Alfred Hair, one of the founding members of the Florida Highwaymen artist collective, played a pivotal role in shaping the movement's distinctive style and vision.
His untimely death in 1970 marked a tragic turning point for the group, whose members deeply mourned the loss of their mentor and friend.
In this article, we explore Hair's background, history, the events surrounding his death, and the lasting impact he had on the Florida Highwaymen.
Background and History
Born in 1941, Alfred Hair grew up in Fort Pierce, Florida, during an era of racial segregation and limited opportunities for African-Americans.
Despite these challenges, Hair developed a passion for art and found inspiration in the landscape paintings of A.E. "Bean" Backus, a renowned Florida artist. Hair began emulating Backus's work but with a more cost-effective and rapid approach, using inexpensive materials and house paint.
Hair's innovative methods caught the attention of other young African-American artists in the area, including Harold Newton, who would become one of the founding members of the Florida Highwaymen.
Under Hair's leadership, this informal group of artists adopted his techniques and began producing vibrant landscape paintings that captured the essence of Florida's natural beauty.
The Tragic Death of Alfred Hair
On August 9, 1970, Alfred Hair's life was cut tragically short when he was shot and killed at the age of 29 during a bar altercation in Fort Pierce.
Alfred Hair's death was a significant loss for the Florida Highwaymen, leaving the group without one of its most influential and talented members. The different accounts of Hair's tragic passing only add to the mystery and sadness surrounding his untimely death.
The exact details surrounding Alfred Hair's death remain unclear, as various accounts provide different information about the tragic event. However, what is known is that Hair was fatally shot on August 9, 1970, during an altercation at Eddie's Place, a bar in Fort Pierce, Florida.
There are several differing accounts regarding the circumstances that led to Hair's death:
Some reports suggest that Hair was involved in a heated argument with another individual, which ultimately escalated into a physical altercation, leading to Hair being shot.
Another account claims that Hair was not directly involved in the altercation but was attempting to break up a fight between two other individuals when he was shot. In this version, Hair's role was that of a peacemaker, caught in the crossfire of a dispute that had nothing to do with him.
Yet another version states that Hair was an innocent bystander, completely uninvolved in the altercation, and was tragically struck by a stray bullet fired during the dispute.
Despite these varying accounts, a few key details remain consistent across most reports: the shooter was identified as Julius “J. L.” Funderberk, a thirty-one-year-old migrant fruit picker, who was arrested and charged with Hair's murder.
According to one account, Alfred was buying a beer for a girl Funderberk had thought was his. Funderberk raised his gun and pointed it at Alfred.
“I’ll kill all of you painters in here,” he allegedly said.
Funderberk shot him once and Alfred stumbled to the back door of the bar. Outside the bar, Funderberk shot Alfred a second time, and Alfred later died. Funderberk was arrested and served five years in prison.
The news of Hair's death sent shockwaves through the Florida Highwaymen community.
He was not only a talented artist but also a mentor, friend, and driving force behind the movement. His loss was deeply felt by the other members, who struggled to come to terms with the sudden and senseless nature of his passing.
Remembering Alfred Hair
In the wake of Hair's death, the Florida Highwaymen artists mourned his loss, and the group's productivity slowed significantly.
Hair's innovative spirit, artistic talent, and dedication to sharing Florida's natural beauty through art left a lasting impression on his fellow artists.
In the years following Hair's death, the Florida Highwaymen experienced a period of decline, but their legacy endured.
Hair's contributions to the movement were not forgotten, and his work continues to be celebrated and admired by collectors and art enthusiasts alike.
In 2004, Alfred Hair was posthumously inducted into the Florida Artists Hall of Fame, along with other original members of the Florida Highwaymen. This recognition solidified Hair's place in art history and honored his impact on the group and the wider art world.
As we remember Alfred Hair, we also celebrate the resilience and determination of the Florida Highwaymen artists who carried on his legacy, ensuring that their unique and vibrant paintings would continue to capture the essence of Florida's natural beauty for generations to come.