On a cool morning, the scent of orange blossoms drifts through the open windows of Lynn Herrick’s Umatilla home. Closing your eyes and taking in a deep breath to savor the sweet scent, the sound of birds chattering from nearby Lake Enola can be heard clearly.
“Every once in a while we get a gator in there, too,” Lynn says with a smile. “I love the views of the lake and watching the wading birds as they look for their afternoon lunch.”
Turning back to her work, soft classical music plays as Lynn meticulously spreads out paper towels, readying her kitchen art studio for her easel and paints. Once the hues are spread on the palette and the brushes are lined up neatly, Lynn dons her red apron and gets to work. Each stroke is deliberate and precise. To Lynn’s left is a recently finished oil painting of a serene Florida setting, waiting for the perfect frame. To her right a small, vibrantly colored landscape is in the midst of the drying process.
In exploring Lynn’s one-of-a-kind landscapes, they have a sense of familiarity to them.
And rightfully so.
Lynn’s bold use of color and appreciation for nature was a gift passed down from one of Florida’s most well-known painters—R.L. Lewis, an original Highwaymen artist. If it wasn’t for a chance meeting with R.L’s son at an art show, Lynn’s artistic path may have taken a very different direction.
“All it took was a quick conversation with Ray Lewis to arrange for R.L. to come and speak to my students at Madison Street Academy [of Visual & Performing Arts] in Ocala where I was principal,” Lynn says. “The kids were so excited, and I was thrilled.”
“My philosophy is that a gift is meant to be shared, not snared,” says R.L. in a relaxed, matter-of-fact tone. “Most people are impressed when they see someone’s artistic abilities, but when I was visiting Lynn’s school, she seemed more interested than most.”
R.L. considers the Highwaymen style of art a grassroots movement, one he and many of his fellow Highwaymen artists share with as many people as possible.
From the 1950s to the 1980s a group of 26 African-American artists painted unique landscapes of Florida’s natural environment. Although their works were appreciated, the artists had to be creative when selling and displaying their pieces.
“In my day, I wasn’t allowed in museums or galleries,” R.L. says. “I took my art directly to the people. My art had a way of making me colorless. It wasn’t about the color of my skin; it was about the content of my artwork.”
In 2004 the 26 original members were inducted into the Florida Artist’s Hall of Fame.
Much to the appreciation of current and future students of the style, many of the original Highwaymen artists offer private and group art lessons. An immediate friendship forged, Lynn spends as much time studying with R.L. as possible.
“She began taking workshops and she was always in my ear about when the next class would be. She would pop in and out of the studio from time to time,” R.L. recalls. “I got word she had retired and inquired about her whereabouts. Lo and behold, she was making her own art.”
“R.L. is an amazing artist,” Lynn says. “Every time I work with him my work evolves.”
“She’s always interested in the opportunity to learn more,” R.L. adds with a smile in his voice. “She’s adopted the Highwaymen style of bold use of color, light, and balance. I always tell Lynn that an artist will feel that they’ve arrived when they’re no longer afraid to use color.”
And one look at her Florida landscapes is all that’s needed to know Lynn is certainly not afraid of a little color.
“The intensity of a Highwayman piece really sets it apart from other landscapes,” Lynn explains as she wipes a paint smudge off her cheek. “Normally a landscape appears kind of muted and blended. Not so with this style.
“Another thing I’ve learned from R.L. is that you don’t have to spend hundreds of dollars on elaborate supplies to create something amazing. R.L. uses just five elements, including sponges and brushes,” Lynn continues, pointing to her small array of tools. “It’s very brilliant and very minimal.”
As a student of the Highwaymen style, Lynn has also learned to fully appreciate Florida’s natural environment and looks for artistic inspiration in every day.
“One of my favorites is to travel down the Dora Canal with my canoe and camera, photographing the birds, the trees, and the water,” she says. “It’s a great way to gain some insight and get inspired.”
Of course, once inspiration strikes, what you do next is most important. Lynn considers creating her artwork a thera-peutic outlet.
“It’s amazing to start with a blank page and watch it evolve into something beautiful,” she says. “From start to finish a piece can take several days. I get all the basics down within a few hours, then tweak and tweak until I get it right. I lose myself entirely when I’m creating a piece and the focus is very intense. Time goes by incredibly fast when I’m painting.”
But Lynn is quick to point out that she wouldn’t want to be doing anything else. Now retired and with more free time on her hands, Lynn is enjoying participating in art shows and says she most enjoys meeting new people and receiving feedback about her work.
“I would have never thought I would end up here,” she says of her current art career. “Learning from R.L. is an amazing gift, even if none of my artwork ever sold.”
Luckily for Lynn, this isn’t the case, though.
“The fact that people like and purchase
my art,” she says as she puts the finishing touches on her newest masterpiece, “is just icing on the cake.”
Want To Know More?
See Lynn’s artwork at next month’s Ocala Arts Festival, October 23-24 at the McPherson Governmental Complex.