Created by
Wells, Sylvester, American, born 1938
oil paint on fiberboard
H x W x D (framed): 24 1/4 × 30 1/4 × 2 in. (61.6 × 76.8 × 5.1 cm)
Sylvester Wells was a member of the Florida Highwaymen, a group of self-taught artists who worked in Florida starting in the 1950s. The Highwaymen leveraged their entrepreneurial spirit to create an independent artistic tradition during the era of segregation. The group was made up of twenty-five men and one woman. Their art provided an alternative livelihood to the regional agricultural and factory work. Wells took up painting after seeing the work of another Highwaymen, Alfred Hair. Harold and Sam Newton, two other painters, served as mentors to Wells. Before becoming a painter, he had served in the army and became a preacher in 1960.
The group created a great quantity of work, often dozens of paintings per day, which would be sold inexpensively. The paintings depict Florida landscapes and are renowned for their vibrant colors and serene scenes. Like other Highwaymen, Wells sold his paintings out of his car along roadways. This practice led Jim Finch, a Sebring Florida gallery owner, to name the group the “Highwaymen” in a 1995 essay, prompting a renewed public interest. In 2004, they were inducted into the Florida Artists Hall of Fame.
Fort Pierce and the Florida Humanities Council. “The Highwaymen Trail.” 2012.
Oil painting of a Florida ‘Cracker-style’ house. The painting (a) shows a wood ‘Cracker-style’ cabin in the center. The roof has overhangs shading the door and windows. Two sides of the cabin are shown in the image. There is one door visible on the side of the cabin, facing another partially visible structure on the left. The other ofther visible wall of the cabin has a chimney with a window on each side. The structures are behind a wooden fence with an open gate. There is green ivy growing along the fence. The blue sky with clouds is visible in the background behind tree branches. The painting is signed in the bottom right and on the reverse.
The wooden frame (b) is painted dark brown and made from repurposed construction materials. The frame has lighter brown fabric in the center. The edge of the frame, in dark brown, has flower detailing in each of the four corners. The reverse of the frame has two tiers stapled together at the corners. The outer edge of the frame has smudged black ink. The painting is secured to the frame under protruding nails and covered with paper tape. A metal wire is anchored with a screw and D-ring hanger on each side and strung across the upper back. There is a maker’s mark on the left.
Place made
Fort Pierce, Saint Lucie County, Florida, United States, North and Central America
Visual Arts
oil paintings
American South
Rural life
Credit Line
Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Gift of Robert and Flory Kahn in memory of Wolf and Tybe Kahn
Object number
Restrictions & Rights
Unknown - Restrictions Possible
Rights assessment and proper usage is the responsibility of the user.

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