The First Highwaymen Woman Artist – Mary Ann Carroll

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The First Highwaymen Woman Artist – Mary Ann Carroll

Harold Newton stopped by one afternoon in 1959 and showed the then 16-year old Mary Ann Carroll how to mix three colors of oil paints.  These simple instructions of creating a few of the pastel colors of Florida propelled Carroll from simply drawing to fame as the only woman in a 1960’s art movement that continues today.

Today, Mary Ann Carroll’s works along with Harold Newton and 24 other Treasure Coast artists are widely collected and it is estimated that the group, who would become known as the “Highwaymen,” created over 200,000 works and it all started so simply.


Born Mary Ann Snead on November 30, 1940, in Sandersville, Georgia, the daughter of sharecroppers, Mary Ann Snead grew up with seven siblings in Wrightsville before moving to Fort Pierce, Florida at the age of eight. “I always enjoyed drawing from a very young age,” says Carroll, “but Harold Newton inspired me to learn to paint.”  While Carroll had no formal training, she was soon painting every day and into the night, often outside as air conditioning was not common in those times.  Her early paintings bear her maiden name, Mary Ann Snead.

She attended Means Court School in Fort Pierce where her third grade science project, a drawing of a thermometer, won her recognition.  She later attended Lincoln Park Academy where Zora Neale Hurston, the famous American folklorist, anthropologist, and author of “Their Eyes were Watching God” had a short teaching position until her death in 1960.

Mary Ann Carroll married but the marriage didn’t last, and she found herself a single mother with seven children.  “The Lord has blessed me.  He gave me so much talent.  I just haven’t been able to use it all,” explains Carroll who did lawn maintenance, carpentry, built houses, did electrical repairs along with teaching herself to paint to support herself and her children. This was the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s.  A time of segregation when towns were divided, art galleries and stores were closed to non-white.  Yet in Fort Pierce, A. E. Backus’ home, in Fort Pierce, was a special place where people of all races came to enjoy the art and the hospitality of the man, his friends called “Beanie Backus,” who would also become the one of Florida’s most famous landscape artist.

“I went to A. E. Backus’ house,” relates Carroll, “He had an open house where anyone could come.  I got to show him some of my paintings.  He said they were nice.  He didn’t tell me to change anything.”

Backus had taught Alfred Hair to paint landscapes, and Hair along with Harold Newton and other artists created an assembly line by painting multiple works at one time.  They would then load their cars and sell their paintings out along the highways at offices, in malls, and on the roadside.

One day Carroll says she just happened to drive by and saw the group sitting on the lawn.  She stopped to talk. “They said, ‘Man, we need to go make some money, but we ain’t got no car.”

“I said ‘I’ve got one.’” Carroll says she responded, “If you show me how to sell mine, I’ll take you.” Carroll had only been selling a painting now and then, for $12 to $35 each.  But that day, “I made $75 in one day, in the 1960’s that was a lot of money since most people only made $35 to $75 a week.”

“I learned how they sold their paintings going up and down the highway stopping at businesses.” With the selling tips she picked up, Mary Ann Carroll was soon packing her paintings in her 1964 Buick Electra again and traveling the state selling her paintings.  She had became officially the only female artist of the 26 Highwaymen artists. Asked if the name “Highwaymen” bothers her, she responds, “Not at all.  I figure there’s “men” at the end of women, so it’s fine.”

Carroll’s paintings reflect the rich Florida landscapes.  “I love to paint the dead trees and density of the woods even though I don’t like snakes in all.  I love the water but I can’t swim,” explains Carroll.

Today, her works start at $200 for small 8” x 10” paintings and run upwards of four digits. “I write songs and poetry while painting,” says Carroll.  She is an accomplished piano, organ, and guitar musician and has traveled the state with her gospel group, “Wings of Faith” for years.

“We made several records,” explains Carroll who is also a pastor with the Foundation Revival Center in Fort Pierce. While she has no idea how many paintings she has completed, she also hasn’t keep track of all the organizations she has worked with to inspiring others. “I worked with Children’s Home Society, battered women’s groups, schools, prisons,” says Carroll, “So many I can’t recall them all.”

In 2004 Mary Ann Carroll was inducted into the Florida Artist Hall of Fame along with Alfred Hair, Harold Newton, R.A. (Roy) McLendon, James Gibson, Livingston (Castro) Roberts, Al Black, Sam Newton, Curtis Arnett, Hezekiah Baker, Ellis Buckner, Robert Butler, Johnny Daniels, Willie Daniels, Rodney Demps, Issac Knight, R. L. (Robert) Lewis, John Maynor, Alphonso (Poncho) Moran, Lemuel Newton, Willie Reagan, Carnell (Pete) Smith, Charles Walker, S. M. (Sylvester) Wells, and Charles Wheeler.

In May 2011, Mary Ann Carroll was invited to the Congressional Club’s most prestigious affair, the First Lady’s Luncheon, in Washington, at which time she presented one of her paintings to First Lady Michelle Obama.

Mary Ann Carroll still paints just about every day and still believes in the advice she gives others: “You must believe in yourself, even if no one else does.”  Her life is a testament that she took her own advice.

To learn more visit:

  • Linda Hunt

    I would like to get in touch with Ms Carroll anyone know her contact info

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