Black artist Johnny Lee “Hook” Daniels whisks us away to Florida

By Daniel Fulco, Ph.D., Agnita M. Stine Schreiber Curator

During Black History Month, we hope that you enjoy this painting in our collection. If you visit the museum, this work is on view in the Groh Gallery corridor.

Daniels Florida

Johnny Lee “Hook” Daniels (American, 1954–2009)
Untitled-Florida Landscape, ca. 1960s–80s
Acrylic on panel
23.75″h x 36″w
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Spence Perry, A4291,06.0006

In this painting, African American artist Johnny Lee “Hook” Daniels beautifully represented a Floridian sunset along the banks of a river or lake in the marshlands. The painter established remarkable contrasts of light and color, especially in the fading, warm glow of the sunlight, which reflects off the ripples of the water and tree trunks, as well as the lush greenery of the surrounding forest. Daniels also celebrated the purity and peacefulness of the tropics, home to a diverse range of birds (note the herons or storks standing in the left and right middle ground) and where trees and plants of different varieties abound.

Based in Fort Pierce, Daniels was associated with a group of itinerant Black artists known as the Florida Highwaymen, who are often regarded as part of the state’s folk art heritage. Emerging in the late 1950s, the Highwaymen, who initially began their careers as citrus grove workers, created idyllic, quickly realized images of beaches and marshlands along the Atlantic coast and sold thousands of paintings from the trunks of their cars. Daniels, like his peers in the artistic group (notably Alfred Hair and Livingston “Castro” Roberts), was influenced considerably by Albert Backus, a white painter who supported his colleagues in their careers by helping them to overcome the hurdles of racial segregation and providing financial resources.