s talent, a few years later Robert met him.

Robert Lewis enjoyed his younger years outside exploring and fishing with his 2 brothers in and around the Indian River Lagoon system. He played football in high school, and worked a handyman job which paid five dollars per week. By the time Robert was a senior, Ms. Leisure had encouraged him to go to college to become an art teacher. He attended Edward Waters College in Jacksonville, Florida, Syracuse University in New York, and Florida A & M in Tallahassee, earning his bachelor’s degree in art education in 1966.

Robert Lewis returned back to Cocoa after graduating from Florida A & M, and began selling his paintings in 1967. He wasn't selling landscapes though until he became friends with a local sign painter in the area named Sylvester Wells. Wells told him about a couple of artists named "the Newton Brothers" who were making good money selling Florida landscape paintings, for which Lewis remembered the article his teacher had showed him 10 years prior. Interested to see the artists in action, Lewis went down to Harold's house to check them out.


Lewis met Harold and Sam that day who showed him some techniques and introduced him to Upson board as a means for inexpensive painting material. He painted his first landscape painting that day with Harold Newton's brush, and eagerly returned to Cocoa to model this new entrepreneurial enterprise. He and Wells began what they would call "An Honest Hustle" selling paintings to banks, attorneys, and businesses in Brevard County and surrounding areas.

An excerpt from RL Lewis' biography, A Journey Through the Eyes of an Original Highwaymen Artist:

"Selling paintings in banks was a challenge, yet a fun experience. I used to say that selling paintings in banks was equal to 'robbing them without a gun!'. If I sold a painting in a certain town or city, I would take the check from the client to their respective bank. I would take at least two or more paintings (back to back) with a spandex band and venture into the bank, irrespective of the 'No Solicitation' sign. If I was stopped and told of the policy of no solicitation, I would simply show the client check and state, 'So you don’t honor your checks?' Bank personnel would apologize and politely retreat. I would then rest the paintings on the floor next to me, as I was cashing the check. Someone would ask me if I painted them or comment on how beautiful the scenes were. Eventually I would establish a relationship with the bank higher ups and they would allow me to come in despite the 'No Solicitation' sign. At times, they would tell me what days to come in. I asked one bank administrator why he wanted me to come in on Thursdays, and he smiled and said, “because that’s when everybody gets paid!” (Lewis, p. 30-31)

While painting became Wells full time profession, Lewis continued as a junior high school art teacher for 32 years. Robert has a longtime marriage and three children. Although he worked full time as a teacher for decades, for 15 years he also worked part time at Brevard Community College as an adult education instructor. He continues to be active as an artist, often working with organizations aimed at preserving Florida’s landscape. He is frequently involved in fundraisers for nonprofit organizations, and has a long-standing relationship with the Florida Cattlemen’s Association and the citrus industry. His work is sometimes referred to as “Florida’s history on canvas.”

It is Robert Lewis’ dedication to teaching that marks his identity. His eldest son, Robert Lewis, Jr., who helps manage his career as an artist, says that teaching is “a gift meant to be shared, not snared.”

Biographies are adapted from those on, one of the earliest informative websites on the Florida Highwaymen. Since the site is no longer active, we have provided them here.

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