Minnie Evans

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Minnie Evans was born on December 12, 1892 in Long Creek, Pender County, North Carolina.[1] She is an African American artist who worked in the United States from the 1940s to the 1980s.[1] Evans uses different media in her work, but started with using wax and crayon.[1] She was inspired to start drawing due to visions and dreams that she had when she was a young girl.[1] She is known as a southern folk artist and as a surrealist and visionary artist as well. [1]

Personal Life[edit]

Minnie Evans (born Minnie Eva Jones) was born to Ella Jones on December 12, 1892. Ella was only thirteen years old at the time. Evans' biological father, George Moore, left after she was born. After Evans was only two months old, her and her mother moved to Wilmington, NC to live with Evans' grandmother, Mary Croom Jones in 1983.[2] Minnie Jones attended school until the sixth grade and in 1903, Minnie Jones, Ella, and Mary Croom Jones moved to Wrightsville Sound which was a town close to Wilmington, NC.[3] In Wrightsville, Ella Jones met her future husband, Joe Kelly, and they married in 1908. [2] During this time, Jones worked as a "sounder" selling shellfish door to door.[4] In 1908, one of Joe Kelly's daughter's from a previous marriage introduced Minnie Jones to Julius Caesar Evans.[2] Minnie Jones, who was sixteen at the time, married Julius Evans (19) that same year.[3] The couple had three sons, Elisha Dyer, David Barnes Evans, and George Sheldon Evans.[3]

Beginning in 1916, Minnie Evans was employed as a domestic at the home of her husband's employer, Pembroke Jones, a wealthy industrialist.[3] The Evans family lived on Jones's hunting estate, "Pembroke Park," known today as the subdivision Landfall. Pembroke Jones died in 1919 and his wife, Sadie Jones remarried Henry Walters. The couple moved nearby to the Arlie Estate which was left to Sadie Jones from Pembroke Jones. Evans continued to work from Sadie Jones and now Henry Walters, on the Arlie Estate. After Walters died, Sadie Jones decided to turn the Arlie Estate into gardens which later became one of the most famous gardens of the south.[2] After Sadie Jones died, a man named Albert Corbet bought the property in 1947 and assigned Evans to be the gatekeeper and take admission from public visitors.[2] She held this position for the rest of her life. [2]

Evans began drawing on Good Friday 1935. She said "I had a dream, its voice spoke to me: ‘Why don't you draw or die?'[1] After this, Evans did not resume drawing until 1940.[3]

Her first "exhibitions" were in 1948, at Airlie Gardens, which had been established by Pembroke Jones's wife, Sarah Green Jones, as a lush, flowing, naturalistic Southern garden. Earlier, when Evans's world was dominated by the greenery of Pembroke Park, her paintings were full of shades of green. But, after 1948, her work began to bloom in colors and in images of actual flowers, for Minnie Evans was then the Airlie gatekeeper - collecting admissions and selling her artwork on the side. In 1961, she had her first formal exhibition of drawings and oils at a gallery in Wilmington. In 1962, she became friends with Nina Howell Starr, who would publicize her work for the next 25 years. Starr helped to launch Evans' career by storing and selling her art in New York City. She also guided her in the art world, by making her sign and date her pieces.[5] In 1966, Starr arranged for Evans' first New York exhibit and, in 1975, curated a major Evans exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art. Minnie Evans was not fazed by her new celebrity. "She was just doing what the Lord told her to do. She was more interested in pleasing God than people," George Evans told Airlie historian Susan Taylor Block, in 2005. Evans died December 16, 1987, leaving more than 400 artworks to the St. Johns Museum of Art (now the Cameron Art Museum) in Wilmington. After Evans's death, artist Virginia Wright-Frierson designed and built the Minnie Evans Bottle Chapel at Airlie Gardens in her memory.

Evans was the subject of the documentary The Angel that Stands By Me: Minnie Evans' Art in 1983.


Evans began to draw and paint at the age of 43, creating her first pieces of artwork on a scrap of paper bag. Five years later she decided to really dedicate herself to recording her dreams through art. She painted her early works on US Coast guard stationery and later worked with more precision, using ink, graphite, wax crayon, watercolour and oil on canvas, board and paper.[6]

Evans' drawings were inspired by her dreams and filled with many colors, possibly inspired by her work at Airlie Gardens. Her designs are complex, with elements recalling the art of China and the Caribbean combined with more Western themes. The central motif in many pieces is a human face surrounded by plant and animal forms. The eyes, which Evans equated with God's omniscience, are central to each figure. In addition, God is sometimes depicted with wings and a multicolored collar and halo and shown surrounded by all manner of creatures.

Of her drawings, Evans once said that "this art that I have put out has come from the nations I suppose might have been destroyed before the flood. . . . No one knows anything about them, but God has given it to me to bring [them] back into the world.[7]"

Now recognized as one of the most important visionary folk artist of the 20th century, her work is highly collected by many museums and collectors all across the world. Despite her prolific and long career, her works do not come up for sale often. When they do, there is always strong competition. Her work has been, and in some cases is still, on display at many museums across the country. Her work can be viewed at such museums as the Museum of Modern Art, the Smithsonian Institution, the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum, the American Folk Art Museum, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, and the High Museum of Art.


  1. ^ a b c d e f "Evans, Minnie". Oxford Art Online. Retrieved September 24, 2014. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f Lyons, Mary. Painting Dreams. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Company. ISBN 9780395720325. 
  3. ^ a b c d e Brennan, Anne. "Minnie Evans: Dreams in Color". Folk Art Messenger (Spring 2005). 
  4. ^ Kerman, Nathan (1997-07-01). "Aspects of Minnie Evans". On paper; the journal of prints, drawings, and photography 1: 12-16. 
  5. ^ Lyons, Mary E. (1996). Painting Dreams. New York, New York: Houghton Mifflin Company. p. 34. ISBN 0-39572032-X. 
  6. ^ Outsider Art Sourcebook, ed. John Maizels, Raw Vision, Watford, 2009, p.71
  7. ^ SAAM :: Have a Question? Find an Answer

Susan Taylor Block, "Airlie: The Garden of Wilmington." Airlie Foundation, 2002. Fred Wharton and Susan Taylor Block, "The Bottle Chapel at Airlie Gardens," 2008. UNCW.