Hezekiah Baker (1940 - 2007)
Born: Savannah Georgia
Hezekiah moved to Fort Pierce in 1942 when he was 13. A quiet student at Lincoln Park Academy, he especially liked classes about money and how it worked. After graduating, he took classes in business and real estate.
Hezekiah worked in the citrus fields when he was young. When he was in his 20s, he entered a drawing contest he saw in a magazine. When he received a small award for winning, his interest in art grew. Hezekiah painted mostly portraits but switched to landscapes after meeting Alfred Hair in the 1960s. Hair asked Hezekiah how long it took him to finish a painting, and when he replied that it took two to three hours, Alfred showed him how to paint faster. He would go to Alfred’s house to watch him and the other painters create their landscapes. Once he returned home, he would immediately try to replicate what they were doing. When Hezekiah experienced selling paintings for $25 or $35, good money back then, he was hooked, and started painting for a living.
Like the other Fort Pierce painters, Hezekiah went on the road to sell his paintings. Unlike some of the other salesmen, he traveled alone. He loaded up his wet paintings in his car and took extra paint for touch ups in case they were damaged en route. Reflecting on those early days in 1995, Hezekiah told a reporter, “It was easy, really. I was surprised at the money we made. On the east coast, demand was huge; new buildings were coming up fast. The prices were right.”
After Hair died in 1970, the demand for landscape paintings began to wane. Counties across Florida began to require occupational licenses and enforced no soliciting rules. Hezekiah was continually called on to bail art salesmen out of jail. Consequently, he decided to concentrate his work efforts into other ventures.
When painting was not lucrative, Baker worked a number of jobs in Fort Pierce. For a time, he was in real estate. He also worked at the Dandee Bakery and sold insurance. He even owned a restaurant called House of Foods on 25th Street, a dream that was mostly attributed to Gladys, his first wife. He painted when he had time, and others sold his work for him on the road.
Art dealers Sue and David Folds took an interest in Hezekiah’s work. They sponsored him at the 1997 Folk Fest in Atlanta, where he sold many of his paintings. After that, he would get up at 5:00 a.m. to make breakfast at his restaurant, work through lunch and close his business in the afternoon so he could paint. Before long, Ivory (his second wife) suggested he close his restaurant, as business was slow. She knew he would be happier painting and that he could once again make money from his landscapes. He gladly responded to her encouragement and went back to his first passion. Explaining his good fortune, he said, “I have no problem selling them [paintings]…. I could make a living at it now. And it’s because of Jim [Fitch]. He made it that way. I call him Alan Greenspan. People listen to him about what to buy.”
Hezekiah’s health began to deteriorate in the late 1990s. He had diabetes and high blood pressure. By 1998, he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, which did not develop fully before he died on August 1, 2007, officially from Parkinson’s disease. Hezekiah is remembered as a good friend and family man as well as an artist who created colorful Florida landscape paintings.
Hezekiah Baker Biography information: obtained from website thehighwaymentrail.com. This website is a fantastic reference to learn about the 26 Florida Highwaymen artists and their importance to Florida's history.