Celebrating its 60th season, the A.E. Backus Museum and Gallery was first envisioned as a building with an open air atrium. Backus painted this as an artist’s
SEASON OF THE ARTS
rendering in 1959. A.E. Backus American, 1906-1990 Fort Pierce Art Gallery, 1959. Oil on board, 15x30 inches. Gift of Dorothy Shapiro Manello.
BACKUS TURNS 60
BY CATHERINE ENNS GRIGAS
Community support has helped the museum
survive difficult times including the pandemic
From hurricanes to recessions, the A.E. Backus Museum
and Gallery has weathered many storms in its
60-year history. But perhaps nothing has challenged
its survival more than the pandemic.
As the oldest continually operating art institution on the
Treasure Coast, the museum depends on community support
and its popular events like the Backus Brunch for fundraising.
That was all jeopardized when the museum, like everything
else, closed to the public on March 16.
But according to Executive Director Marshall Adams, it
is that same community-minded spirit that will allow the museum
to thrive during challenging times.
“We have had to be innovative, but the shows will go on,”
he says. “This museum was founded out of the interest of the
community, and because the community has come together,
we can continue to be part of it.”
More than 60 years ago, A.E. Backus, then the pre-eminent
Florida landscape artist who lived in Fort Pierce, gathered his
friends and supporters and incorporated the Fort Pierce Art
On a plot of land adjacent to the Indian River, the gallery
was constructed and opened to the public in 1961. Backus’s
original studio inspired the building’s open atrium and
casual façade. Unfortunately, it was also subject to Florida
weather, and many of the artists would have to come running
in a rainstorm to remove their paintings hung on the building’s
In 2016, the museum underwent an extensive renovation,
bringing it up to museum standards. While the bones of the
old gallery still exist, it now boasts space for both a permanent
collection of works by Backus, along with a collection
of paintings by the Highwaymen, the black artists who lived
and worked in the area and were inspired by his paintings.
Backus never wanted the gallery to be named after him,
but following his death in 1990, the name was changed to
honor him. >>