Officially his name was Alfred Earnest Backus, but to friends he was "Bean" or "Beanie". By any name, Backus is regarded as the dean of Florida landscape artists and his art is highly sought after.
Backus was one of the first artists to see beauty and grandeur in the Florida landscape. Where some saw endless wetlands that needed to be drained and developed, Backus saw the natural beauty of the Everglades and the coastal savannas outside his front door.
Beanie Backus was born on January 3, 1906 along the banks of the Indian River in Fort Pierce, Florida. His family's home is now long gone, but Bean's painting studio on Avenue C still exists and is a local tourist attraction.
The small coastal town of Fort Pierce was an unlikely place for an artist or a landscape painter, but art had been Backus' passion since he was a child. He was said to have been sick when he was young and spent his idle time teaching himself how to paint through books and magazines.
He later studied for two semesters in New York at the Parsons School of Design, but returned Ft. Pierce to start his career as a painter.
Never throw a party and ask your guests to bring something.
Backus maintained two studios during his life. His first studio was at the mouth of Moore's Creek, where a museum now stands in his name. His second studio at the corner of Avenue C and Second Street still stands today.
The Backus Studio is where he created most of his art throughout his life.
The Backus Studio
Bean was a very social person and he was known for his openness and hospitality. Those that knew him often describe him as a humanitarian. He welcomed everyone into his studio, young and old, black and white.
Bean also liked his rum and jazz. His studio was the scene of many all night parties and jazz jams where young blacks and whites could come together and socialize
If you try to put everything in a picture that you see in a scene, the picture becomes too detailed, too busy, uninteresting.
Like most of the South, Ft. Pierce was a town divided by segregation and race. In white Ft. Pierce it was not acceptable to socialize with blacks.
Backus, however, had a different view and accepted blacks and whites into his studio and friends and equals. Many of his all night parties were a mix of black and white guests. It was one of the only places where the two races mixed socially in Ft. Pierce.
While what went on in Backus Studio's raised some eyebrows, most in the white community gave Backus a pass. He was viewed as an eccentric artist and this is what artists did. Plus, Bean was popular and he was the town's only true artist.
Bean married a younger woman named Patsy Hutchinson in 1950. This too raised a few eyebrows. Bean was a 44 year-old bachelor. Patsy was 24 years-old. The marriage apparently flourished and the two were said to be inseparable. Patsy understood Bean's eccentric ways and odd hours.
But the marriage did not last. Patsy died in 1955 after undergoing heart surgery. Bean was devestated by the loss and he entered into a deep depression. He drank more and painted less.
Backus began traveling to the islands in the Bahamas and Jamaica. He mostly traveled to drink, but he painted too. Many of Backus' most sought after works are his paintings from Jamaica.
A young Alfred Hair would later accompany Backus on many of his island excursions.
Bean's career continued to flourish in the 1960s until his death on June 6, 1990 at age 84. His famed studio in Fort Pierce still remains today in much the same way he left it.
Backus was cremated and his ashes were dropped out of a plane over a nearby ranch where friends toasted him from the ground, drinking from his last bottle of rum.
Backus' early work form the 1930s through the 1950s was impressionistic. He made heavy use of the pallette knife.
This style of painting would later be picked up by Alfred Hair, Harold Newton, and other Florida Highwaymen artists. It's how they copied his art. But for Backus, the pallette knife was only one of his tools.
In the last 30 years of Backus' life his paintings used less pallette knife and more brush work.
Never give money to a friend on the condition that it must be repaid Bean Backus
Backus created an estimated 7,000 paintings during his lifetime. As he gained popularity, he did mostly commissioned work. Often times customers waited months or years for their painting. His customers were bankers, businessmen, ranchers and politicians.
Backus loved to teach and develop young artists.
While Backus became teacher to a legion of artists, he is best remembered by friends as a humanitarian. It was around his kitchen table that debates would erupt on almost any issue. A rum bottle beneath the kitchen sink seemed always to be at the ready.