Minnie Evans

Minnie Evans

[ev-uhnz]

Minnie Evans (1890-1987) was an African-American folk artist known for her colorful drawings executed in colored pencil.

Life

Minnie Evans (Jones) was born on December 12, 1892, the only child of Joseph Kelly, a farmer, and Ella Jones in Pender County, North Carolina. Ella, then only 14 years old, moved to Wilmington early in 1893 to live with her mother, who soon assumed responsibility for Minnie's upbringing. She attended school through the sixth grade, dropping out in 1903 because of the family's economic hardship, finding a job as a shellfish harvester. In 1908 she quit to marry Julius Evans. For eight years she was a full-time housewife. The couple had three sons, one of whom died in childbirth.

Beginning in 1916 Minnie Evans was employed as a domestic at the home of her husband's employer, Pembroke Jones, a wealthy industrialist. 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?' ‘Is that it?,' I said, ‘My, My.'" That morning she completed a pair of small pen-and-ink drawings on paper; these works, dominated by a pattern of concentric circles and semi-circles upon a background of lines, became greatly significant to her in her later life. Most of her earliest pieces were executed in wax crayons; she later turned to colored pencil and, in the early 1940s, oils. Her first "exhibitions" were in 1948, at Airlie Gardens, which had been established by Pembroke Jones and his wife Sara as a series of formal gardens and wildlife refuge open to the public. Minnie Evans was the gatekeeper, collecting admissions and selling her artwork on the side. She had her first formal exhibition of drawings and oils in 1961 at a gallery in Wilmington. In 1962 she began a friendship with Nina Howell Starr, who would publicize her work for the next 25 years. Starr arranged for her first New York exhibit in 1966 and curated a major Evans exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1975. Evans died in 1987, leaving more than 400 artworks to the St. Johns Museum of Art (now the Cameron Museum of Art) in Wilmington.

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

Work

Evans' drawings were inspired by her dreams, and were filled with many different 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 He is 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."

References

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