- November 6, 2014
With a gentle and earnest voice, 73-year-old R.L. Lewis posed a question to 15 budding artists gathered at the Town of Oakland Meeting Hall.
“What is a miracle?” Lewis, one of the original Florida Highwaymen artists and a member of the Florida Artists Hall of Fame, asked the children.
The kids sat quietly, looking up at the amiable gentleman who on June 13 was leading the youth arts clinic that opened the first of the two-day, town of Oakland’s 8th Annual Triple “A” Multicultural Festival.
“The miracle of this whole room right here is no two people think alike,” Lewis said. “So naturally, no painting is going to look alike. Be yourself: totally unique.”
Lewis patiently demonstrated how to paint a palm tree against a sunny sky and a glimmering body of water. The children dabbled brushes into different colors of paint and intently worked on their masterpieces.
“As an artist, don’t overdo your paintings,” Lewis instructed. “If you’re doing water, do an implication of water. If you’re putting everything in, you’re making it boring for the audience. The only limitation is your imagination.”
The children at the arts clinic were West Orange County kids who normally are not exposed to art, Oakland Avenue Charter School art teacher Mark Moreland said. And capturing the attention of these children and making the arts and sciences meaningful to them early on in their lives is vital, said Nouchelle Hastings, from the Greater Orlando CARES mentoring group.
Oakland Town Commissioner Joseph “Patrick” McMullen agreed. He spearheads the festival as CEO and founder of the nonprofit HAPCO Music Foundation.
“My organization is all about music, art and education — and enhancing kids’ lives,” McMullen said at the Meeting Hall.
Lewis, of Cocoa, met McMullen a few years ago and has given art instruction to local children at previous Triple “A” festivals. Besides teaching, he continues to paint subjects such as orange groves, lakes and rivers, botanicals and seascapes.
“His theme is to capture Florida as art history on canvas before it disappears,” said Lewis’ son, Robert L. Lewis III.
The younger Lewis said his father’s numerous creations include paintings of Lake Apopka and Wekiva Springs, as well as ones for the towns of Oakland and Windermere.
“In the early 1950s through the 1980s, a group of 26 African-American artists known as the ‘Florida Highwaymen’ used vivid and bright colors to display the beautiful, untouched Florida landscape,” according to the website, www.floridahighwaymenpaintings.com. “They painted from their garages and back yards on inexpensive Upson board, and then on the weekends they would travel and sell their Highwaymen paintings to hotels, offices, businesses and individuals who appreciated the artwork for around $25 a piece.”
Today, an original Highwayman artwork can sell for $5,000 or more, the website stated. Lewis III said there are 17 Highwaymen still living and that his father is the most prolific painter among them.
On the evening of June 13, the Triple “A” Festival hosted an Honoree VIP Reception at the Oakland Town Center. Recognized for their service were the Rotary Club of Winter Garden and the late Mildred Dixon, who was the first black and first female Winter Garden city commissioner.
Attendees of the second day of the festival, on June 14 at Speer Park, dealt with periodic, heavy rain showers, but still were able to enjoy an art fair, a health and wellness seminar and live music. On this day, the HAPCO Music Foundation awarded a $1,000 scholarship to a student from Palm Beach.