About the Artist: Minnie Evans | Folkstreams

About the Artist: Minnie Evans

About the Artist: Minnie Evans

By Charles Muir Lovell, from Minnie Evans: Artist (Greenville, North Carolina: Wellington B. Gray Gallery, East Carolina University, 1993), pp. 11-19.

In the tradition of visionary artists, Minnie Evans (1892-1987) has made a unique contribution which transcends the categorizations of folk, outsider or self-educated artist; because of the imagination and power of her art, she merits serious recognition. The uniqueness of Evans’ work evolved from her ability to manifest from her imagination and dreams, visions that are transformed to paper and canvas.

Born Minnie Eva Jones in Long Creek, Pender County, North Carolina, in 1892, the artist traces her African American ancestry to her great-grandmother’s great-grandmother Margaret (Marnie), who was brought from Trinidad to Charleston, South Carolina, as a slave. Evans became closer to her grandmother Mary Croom Jones than to her own mother Ella, who had given birth to Minnie at the age of fourteen. Her mother, who Evans treated like a sister,1 worked away from home, while Mary worked in the Jones household as a seamstress.

When the family moved to Wilmington, Minnie Evans stopped attending school because of economic necessity after she had advanced to the sixth grade. She was soon employed as a sounder, selling oysters and clams house-to-house at Wrightsville Sound where her family now resided. Throughout her life, even from an early age, Evans was troubled by vivid and recurring dreams that affected her daily routines.

At the age of sixteen, she was married to Julius Caesar Evans. Minnie and her husband were employed in the domestic service of Pembroke Jones at the Pembroke Park Estate near Wrightsville Beach. Their three sons, Elisha, David and George, were all named after Wall Street millionaires who visited Pembroke Jones’ estate to hunt.2 After Pembroke Jones’ death, his wife married Henry Walters, the son of William T. Walters, founder of the Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore.3

Minnie Evans’ first drawing was completed on Good Friday, 1935. A second work was completed the following day. Her recollections of these first two works imply that they were made by Evans’ subconscious doodling. Evans’ recall of these works, which are now held in the collection of the Whitney Museum of American Art, is as follows, “I had wrote my grocery order and after I tore that off, I had taken my pencil and went right on make a lot of funny things and I made a page full, and that Saturday when I got back there I got another page and went to painting some more funny things.”4

In 1940 she started making small semi-abstract drawings, some of which were enhanced by color from wax crayons. Her husband and family were at first puzzled by Evans’ pursuit of art. Her urge to create became so obsessive that she often worked from morning until evening making as many as seven drawings in one day.5 Her continued determination to make drawings and paintings made her family more supportive of her artistic pursuits.

After Airlie Gardens estate was purchased by W.A. Corbett in 1948, Evans was employed as gatekeeper, a job she was to keep until 1974. This lush garden setting with an abundance of flora, fauna, trees and lakes became Evans’ daily environment. While taking admission from the visitors to Airlie, Evans continued to develop her artistic skills, making drawings and paintings while at the gatehouse. She would show interested visitors her work, and early in her career sold individual drawings for as little as one dollar.6 George Rountree Jr., a Wilmington lawyer who became a good friend of Evans, encouraged her to continue her artmaking. Other visitors to Airlie Gardens praised her talents, and in 1961 she held her first exhibition at the Little Gallery in Wilmington, North Carolina.

In 1962, Nina Howell Starr, a graduate student in photography at the University of Florida, became aware of Evans’ work from a colleague who had purchased several drawings from the Airlie Gardens’ gatekeeper. Starr photographed the fellow student’s drawings by Evans. Initially bothered by the brilliant colors used by the artist, Starr became more sympathetic of Evans’ work after seeing the subtleties which became revealed when these photographs were enlarged into black and white. After moving to New York in 1964, Starr began to represent Minnie Evans’ work in the city where Evans later received substantial recognition from galleries, museums, and the press. Starr continued to promote Minnie Evans throughout much of the artist’ lifetime. Starr never received a commission on the sale of Evans’ works, but she served as an advocate for an individual who she believed to be a unique and uncelebrated artistic talent.

