(Pender County, NC, 1892 - 1987, Wilmington, NC)
Oil, graphite, and ink on paper
11 in. x 13 3/4 in. (27.94 cm x 34.93 cm)
Purchased with funds from the Museum Acquisition Fund in memory of Honorary Trustee Jean Palmer Wade
Evans, an African-American, enjoyed combining images and tales from different cultures and races. In this drawing, her angels have blond hair and pale skin combined with distinctly African-American features. The subject is hard to define, but it may represent the triumph of Heaven over Hell. A God or Christ-like figure with Asian features, flanked by flowers and angels, smiles down at beasts and devils. Evans suggests that salvation is possible for all of God’s creatures.
Minnie Evans Untitled, 1966 Collection of the Akron Art Museum From childhood on, Minnie Evans was plagued by visions. On Good Friday 1935, a particularly intense vision instructed her to draw. Her first crude pencil marks ignited the career of an artist who brought together religion, history, and nature in compelling and passionate images. Born to a mother who was barely a teenager, Minnie Jones was raised in Wilmington by three generations of women. Though she left school after fifth grade to help support her family, she became a devoted reader, especially favoring the Bible and Edith Hamilton's book on mythology. In 1908 she married Julius Evans and worked with him on an estate in nearby Wrightsville Beach. Later, when their widowed employer married Henry Walters, a leading art collector, Evans was exposed to a world far removed from her humble origins. When a new owner opened the estate—Airlie Gardens—to the public, Evans worked there as gatekeeper, occasionally selling her drawings and paintings to interested visitors. Local and eventually national recognition followed. In her work Evans explored two stylistic approaches: abstracted, symmetrical designs involving floral motifs and figures; and more traditional scenes using a simplified two-point perspective. The untitled work in the Akron Art Museum collection is a hybrid. It is colorful, flattened, and symmetrical in the upper portion, representing the heavenly realm, and asymmetrical with shallow space in the darker, earthly sphere below. This dual structure suggests the symbolic message that faith accompanies beauty and harmony. Created with simple art supplies bought at a local store, the painting is small and portable, allowing it to be worked on at home or at the gatehouse. Divine presence is a central subject in Evans's art. Her optimistic vision presumes that the kingdom of God exists everywhere. In the museum's painting, the devil, who is shown grasping a snake, is certainly a traditional image of evil; but he and his fellow creatures are in no way triumphant. In fact, they seem to be under the spell of the angels above, some of whom smile as they march toward the light that spills through the break in the cliffs. It is possible that this hallucinatory image is inspired by the Book of Revelation, Evans's favorite biblical text. On the other hand, it might be a unique interpretation of a common religious theme, one depicted by Evans in more conventional renderings: the Peaceable Kingdom, where the wild and the tame dwell together. Evans admired exotic cultures and all races, purposely bringing them together in her work. Her long-haired, blonde angels are always white, the color of purity and of the afterlife in many cultures (including that of the Yoruba, possibly Evans's ancestors). The facial features of these pale angels appear to be African American. The godlike divinities, so frequent in her work, are varied in gender and race; sometimes a Caucasian Christ appears, at other times a Mayan God. The obviously Chinese face in the museum's work transforms an Asian stereotype, reminiscent of Fu Manchu movies, into an exotic God surrounded by rainbows in heaven. Among the most memorable elements of Evans's art are the haunting eyes that so often stare at the viewer. Whether attached to figures, or emerging from abstract designs, or peering out from the heavens, they accentuate the unearthly quality of her vision. They also draw the viewer to the image, intensifying his or her passage into the artist's spiritual realm. These eerie eyes testify to Evans's belief that God is everywhere—in plants and animals, water and air. For indeed, Evans is almost a pantheist, who finds God in all earthly creation and in every dream. - Mitchell D. Kahan, 2001 Kahan, Mitchell D. Heavenly Visions: The Art of Minnie Evans. Raleigh: North Carolina Museum of Art, 1986. Lovell, Charles M., and Erwin Hester, eds. Minnie Evans: Artist. Greenville, N.C.: Wellington B. Gray Gallery, East Carolina University, 1993.
signed in paint"Minnie Evans" in LR