September 19, 2014

Florida Icon

Icon: Mary Ann Carroll

Florida Highwaymen painter, 68

Art Levy | 9/1/2007

» I met Harold Newton by the road in Fort Pierce. He was one of the first Highwaymen. It was his car that attracted my eye. There were flames painted on it. He did that for attention. He told me what he did, and he showed me his paintings in the back seat. I watched him paint. He wasn’t my teacher, though. He showed me how to mix oils, but when I was a child, I could already draw anything I saw. Then, I started going on the road with the guys. I was probably 18 when I sold my first painting.


Mary Ann Carroll [Photo: Jeffrey Camp]
» When I was young, the options I had were cleaning house, baby-sitting, picking fruit, nurse’s aide. Basically, that was it for a woman. But I wanted to be a painter, and there were things I had to do to support my art. I never picked fruit. I did some baby-sitting, and I did some housecleaning. I worked in a gladiola field when I was younger, cutting the flowers with a pocketknife.

» My husband left me and the kids when the youngest was 5, so I had seven children to raise, and I had to have money. They had to eat. They had to have a place to sleep. They had to have clothes. I had to provide. I raised seven kids as a single parent.

» A lot of the times I went on the road I would take my kids with me. If I went on the road when they were in school, I made sure I got back before school got out. The painting enabled me to be momma, daddy, caretaker and all that I had to do.

See some of Mary Ann Carroll's favorite artwork.
Click here.
» I didn’t worry about my safety. I used to be thin, and I could jump high as a house. I was strong. I was so happy. I wasn’t afraid to walk anywhere. I wasn’t afraid of breaking down along the side of the road. I’d have a gun, maybe a .22 or a .38 in the car, only for my protection. I didn’t really feel like I could find a person who I couldn’t take care of as long as they would fight fair.

» Newton was good. His finished product was almost unbelievable. It inspired me. He was nice to me, but all of the guys were nice. Harold was my friend, but he was not my boyfriend. He was the first person who ever took me out to dinner at a restaurant. That was a treat. He was that kind of guy. We had ox tails and chicken. It was a little restaurant called the Town and Country, and it was the fanciest black restaurant in Fort Pierce.

» Treasures are being destroyed. That’s why I like painting landscapes. It’s painting history.

» I would do at least two 24-by-36 paintings a day. It was hard work, straight through. An 18-by-24 would sell for $18, a 24-by-36 for $35. A 12-by-24 was $12.50. People commission me now, and the price depends on what they want me to do.

» I have peace of mind when I paint. I’m content. My mind pictures what I paint. I go to these places in my mind.

» I want to paint a masterpiece, but I don’t know what it would be. People say my trees, the poincianas, are what I do best, but I say whenever I can feel what I’m painting, like I’m there, those are the best.

» It actually kind of breaks my heart to think about things that aren’t here anymore. I look across the street from my house and see houses where I used to see trees. What I’m going to do, by the grace of God sometime soon, I’m going to paint that scene, but I’m going to take all those houses out of there, and I’m going to bring back the trees.

» I feel blessed. I don’t say lucky because luck comes from the devil.

» There were years when some of the guys stopped painting, but then Gary Monroe, he wrote that book about us, and the Highwaymen came back. I call it the Florida art rush. That book turned the tide.

» I’ve painted thousands of pictures. I just wish I knew where they all are so I can go and look at them sometime. But I’m glad they’re out there, glad that someone still sees something in them.

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