Dorothy Harris

Farewell to the Highwayman

Dorothy L. Harris

When I saw the headline noting his passing, I was deeply saddened and shocked due to his young age. I would not have expected him to have been ill since he appeared quite healthy during the days I knew him.

I smiled to myself remembering the deep, reassuring voice and melodious speech. The focus he had as he talked to you made it clear he was hearing every word and considering how best to answer. It was delightful listening to him speak about capturing his love for the Florida environment in his paintings. At one point he even offered to show me how to paint. Was he serious? He seemed so and now with regret, I wish I had boldly taken him up on it.

His fleeting idea of having a row of rangers painting in the state park under his direction seemed like a neat idea to consider when he had more time. Like a lot of plans, this one never circled back around and was probably forgotten in the midst of other duties. Now, with his death, it would never be possible. I can be thankful, however, for the brief time spent in conversation and having the opportunity to get to know the man behind the canvas.

Robert Butler, a Highwayman painter, had passed through my life when he came to Highlands Hammock State Park to paint his "Hammock Creek" canvas. During his time with the Friends of Highlands Hammock, there were a handful of opportunities to hear his stories about painting the wilds of Florida. His talent was enormous and luminous, much like his work. He also had that calm presence which seems to cloak many artists I've had the kismet to meet. It's as though they are deeper in awareness of what transpires around them, leading them to be quieter, more serene personalities.

As I visit with folks of the artistic persona, I always sense they are calculating the light and color of their surroundings, making mental palettes to better capture the places and people they visit. You can just tell they see things differently. Talking with Mr. Butler always made me think this. He really noticed the light and composition of a scene and could translate that in a manner even those of us not schooled in such discernment were able to see what he was seeing.

I guess this is what I felt during those fleeting moments in his presence. For just a short time, the curtain was drawn back and someone was carefully showing me how to look so I could really see what was there. This is the gift of the artist, the naturalist and even a writer or musician. Things are seen just a little bit clearer, or perhaps in a different focus, and one longs to share that view with others who just might be willing to see things this way too.

I remember him bragging on his daughter, who he stated was a marvelous painter in her own right. He said she had her own style and thought she would surpass him in talent. He joked with me he was always fond of the name Dorothy, telling me about his lovely wife, also named Dorothy. Clearly he was proud of all his children and my heart goes out to his family. I pray they are able to take some comfort in knowing Robert Butler's paintings will be treasured for years to come, ensuring future generations also have opportunity to see the Florida that he knew and loved.