Minnie Evans: Wilmington Folk Artist with a Vision
Minnie Evans (born Minnie Eva Jones) was born to Ella Jones on December 12, 1892 in Long Creek, Pender County, North Carolina. When Evans was only two months old, she and her mother moved to Wilmington, North Carolina to live with her maternal grandmother, Mary Croom Jones in 1893. Evans, like other children her age, had an active imagination at all hours of the day. In her case, the whimsical visions she received would keep her up throughout the night, making it so she hardly ever got any rest. This lack of sleep tied with her family’s need for her assistance caused her schooling to end at the age of 13. 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. Minnie attended St. Matthew African Methodist Episcopal Church in Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina.
Minnie Jones, who was sixteen at the time, married Julius Caesar Evans. The couple had three sons. Though Evans had many supporters, her husband was not one of them. Her husband would often tell her to stop making up visions and to focus on things to maintain the household. He believed her to be going crazy from the art she was creating.
Evans worked for Sadie Jones and Henry Walters, on the Airlie Estate. After Walters died, Sadie Jones decided to turn the Airlie 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 retired from her job as the gatekeeper when she was 82 years old in 1974.
Minnie Evans is described as a visionary since the scenes portrayed arrive not from memory but from visions, often religious in nature. Evans began to draw and paint at the age of 43, creating her first pieces of artwork on a scrap of paper bag. She was known to free-hand her drawings from left to right. Minnie Evans was notorious for drawing with anything on hand, including discarded window shades, book bindings, and scrap paper. She also favored the use of Crayola crayons as she said “they are the best.”
Evans first started selling her work at the Airlie Gardens by hanging her pieces on the front gate of the gardens. She would often give her pieces away to visitors. 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 Little Artists Gallery (now St. Johns Museum) in Wilmington, North Carolina.
Evans created “one of the most powerful works of art” which was a self-portrait on the cover of a scrapbook in 1981. Evans died in Wilmington, North Carolina on 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’ death, artist Virginia Wright-Frierson designed and built the Minnie Evans Bottle Chapel at Airlie Gardens in her memory. Made almost entirely from reused glass bottles, the Bottle Chapel was created as a tribute to folk artist Minnie Evans and featured works from many other artists. When looking at a top view of the chapel, it resembles a flower with a leaf on each side. Along the path, colored cement has pressed flowers and plants that Evans used in her paintings. Children’s art that Evans inspired was transformed into 95 stepping stones, each for a year of her life. The chapel itself contains stained glass with many faces and figures that resemble one’s Evans used. “Minnie Evans” day was proclaimed on May 14, 1994 in Greenville, North Carolina.
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by Daphne Cole