Merritt Island artist focuses on Florida's beauty


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PHOTO COURTESY OF BONNIE BUTLERBonnie L. Butler isn’t your typical 61-year-old active grandmother. A resident of Merritt Island for more than 16 years, she’s also met many legendary Highwaymen artists, worked with one — R. L. Lewis — and continues to be a bustling painter of Florida tropical art.

“I believe that the natural beauty of Florida should be maintained in my art,” Butler said. “I get my inspiration from Florida nature and the Highwaymen artists. It was my honor to work with and be mentored by Highwaymen artist R. L. Lewis for over eight years in his art gallery in Cocoa Village.”

The Highwaymen artists were a group of African-American artists who originally sold their art along the highways of Florida in the 1950s and 1960s. Some, like Lewis, used to have their own art galleries, but most no longer paint. They are inducted in the Florida Art Hall of Fame in Tallahassee.  

Artist Bonnie Butler poses with one of her favorite pieces. | PHOTO BY MARC RHODES

Butler paints at home these days in oil on canvas, depicting imagery like lighthouses, palm trees stretched over the water, hibiscus flowers and herons. 

“I first started out painting with my mother when I was 9 years old,” Butler said. She met Lewis in his art gallery in Cocoa Village in 2004 (now closed), when her sister purchased a painting from him. She began working at the art gallery a few days later, and also took classes from him, helped him teach other students, and attended art exhibits with Lewis. Now she’s considered one of their family, and still keeps in regular contact.

Butler sells her works on eBay, at local auction houses and on her group page “Bonnie’s Art” on Facebook. She has also exhibited and sold her art at exhibits in Fort Pierce. To date, she has painted and sold more than 2,500 paintings.

“I plan to stay here and open my own art gallery,” Butler said. “Mr. Lewis, his son and I are doing our best to keep art alive in Florida, and I plan not to ever let the beauty of Florida be taken for granted.”