A.E. Backus and Florida’s Highwaymen Exhibit at FAU Ritter Art Gallery


Attending last Thursday’s opening of FAU’s art exhibit was a joy on many levels.

It’s 5:30 P.M. and the campus is alive with activity as we make our way to the gallery.

The sound of music led us to the Ritter Gallery entrance where we were greeted by a smiling young co-ed who politely asked if any of us had pacemakers before distributing our magnetic name tags. Yes, it was a long time ago when we were one of those bright eyed students.

Upon entering the gallery we were struck by yet another wave of nostalgia. The art on display was from another era in Florida’s history. The 1960’s were a time of unrest throughout our country and Florida was not immune to the restrictions of a black and white world. Backus and the Highwaymen crossed that line in vivid color and transported us to a clearing in the everglades at sunset; a pristine ocean reflecting the full moon and the grassy banks of the Intracoastal next to the old wooden Palmetto Park Bridge.




The exhibit is quite simply amazing. Perfectly displayed, perfectly lit and with just the right amount of text to propel the visitor back fifty years to a very different time in our history. A.E.Backus’s extraordinary works come to life on the gallery walls and are brilliantly complimented by the inclusion of works by his protégés – the artists we now call Florida’s Highwaymen.

By 7:00 PM when Professor Evan Bennett began his presentation it was standing room only and he jokingly remarked that he wished his classes were so well attended. The gallery was buzzing and there were no shortage of anecdotes being shared by visitors.

Alumni and city council candidate, Andrea Levine O’Rourke, reminisced about her days as an FAU student when her designs hung in the Ritter Gallery and Highwaymen artist James Gibson explained a painting that depicted the hangout for the original Highwaymen. “This is where we would meet every night and throw our money on the table saying – look how much I earned today.” He told us.

These artists/entrepreneurs have gifted us with a vision of Florida’s natural beauty that a mere photograph or written word could never convey. They say that nature always wins in the end and it does.

Lectures and events will continue through November 17th.

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