Minnie Evans was a maker of mythical creatures. This southern African American folk artist used a variety of media – including wax and crayon - to draw the visions and dreams she had as a young girl.
Born Minnie Eva Jones December 12, 1892 in North Carolina she attended school until the sixth grade. In 1903. Five years later as she worked she married Julius Caesar and together they had three children.
She worked as domestic help for a wealthy industrialist. In time, after deaths, remarriages, and property sales Evans, still employed by a member of the family who converted the lavish estate into gardens, became the garden’s gatekeeper.
While she maintained that position until 1974 (she was 820 she also created her legendary folk art.
At the age of 43 she took up pen and ink and began to draw on a paper bag. Reports note that while she created the concentric images she allegedly heard a voice in her head, asking her ‘Why don't you draw or die?'
She would not return to her artwork for another five years. At that time her pencil and wax on paper and mixed media collage subject material was typically biblical or scenes from the natural world. Her subject matter were usually either biblical scenes or scenes from nature. According to those who interviewed her the primary influences were African, Caribbean, Chinese, East Indian and Western Cultures.
Many of her pieces centered on a human face surrounded by plant and animal forms. The eyes, which Evans noted were symbols of divine omniscience, were prominent and in some cases there were three eyes. Her idea of God was also depicted with wings and multicolored collars and halos on the flora and fauna.
Evans hung her pieces at the garden gate and people began to buy her pieces. Overtime she became better known and visitors would come to the gardens just to see her work. Her first ‘formal’ art exhibition at the garden was in 1961.
A fellow artist helped to launch her career in New York City. 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.
The Angel that Stands By Me: Minnie Evans' Art
Photo of artwork (Design Made at Airlie Gardents) on display at Smithsonian American Art Museum