R. A. (Roy) McLendon is one of my favorite Highwaymen artists. His treatment of clouds over the beach, with waves crashing so realistically, and the birds that are always present on the shoreline, all combine for a delightful experience for the viewer. His work has been appreciating steadily, with two paintings sold at Burchard in 2018 reaching approximately $3,000.00 and $4,000.00 each.
Artist: R. A. McLENDON (American Highwayman b. 1932)
Medium: Oil On Upson Board.
Size: Image 18 by 23 inches; framed 23 by 27 inches.
Condition: Very Good.
Roy was born in Pelham, Georgia, to a sharecropping family. There were fourteen children in his family – twelve boys and two girls. Roy had a twin bother, Troy Aljin, who died in his late 70s. When Roy was young, the family moved to Delray Beach, Florida, where they raised peanuts and cotton. They later moved to Fort Pierce, but traveled around the country as migrant workers picking peas and whatever else was in season.
Roy eventually settled in Gifford, Florida, the African American section of Vero Beach. In the late 1950s, he met his neighbor, Harold Newton. Inspired, Roy began painting as well. Like Harold, he wanted to make quality paintings. He had always enjoyed drawing, and took pride in what he created. But he had to make a living, so he took other jobs like building walls along the ocean and laying terrazzo tile floors, most anything that paid the bills. He painted in the evenings and on days off.
In his early 20s, Roy married Annabelle, who was four years older. They met when they were picking peas in New Jersey, and Roy noticed that she was a fast worker, “especially for a woman.” He remembers that she had a sister who was even faster at picking peas. He was so impressed by her abilities that one day he challenged her to see who could pick more peas in a designated amount of time. He beat her that day, but it was a challenge. Roy and Annabelle are still married. Together they have eight children, two boys and six girls.
As Roy continued to paint, his work got better. Harold Newton noticed his progress and encouraged him to take a few of his landscapes to an antique shop to sell. Much to his delight, they sold for $35 a piece, a good bit of money in those days. He soon began selling his paintings on the road and experienced more success. Encouraged by his good fortune, he stopped working other jobs and focused full time on his paintings. It was the mid-1960s and his career as an artist was taking off.
Who were the Highwaymen? A group of young African-American landscape and skyscape painters, these artists painted their way out of the despair awaiting them as workers in Florida citrus groves and packing houses of the 1950s. Typically they painted on inexpensive materials such as Upson board, a roofer's material, and they sold their work out of the trunks of their cars. With paintings still wet, they loaded their vehicles and traveled the state's east coast, selling them door-to-door and store-to-store, in restaurants, offices, courthouses, and bank lobbies. In succeeding decades, however, Highwaymen paintings were consigned to attics and garage sales. Their work has been rediscovered in the mid 1990's, and today is recognized as the work of American folk artists.