Buzz Worthy

Highway exhibit is dazzling

Recently, I had the opportunity to do something I’ve never done before — look at Florida Highwaymen art up close and personal.

I was so amazed by the dazzling colors of the landscapes — the way the sunlight in those portraits illuminated the various scenes as if a piece of the actual sun was hidden somewhere underneath the vibrant paint.

Sure, I’ve seen pictures online and on postcards, but never in person. The paintings are records of the lush images of old Florida, depicted in a way that can only be truly appreciated in person. So it was a treat to see the artwork of Mary Ann Carroll, the sole Highwaywoman of the 26 black artists in that exclusive network.

She visited Art Center Sarasota for “An Evening with Mary Ann Carroll, Chuck Gomez and Larry Helmuth” as part of the Sarasota Film Festival. The evening showcased part of a new Chuck Gomez documentary called “Poinciana Sunrise,” which features Carroll. The event also featured local resident Larry Helmuth’s collection of Highwaymen art.

After the film clip, Carroll, a pastor, talked about trying to make a living in Florida during the 1950s and ’60s as a black artist, selling her work door to door. The single mother of seven used her earnings to raise her family.

Times weren’t easy, she said. Racism was hard to deal with back then. But still, she was blessed by the people who decided to buy her paintings, even if they were not fond of her skin color. She’s glad she put herself and her work out there, though.

“The only way to get to the top is to take the first step,” Carroll told the crowd at the art center. “One person did it, I could do it, too,” she thought of making a living on selling art.

She said her self-employment allowed her to spend time with her kids — to raise them right.

Gomez, who has worked behind the scenes on various reality TV shows, said it took some convincing before Carroll allowed him to film her. She didn’t want to be exploited. Gomez is thinking about doing a series of films highlighting Florida Highwaymen artists.

Area residents will have the opportunity to meet another Highwayman artist — R.L. Lewis — at the Manatee County Cultural Alliance Gallery in the Village of the Arts from 6 to 9 p.m. May 7. His work will be exhibited there through May. 29. For more information, visit