Bean Backus’ Studio Spaces

“Bean” Backus opened his first studio in the Arcade building in 1938. This space was shared with his friend Don Blanding, an artist and poet who wrote a column for the Fort Pierce News Tribune. Bean left it when he joined the Navy to fight in World War II.

When he returned home, he purchased his father’s old boat shop on Moore’s Creek and made it into his studio. He worked in this space from 1946 to 1959, and it was here that Alfred Hair and his friends first came to visit and learn what they could about painting. Backus reluctantly left this studio after the power company demanded the land.

He then moved to a white clapboard house on the corner of Avenue C and Second Street that was originally built in 1896 for Dr. Platts, Fort Pierce’s first doctor. Part of the house became his studio. The door was left open for cooling and as a welcoming sign to neighbors and friends who came by for a visit.

Bean’s studio spaces, like the home he grew up in, were meeting places as much as they were places to paint. He enjoyed company from all walks of life. Generous with his time and money, he loved good conversation and sharing a drink or two. Jazz played on the record player and a meal could easily be created and served. Would-be painters would seek him out as well as writers, musicians, poets, and art lovers. Backus had an open mind. He liked a good mix of people, from politicians to young black kids who were anxious to learn what they could about being an artist.

From these studio spaces more than paintings were created. By opening his studio door to the world, he modeled a new way of being for a community otherwise segregated by race and aligned by class. Through his creative mixing of people and ideas, as well as the beauty he created though his brush and palette knife, he inspired a young group of black men and women to think differently about the world they were about to inherit. In these rooms, he taught them to see the beauty of the world and imagine how they could move into it as their own.