“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
Fort Pierce in St. Lucie County, Florida — The American South (South Atlantic)

A.E. “Beanie” Backus Studio

— Zora Neale Hurston Dust Tracks Heritage Trail —

A.E. “Beanie” Backus Studio Marker image. Click for full size.
Photographed By Brandon D Cross, June 26, 2022
1. A.E. “Beanie” Backus Studio Marker
A.E. “Beanie” Backus Studio, 122 Backus Avenue
Zora Neale Hurston was a friend and guest of Ft. Pierce native, A.E. "Beanie" Backus, who painted Florida landscapes for over 50 years. Born in 1906, Beanie was largely self taught and painted what he saw around him-vivid sunsets, brightly colored flowers, lots of trees, and water. His work can be seen here and at the Backus Gallery, 500 N Indian River Drive. Beanie died in 1990.

"Nothing that God ever made is the same thing to more than one person. That is natural. There is, no single face in nature, because every eye that looks upon it, sees it from its own angle. So every man's spice-box seasons his own food." Dust Tracks on a Road (1942).

Both Beanie and Zora loved to talk and inspire the neighborhood youth. Zora would tell intriguing stories to the neighborhood children, and encourage them to accomplish their dreams. Beanie and Zora both freely and happily "mixed" with people from all walks of life and all races, at a time in our history when few could claim to do so. Beanie often worked with aspiring young artists and encouraged Alfred Hair,
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who went on to develop the nucleus of the Ft. Pierce-based school of painters now referred to as "The Highwaymen." This loosely organized group of black artists developed a technique of fast painting that vividly portrayed Florida's vanishing landscapes. They sold their paintings on the highways and byways all over the state, thus earning the group’s contemporary nickname.

Everyone that visited Beanie Backus' house could hear lively music coming from the record player or from jazz musicians jamming. Zora Neale Hurston also loved jazz, and went to hear jazz trumpet and piano played at the local jam sessions at Backus' house. Beanie remembered that when Zora came to visit. she told tales and slapped her large feet down for comic effect - she still had the ability to "make you laugh one minute and cry the next." (Telephone conversation between A.E. Backus and Mary Lyons, August 9, 1989, quoted in Sorrow's Kitchen-The Life and Folklore of Zora Neale Hurston, Mary E. Lyons, 1990.) A master at collecting and telling stories, Zora must surely have enjoyed the lively and stimulating atmosphere at Beanie's house.

Beanie and Zora both traveled to Central and South America, Haiti, and Jamaica, at different times for different reasons. Beanie's record of his travels can be seen in his paintings. Zora's, of course, can be found flavoring her writing. Zora was an
A.E. “Beanie” Backus Studio Marker image. Click for full size.
Photographed By Brandon D Cross, June 26, 2022
2. A.E. “Beanie” Backus Studio Marker
English major at Barnard, but also studied anthropology at Columbia University under Dr. Franz Boas, widely considered the "Father of Modern American Anthropology." Field work for Dr. Boas led to her "other" rambling career as a folklorist.

Zora was able to obtain information that no one else could-or would-because of her willingness to, travel to unknown and sometimes dangerous places, seek out strangers and live among them in their way, and patiently wait and listen. While still studying at Columbia University, Zora wrote a letter about her anthropology class to writer Fannie Hurst, in which she urged Fannie to consider studying anthropology, as it was "as full of things a writer could use as a dog is of fleas." Zora's love of a good story and self confidence helped her track down the most fascinating details. And her talent as a writer enabled her to share these details in a way that still thrills readers.

Jamming with Beanie, 1955. Beanie is seated in the back row, second from the left. Parties at the Backus house were interracial, intergenerational, and invariably included music and lots of talk.
Photographer unknown. Courtesy of the Backus Gallery and Kathleen Frederick

Beanie was a friend and mentor to many people, and though he lived a modest lifestyle, he was always generous with friends and acquaintances.
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Dale Brown, photographer. Courtesy of the Backus Studio

Zora, probably 1934 (age 42). Zora was the most prominent black woman writer of her time, and her fame gained her entry into otherwise closed social circles. When Zora was visiting Beanie at his home in 1958 and 1959, Florida's schools, public transportation systems, and businesses were still strictly segregated.
Carl Van Vechten, photographer. Reproduced with permission of the Carl Van Vechten Trust

Zora and her car, "Cherry," in the 1920s. Zora was gutsy for her time - few black women would dare to travel alone in a car in the dangerous segregated South. But Zora had to drive a car in Florida inorder to get to the lumber mills, turpentine camps, and mining towns filled with black workers.
Photographer unknown. Photo print from Stetson Kennedy Collection

Photographer unknown. Courtesy of Zora Neal Hurston Collection, George A. Smathers Libraries, University of Florida, Department of Special Collections

Erected by Florida Humanities Council, St. Lucie County and the City of Fort Pierce. (Marker Number 8.)
Topics. This historical marker is listed in these topic lists: African AmericansAnthropology & ArchaeologyArts, Letters, MusicWomen.
Location. 27° 27.07′ N, 80° 19.528′ W. Marker is in Fort Pierce, Florida, in St. Lucie County. Marker is at the intersection of A E Backus Avenue and North 2nd Street, on the right when traveling west on A E Backus Avenue. In front of the A.E. Backus Studio. Touch for map. Marker is at or near this postal address: 122 A E Backus Avenue, Fort Pierce FL 34950, United States of America. Touch for directions.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. A.E. “Bean” Backus (here, next to this marker); St. Lucie County Veterans Memorial (approx. 0.2 miles away); The United States Submarine Service Memorial (approx. 0.2 miles away); a different marker also named St. Lucie County Veterans Memorial (approx. ¼ mile away); U.S.S. Maine (approx. ¼ mile away); Original Site Methodist Episcopal Church, South (approx. ¼ mile away); Sarah’s Memorial Chapel, Formerly Percy S. Peek Funeral Chapel, 728 Avenue D (approx. 0.3 miles away); St. Lucie County (approx. 0.4 miles away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Fort Pierce.
Also see . . .  Zora Neale Hurston Dust Tracks Heritage Trail. (Submitted on July 23, 2022, by Brandon D Cross of Flagler Beach, Florida.)
Credits. This page was last revised on July 24, 2022. It was originally submitted on July 23, 2022, by Brandon D Cross of Flagler Beach, Florida. This page has been viewed 125 times since then and 17 times this year. Photos:   1, 2. submitted on July 23, 2022, by Brandon D Cross of Flagler Beach, Florida. • Bernard Fisher was the editor who published this page.

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Apr. 17, 2024