Nina Howell Starr arranged the first exhibition of Evans’ work in New York in 1966, The Lost World of Minnie Evans, which was exhibited at the Church of the Epiphany and St. Clement’s Episcopal Church. Starr’s advocacy eventually led to larger gallery shows, sales and the solo exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1975. After Evans’ solo exhibition at The Art Image gallery in New York in 1969, her work was reviewed by Newsweek and other important national publications.

In 1972, the National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. purchased one of Evans’ large collage paintings for their permanent collection. A year later, Jean Dubuffet purchased several of Evans’ wax crayon drawings from Nina Howell Starr in New York after seeing Evans’ work in an exhibition at the Studio Museum of Harlem.7 A retrospective exhibition in 1986 organized by the North Carolina Museum of Art, Heavenly Visions: The Art of Minnie Evans, curated by Mitchell D. Kahan, honored Evans in her home state of North Carolina. Evans’ work has now appeared nationally and internationally in 19 solo exhibitions and 59 group exhibitions, and is held in numerous museum and hundreds of private collections throughout the United States.

Various sources have been cited as possible influences on the work of Minnie Evans. While there are similarities between her work and the art of various cultures, no direct appropriation from any visual source is apparent. Evans’ work has been compared to the art of Africa, Persia, India, Tibet, the Caribbean, Egypt and other cultures. Though it seems relevant to make these comparisons, it is the power alone of Evans’ unique vision that transcends cultural boundaries and brings to life a universal mythic dream reality reminiscent of Jung’s theory of collective unconscious, or the Jain religion’s cosmogenic cycle of Oriental philosophy.8

Minnie Evans’ African roots, her visionary imagination, her strong religious convictions, and her visual knowledge of Oriental, Persian and other historical art and culture all were to help shape Evans’ vision, but it is the collective whole of these experiences rather than any one factor which pervades Evans’ art. African American art historian Regina Perry says of Evans: “. . . Evans created works which are essentially spiritual and that represent a world in which God, man and nature are synonymous.”9

The possible connection between Evans’ work and her cultural forebears from Africa has become more apparent with research of Perry, Sharon D. Koota10 and John Mason.11 Preliminary research has not fully explored these influences. There is a striking similarity to Evans’ use of color with the textiles and beadwork of western Africa. Other likenesses between Evans and African art are with the use of symmetry, of linear patterns and of abstraction, also the stylization of her central heads which evoke the shapes of African masks.

One of the most appropriate comparisons of Evans’ to the art of African is with Yoruba divination trays. “The divination tray. . . is an especially splendid suggestion of order. Calm and balance are intimated by the well-weighed symmetries of form, usually carved as a circle or square. . . One dish. . ., carved in a lunette-like shape, is embellished with richly cut aristocratic interlace, a motif which becomes alive, as it were, at its sides, where a pair of intertwined serpents appear.”12 The moon, the serpent, symmetry and interlace design occur again and again in Evans’ work. Though the country of origin of Evans’ African heritage is unknown, the majority of the saves brought to America came from a corridor seven hundred miles wide, on the west coast of Africa, stretching from modern-day Senegal and Mali in the north to Zaire and Angola in the south. The peoples come from a multitude of diverse ethnic and national groups al belonging to the Niger-Kongo language with its ancient homeland in West Africa.13

The result of the barbarism of slavery, which brought a captive peoples largely of West African descent to the new world, largely cut off from their past culture, created this new society of African Americans which continued some of these past traditions and assimilated them into a new hybridized culture unique to the Americas. Some of the carryovers from African culture are found in chanting and dance steps that have survived in the African American church; others include the work-song, the folk-tale, and the practice of voodoo in religion, and folk beliefs and customs such as “conjur woman,” “voodoo child,” and “mojo hand,” found in African American blues.14

In the visual art of America and the Caribbean we can see this hybridization which Regina Perry has noted in the quilts, Afro-Carolinian face vessels and walking sticks of the American southeast. Ute Stebich noted the similarities of Caribbean subjects with “African tradition with the serpent representing shrewd cunning, water as the female spirit, the bull as a powerful energized animistic presence, and the stars representing the power of the universe. All are symbols which permeate much of black art of the Caribbean and have their parallel reference in African American art with the United States,”15 and all of these have been used by Evans in her artistic repertoire.

