Minnie Evans (December 12, 1892 – December 16, 1987) was an African American artist who worked in the United States from the 1940s to the 1980s. Evans used different media in her work, but started with using wax and crayon. She was inspired to start drawing due to visions and dreams that she had when she was a young girl. She is known as a southern folk artist and as a surrealist and visionary artist as well.
Minnie Evans (born Minnie Eva Jones) was born to Ella Jones on December 12, 1892 in Long Creek, Pender County, North Carolina. 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, she and her mother moved to Wilmington, North Carolina to live with Evans' grandmother, Mary Croom Jones in 1893. 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. In Wrightsville, Ella Jones met her future husband, Joe Kelly, and they married in 1908. During this time, Jones worked as a "sounder" selling shellfish door to door. In 1908, one of Joe Kelly's daughter's from a previous marriage introduced Minnie Jones to Julius Caesar. Minnie Jones, who was sixteen at the time, married Julius (19) that same year. The couple had three sons, Elisha Dyer, David Barnes Evans, and George Sheldon Evans.
Beginning in 1916, Minnie Evans was employed as a domestic at the home of her husband's employer, Pembroke Jones, a wealthy industrialist. 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. 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. She held this position for the rest of her life. She retired from her job as the gatekeeper when she was 82 years old in 1974.
Evans began drawing on Good Friday 1935, where she finished two drawings using pen and ink "dominated by concentric and semi-circles against a background of unidentifiable linear motifs". She heard a voice in her head that said ‘Why don't you draw or die?' After this, Evans did not resume drawing until 1940. She started using pencil and wax on paper for her beginning works and she later worked with oil paints and mixed media collages. Her subject matter were usually either biblical scenes or scenes from nature. Her influences included African, Caribbean, East India, Chinese, and Western cultures. Since she held the position as gatekeeper at the Arlie Gardens, she often used the gardens as her inspiration in her work to depict nature scenes.
Evans first started selling her work at the Arlie Gardens by hanging her pieces on the front gate of the gardens. Those who would come and visit the Arlie Gardens began purchasing her work. Soon she became known throughout the south and visitors would come to the gardens just to see her work. In 1961, she had her first formal exhibition of drawings and oils at the Artists Gallery in Wilmington, NC.
In 1962, she met Nina Howell Starr, who would publicize her work for the next 25 years. Starr, also an artist herself (photographer), knew of Evans' work in 1961 and wanted to meet the artist in person. From 1962-1973, Starr recorded interviews with Evans about her work. At first, Evans was weary to trust Starr with her work, but they gained a mutual respect for each other. 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. In 1966, Starr arranged for Evans' first New York exhibit at The Church of Epiphany and Clements Episcopal Church. In August 1969, another exhibition of Evans' work took place at the Art Image Gallery of New York and in 1975, curated a major Evans exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art. With failing health, another exhibition of her work was curated in 1980 at the St. John's Museum. She also had many other exhibitions in New York as well.
Evans died December 16, 1987 at age 95, 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. "Minnie Evans" day was proclaimed on May 14, 1994 in Greenville, NC.
Inspiration, style, and technique
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.
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, often three eyes were depicted and frontal faces with concealed lips. Symmetry was also a common theme in Evans' work In addition, God is sometimes depicted with wings and a multicolored collar and halo and shown surrounded by all manner of creatures.
Her first works, titled My Very First and My Second are ink on paper. The entire surface is filled with abstract designs and shapes with nature images and themes in both. These works are not in color.
Another work titled "Design: Airlie Garden" depicts flowers, plants, and butterflies. The nature theme is shown here, but this piece is somewhat atypical due to the asymmetry of the painting.
Two other works, both untitled are more typical works by Evans. One, dated 1996, depicts a woman with a feathered headdress and a green bird. This piece has bold colors, symmetrical, and includes nature themes. The media used is graphite, ink, tempera, and wax crayon on paper. The other is a female portrait including the theme of eyes, bold colors, and nature designs as well. The media used is Gauache, ink and wax crayon on paper.
Now recognized as one of the most important visionary folk artists 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.
- "Evans, Minnie". Oxford Art Online. Retrieved September 24, 2014.
- Lyons, Mary. Painting Dreams. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Company. ISBN 9780395720325.
- Brennan, Anne. "Minnie Evans: Dreams in Color". Folk Art Messenger (Spring 2005).
- Kerman, Nathan (1997-07-01). "Aspects of Minnie Evans". On paper; the journal of prints, drawings, and photography 1: 12–16.
- Smithsonian American Art Museum. "Minnie Evans".
- Lyons, Mary E. (1996). Painting Dreams. New York, New York: Houghton Mifflin Company. p. 34. ISBN 0-39572032-X.
- Outsider Art Sourcebook, ed. John Maizels, Raw Vision, Watford, 2009, p.71
- Kahan, Mitchell (1986). Heavenly Visions: Art of Minnie Evans. Raleigh, NC: North Carolina Museum of Art. ISBN 0-88259-951-8.
- Minnie Evans: Artist. Greenville, NC: Wellington B. Gray Gallery. 1993. ISBN 0-9636759-0-7.
- 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.
- Biography, Smithsonian American Art Museum website
- Biography, Outsider Folk Art website
- Nina Howell Starr. "Minnie Evans" (New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, 1975) Exhibition Catalogue
- Charles M. Lovell et al. "Minnie Evans: Artist" (Greenville, NC: Wellington B. Gray Gallery, East Carolina University, 1993) Exhibition catalogue
- Outsider Art Sourcebook, ed. John Maizels, Raw Vision, Watford, 2009