Alfred Hair is considered the founder of the Highwaymen art movement. Alfred was a young artist from Fort Pierce, Florida who had a magnetic charm and a can-do attitude. He combined true artistic talent with business acumen and designed the Highwaymen landscape art assembly line.
The young artist's life was snuffed on August 9, 1970 in a bar room shooting in Ft. Pierce. He was 29 years old.
Alfred was born on May 20, 1941, in Ft. Pierce. His friends called him by his nickname "Freddie." In fact, Alfred signed the name "Freddie" on many of his paintings.
Alfred was one of five children born to Samuel and Annie Mae Thompson Hair. His parents eventually divorced in the late 1950s and both later remarried.
Alfred did well in school and graduated from Lincoln Park Academy in Fort Pierce in 1961. Lincoln Park is where Alfred began painting and his talent was quickly noticed by his art teacher Zenobia Jefferson. Many of his classmates would later go to work for Alfred producing and selling Florida landscape paintings.
Zenbobia gave Alfred his initial painting lessons at Lincoln Park. She later introduced him to Fort Pierce's resident landscape artist A.E. "Beanie" Backus. The meeting would prove to be the catalyst Alfred needed. Backus would serve as Alfred's mentor and he played a pivotal role in the development of Highwaymen art.
After high school Alfred spent a semester at community college. He quickly dropped out and decided he wanted to be an artist full time.
Alfred was the only one of the Highwaymen artists that was taught by Bean Backus. He had studied in Backus' Ft. Pierce painting studio for two years quitting school for a life of painting. Alfred wanted to make a living painting like his mentor.
Backus would often travel to the Caribbean islands to drink and paint. He took Alfred with him on one trip to Jamaica in the early 1960s. Alfred showed great skills as a landscape artist and he learned a lot from his Backus during this period.
But Alfred was a young ambitious guy who wanted to make a name for himself and some money. Backus was a white artist and his paintings commanded top dollar in high end galleries. Those galleries wouldn't display or sell paintings by black artists.
Alfred had a different plan. He shrewdly developed an assembly line business model that would crank out Florida landscape paintings to sell to tourists, homeowners, and businesses. He rounded up friends and family members and taught them how to paint backgrounds and build frames.
Alfred also built a sales team led by artists Al "Blood" Black, Canrell "Pete" Smith, and others.
"The sales team would load their cars with fresh paintings and "Alfred asked me, Blood? How many paintings can you sell?" Black said. "I looked at the stack of paintings and said give em here. I can sell all of em," Black said.
"I took the paintings and sold them all. I went to work for Alfred after that."
Alfred eventually moved into his own home on Dunbar Street in Fort Pierce. His art business was in high gear and he turned the Dunbar Street house into a painting factory.
Alfred's painting landscape was proving very lucrative. Alfred liked Lincolns and Cadillacs and always drove a new car and a wallet full of money.
Alfred's salesmen also made good money and drove nice cars. The artists' success didn't go unoticed in their neighborhood. Most of the painter's peers picked oranges or vegatables and earned small wages.
Eddie’s Place was the the Highwaymen hangout in the 1960s and 70s. Eddie's was a" juke joint". It combined a bar, package store, pool tables and the requisite jukebox.
Eddie's (also called Eddie's Drive-in) was on Avenue D, the main drag in the black neighborhood in Ft. Pierce. Alfred and the Highwaymen artists and salesmen routinely met up at the bar at the end of the day to settle up the day's sales, drink some beer, and shoot a few games of pool.
The bar's importance in Highwaymen lore is acknowledged in Harold Newton's painting "Eddie's Place". It's owned by collector Tim Jacobs and is considered one of the most valuable Highwaymen paintings because of Eddie's significance in the Highwaymen story.
Eddie's is where Alfred was shot and killed on August 9, 1970. He was gunned down by a man named Julius Funderburk.
Julius was a fruit picker and was known by Alfred and other artists like Livingston "Castro" Roberts.
Alfred had been having an affair with Julius' girlfriend and there was tension in the bar. To make matters worse, Livingston was provoking Julius, teasing him about Alfred "taking his woman."
Witnesses say Julius became increasingly angry with Livingston's taunts. Julius stormed outside to his car, grabbed his gun and came back inside. An enraged Julius first knocked Livingston's beer over and pistol whipped him off his bar stool.
"He walked up an hit me. I thought he done hit me with a ring and I look up at the barrel of a gun," said Livingston.
Livingston made a bee line for the door and Julius set his sights on Alfred.
Alfred had just plunked some coins in the jukebox and the song “War” by Edwin Star was blaring in the bar. As the song's chorus sang, “War! Huh! Good God Y’all! What is it good for? Absolutely nothing!"
Funderburk shot Alfred two times as he was running for the door. Alfred mananged to stumble to the parking lot and was helped into his Lincoln Continental.
He died while in route to Fort Pierce Memorial Hospital. Within an hour word had spread throughout Ft. Pierce that Alfred was dead. Hundreds gathered at the hospital's ER and parking lot.
Alfred's art business had inspired many and his death was considered a great loss by the community.
Funderberk was convicted of second degree murder for the crime.
Most of Alfred's paintings employ the "fast paint" approach. These are paintings were typically a group effort. Someone would prep the boards and paint the skies and then Alfred would come in and finish up the details. This is how the fast paint assembly line approach worked.
But Alfred's best works are the paintings where he took time on it and painted like his mentor. These paintings show the skills that Backus had taught him. They are often referred to as Alfred's "slow paint" paintings and are typically his best work and are most valuable to collectors.