Another analogy between Evans’ art and African art is her use of ancient hieroglyphic-like writing reminiscent of Kongo spirit writing. Robert Farris Thompson refers to this phenomena as “sometimes included mysterious ciphers received by a person in a state of spiritual possession.”16 A similar use of spirit writing has been made by African American artist J.B. Murray of Georgia, though Evans apparently had no familiarity with African spirit writing or with Murray’s work.

Other African American artists working in a visionary tradition include William Edmonston, Bessy Harvey, Sister Gertrude Morgan and Bill Traylor, all from the American southeast. While Evans was not familiar with the work of these artists, her work is analogous with theirs, especially in its underlying spiritual content and in the fact that all of these artists are self-educated. Harvey speaks of the continuation of her past traditions into the present: “I see this vision of one of these dolls or something, and I can’t sleep. . . It’s something like torment. . . When I was a child I had these strange things I’d see and feel and now I’m puttin’ them in wood. . . and just about everything I touch is Africa. . . I must claim some of the spirit and soul. . . To me Voodoo is just like Methodist and Baptist. . .”17 William Ferris reaffirms this mixing of cultures with the statement, “Black artists work in a culture that is shaped by both Africa and the New World. Their art must be understood in the context of three creative streams – Africa, the New World and the artist’s creative vision.”18

It is inappropriate to compare the art of Minnie Evans with that of the Orient—of India, China, Tibet, Persia and the Middle East. While Evans was employed at the estates of Pembroke Jones, and later the Walters, she was to experience Oriental and Persian carpets, metalwork and ceramics from these regions. Mrs. Jo Kallenborn recalls that Evans was proud of an Oriental bowl given to her by lawyer Rountree of which she boasted, “The only other one like it was in the White House.”19 Evans was photographed by Nina Howell Starr with an incised metal bowl with Arabic writing, similar to her own use of ancient writing.

Comparisons of Minnie Evans’ art with the Buddhist art of Tibet reveal similarities in the central placement of heads and figures, in the use of enlarged individual eyes, of symmetry, of brilliant colors, of meandering leaf and serpentine designs, as well as in layering of images and transformation from one design element to another.20

Other similarities are found with Jain art of India, especially in illustrations representing the Jain cosmology. Comparable features with the art of Minnie Evans are the use of symmetry, frontal portraiture, the segmenting of faces and bodies of deities, flat color, the use of floral and leaf designs, of the sun, moon, of profile, of decorative design and of arabesque writing.

One example with striking similarity to Evans’ work is a gouache painting of the Jain world done in Gujarat, India, in the 18th century.21 The simple flat circular shapes with a dot in the center are almost identical to some of Evans’ earliest experimentations with abstractions of the early to mid-1940s and resemble her first two works. Other similarities are found with the Tantric art of India, in references to erotic lingham and yoni symbols which are present in Evans’ earlier abstract works, and the image of the bull’s head that in Indian art “symbolizes death. . . and ignorance transmuted into discriminating wisdom,”22 an earlier theme of Evans.

Evans’ work also resembles that of the Middle East. Evans has stated that her art was a lost art: “This art I have put out has come from nations I suppose might have been destroyed before the Flood.”23 After reading Edith Hamilton’s mythology, she reported to Nina Howell Starr that her memory was refreshed.24 “In Mesopotamia, bas-reliefs of bestial shapes unlike any beast ever known, men with bird’s heads and lions with bull’s heads and both with eagles’ wings, creations of artists who were intent upon producing something never seen except in their own minds, the very consummation of unreality.”25

Evans was undoubtedly influenced by the beauty of the garden setting of Airlie Gardens. In her middle and later works she incorporates flowers, leaves, trees and bushes, sunsets and sunrises. Her later paintings resemble a garden of paradise. Many of Evans’ later paintings of flowers are depicted in a mandala shape or the shape of a fan and have strong resemblance to the arabesque designs of Persian paintings and textiles, as the following description of Persian carpets. “Most share a centralized medallion plan and have a boarder consisting of a main strip in which floral motifs are used in several ways, flanked by two narrow guard stripes. Within the framework the repertoire is extensive. In a land so devoid of water, exotic animals and birds, were often woven into carpets, enabling Persians to spread on their floors some of those scarce delights.”26 These similarities with the art of the Middle East were possibly a response to her visual observation of art while Evans was employed as a housekeeper at various Wilmington estates.

The dating of the work of Minnie Evans often appears imprecise. Evans never dated her first works, but later in her career she signed and dated earlier works based on an estimate of when they were completed. There are several inconsistencies and possible errors with the earlier dating. Several chronologies of Evans’ work state that her first paintings in oil were completed in 1954, while two extant examples are from the collection of Jo Kallenborn: Crucifixion is dated 1943 and from the Ackland Museum of Art, The Invasion is dated 1944.

Also problematic is the signing of Evans’ work. She had a granddaughter and grandson sign works from her early and mid-career, because of what she felt was their better handwriting. Evans signed and dated all of her works towards the end of her career. Some of her later works which she considered exemplary she gave titles such as Mordern Art (sic) now owned by Dorothea Silverman of New York. The work has this inscription painted on the pack along with the notation “from Queen of Sheba.” One of Evans’ favorite paintings which is now owned by her son, George Evans, she titled My Masterpiece. This work was included in the major exhibition of Evans at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1975.

Minnie Evans’ first work, completed in 1935, was 5 by 7 inches in size. This drawing which Evans refers to as “funny things,” contains mostly abstract lines with circular and spiral patterns, crosses, arches, squiggly lines and some circles with dots inside resembling a cell, with curved lines below reminiscent of tadpoles.

Evans’ second work has similar masses of abstract lines, but is divided compositionally into several grids, with a narrative element at the bottom level that resembles three figures in a boat setting out to sea with a serpent looking on at the far left-hand side. A curious element in the next level is the incorporation of various Roman numerals which are randomly arranged inside rectangular lines. Evans’ first two drawings resemble archeological diagrams of Mesopotamia; the circles and crosses representing walls and columns have similarities to Evans’ drawings.

One illustration which has an inexplicable resemblance to Evans’ first work is a sketch of Mahavideha from Gujarat, India, in the 17th century. While this drawing representing Mt. Meru and the expanses of land at its foot is more oblong than Evans’ first, it contains a central circle that is enclosed. It has similar curved shapes, similar crossed lines, and squiggly lines that end in a circle. The drawing is also not squarely rectangular but curved slightly on the edges as are Evans’ first two works.27 In all certainty, Evans would have not seen a reproduction or illustration of this or similar paintings.

Evans apparently did not make any other drawings until 1940, when she began making pencil and crayon drawings on 5 by 7 inch paper. A group of these were later remounted on the lesson paper of her son, George Evans. This group of semi-abstract drawings she is reported to have carried around with her at all times. Of the original 144 drawings, the subject matter is largely abstract, with swirling linear compositions including her first use of symmetry and of dots, circles, triangles and the incorporation of partial and full faces of humans and of animals. Several of the most powerful of this early series depict a bull’s head-like figure eliciting images of gods from early Mesopotamia. These early drawings are approximately the size of playing cards.

Around 1943, Evans began working with 12 by 9 inch paper, making drawings with pencil, ink and wax crayon. She continued using this size for the remainder of her artistic career. The subject matter of these early works was also semi-abstract, often of butterfly or insect-lie creatures whose profile resembles a shield or throne. Evans’ use of colors became more intense with vivid reds, yellows, blues and greens. While the majority of her coloring is with wax crayon, she soon began to experiment with different pigments, watercolors, temperas, enamels, and oil.

Around 1945, Evans began making drawings on sheets of grey U.S. Coast Guard paper, 91/2 by 7 inches in size with a military insignia on the reverse. These were primarily abstract line drawings of fantastic creatures to which color was later applied with crayon and watercolor. Several of these are done solely with ink on paper. In the series from the mid-forties, Evans begins the use of multiple eyes, which possibly were derived from the dotted circles in her earliest works.

Throughout her career, Evans completed a number of drawings and paintings which imitate Western perspective. The subject matter for these are of crucifixion scenes, Christ, and several of exotic and primitive landscapes with titles such as Temple By the Sea, Castles In Spain, and Zen Temple. Evans noted that her great uncle Robert, the brother of her great-grandmother, Rachel Williams, had been a portrait painter.28 Because of Minnie’s closeness to Rachel, this association might have influenced Evans’ attraction to art.

In works by Evans made during and after 1966, she utilizes the element of collage and mixed-media to reuse earlier images in new compositions. Some were cut out and glued to different paper or board. In the larges ones, she collaged a number of works together of varied subjects that are pasted onto a larger board or canvas, and then worked into the collage using oil, watercolor or tempera. Evans often signs these with various dates from the individual collaged works: “46, 58, 60, 62, Minnie Evans 1967.”

The majority of the collaged works present two or three central panels, often with the face of a male or female centered by rich floral and garden patterns. It is thought that Evans was influenced to move to this larger format after a visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art during a New York visit. During this latter part of her career, Evans’ subjects moved dramatically towards religious images and other subjects.

Although Evans stated she did not acknowledge the symbolism or meaning of her subjects, she used many recognizable subjects which have numerous interpretations. In Evans’ early works, she combined an insect and butterfly-like forms with floral, leaf and vine designs. These creatures are deeply layered and overlap from one form into another so they exist on different compositional planes. There are allusions to bombs and airplanes, ancient writing and the use of faces, mostly Oriental or Native American in appearance.

During the 1950s and early 1960s, Evans’ work gained a greater sense of refinement. While the earlier works communicate from a raw gut level, the mid-to-late period works elevate Evans’ status beyond the realm of naïve or self-educated artist.

Evans was deeply respectful of her environment at Airlie Gardens. Imagery she derived from those natural surroundings include flowers and trees, floral and leaf designs, scalloped forms, curlicues derived from nature, and references to statuary and architecture found at Airlie Gardens. A host of animals and birds are found in her middle and late work including bears, horses, sheep, snakes, lions, redbirds, the bull, parrots and swans, as well as a variety of mythic beasts including the unicorn.

Also derived from nature are Evans’ references to the cosmos including the sun, moon, stars, rainbows, sunrise and sunset. Evans also continued the use of multiple eyes, the butterfly and her vocabulary of surreal creatures with new variations included a hooded, plumed figure with no face but two eyes, a monumental Native American vase, a lake with two eyes and a vase made completely from eyes. The first of Evans’ angels also appears during the early 1960s.

While Evans did not work specifically in series, there are several themes which she explored with a number of variations. The most common of these is what Dorothea Silverman described as “beautiful faces.” A central face with Oriental-like features, more commonly female, but sometimes male, is surrounded by floral, leaf, scalloped and patterned designs and presented in symmetrical, mandala-like shape, vertical on 12 by 91/2 inch paper. While the majority of these have been cut out and glued to a new paper backing, some are untrimmed on their original paper. Evans is said to have worked free-hand from left to right, drawing her original outline in pencil on paper.29 Later, she would work into these drawings, adding color from wax crayon and other pigment mediums, and also adding ink where detail from lines was required.

On her faces, many of the design elements used in Evans earlier work are present. She reincorporates the use of multiple eyes, scalloping, spirals, leaf and floral designs. To some of the more elaborate of these she adds butterflies, beaded collars, elaborated curlicues and exotic fruit. The faces have a mystical, detached expression as if representing a divine presence.

A variation that may have predated these faces uses a similar oblong-shaped mandala design depicting details of faces which are meta-morphosed into an overall design depicting a sunrise or sunset. The use of the same lush imagery of lowers and fruit is combined with partial figures, disembodied eyes, nose, mouth or simply lips. While these features form heads in the landscape, they are often centered one over the other and have features of man or woman. In the center or slightly below is a representation of a seascape with the setting or rising sun. Occasionally lips are positioned to metamorphosize with the sunset; the use of these in the landscape is reminiscent of the Man Ray painting, Observatory Time-The Kiss.

In Evans later career, she concentrated on religious subjects with a procession of angels, prophets, the Holy Grail, books with ancient writing, and the portraits depicting Christ. For the most part Evans presents these angels and prophets as being Anglo-Saxon in appearance. This is different from her usual faces which have an Oriental or Middle Eastern appearance. While Evans has presented a series of faces which depict Native Americans “such as the Lost Indian,” she rarely presents a specifically African face; a rare example of an African face is a 1974 work owned by Nina Howell Starr, Untitled (African face with garden scene).

While she continued making art late in life, one of the most powerful works is a rare self-portrait painted on the cover of a scrapbook made for her children in 1981, when Evans was 89 years old. While much of the work created during this period is not up to the high standards of hear earlier work, this African face of the artist is one of the artist’s most compelling works. Done simply with brown, pink and blue pigments, the image is juxtaposed onto a orange scrapbook. Two simple floral designs are centered on either side of the artist’s head. Above and below her head she has inscribed: “Minnie Evans, art in 1981, 1935, artis (sic)”; and “Minnie Evans, art 1981.” This image hauntingly depicts the beauty of the artist’s psyche.

The creativity of self-educated artists is often downplayed in the categorization of their art as art brut, outsider art or naïve art. It is also common for the media to sensationalize the circumstances of their work to point that the work secondary to the legendary circumstance of the artist’s life. Another diminishing factor is the effect of the art market which transforms the artist’s work into a commodity. If legendary circumstances, or adopted inaccuracies assist in the sale of the artist’s work, then those fabrications soon become prolific. Many of the circumstances seem to have played a part in the career of Minnie Evans and other self-educated artists.

Scholars such as Judith McWillie have noted that “art of self-educated black artists closely paralleled the work of the early modernists,”30 and while the whole movement of modernism is dependent on artists such as Picasso appropriating imagery from so called “primitive cultures” such as Africa, or Gauguin appropriating from the art of Tahiti and Melanesia, self-educated artists like Minnie Evans are not given the same respect as their contemporary peers.

Evans’ work has been compared to another self-educated artist, Henry Rousseau, who also started creating art late in life. Rousseau’s work is now grouped with the well-known mondernists whom he influenced. The terms coined by British art historian, Roger Cardinal, Outsider Art,31 and those used by French artist, Jean Dubuffet Art Brut, while not derogatory of the artist’s intention, have the connotation that the art created by these self-educated artists is not comparable to art from the academy, created by the contemporary artists with university degrees or academic art-historical backgrounds. Artist and philosopher Adrian Piper notes that “Eurocentric has nourished the tradition of the visionary artist as being socially marginal.”32

During Minnie Evans’ career she was labeled by the media and critics as a gifted primitive, lively mystic, beautiful dreamer, compulsive visionary, naïve artist, innocent surrealist, and prophetic seer. While most of these related to some categorization of Minnie Evans’ art, they tend to make the reader lose sight of Minnie Evans as the person, and as the artist.

Minnie Evans used the materials which she had on hand for making art. She painted on discarded window shades, ledgers, bookbindings, scrap paper and boards. She is proud that no one taught her about drawing, rather that it was revealed to her what to do. She also speaks of the process of making her work, which relates to the surrealist concept of automatism. Evans speaks of the work she made when the voice compelled her to draw: “. . . I went and got that piece of cardboard—that piece of card—that piece of box that Rebecca gave me, and I went in there and put it on my workbench where I was drawing and taken a piece of black crayon and put it in my hand. Never in my life have I ever did anything or worked like I worked on that picture. Something had my hand just like that picture there. Just going, not knowing what I was doing, perspiration pouring off of me. I hadn’t ate or drank anything all day. So I just worked on that picture.”35

In her creative process, Evans says she also tried to represent her dreams in some of her pictures. “I can’t paint what I dream because I paint a memorandum of my dreams. . . I have so many dreams about angels. I paint imitations of angels just as I’ve imagined them. I do not believe that there is an artist born who can paint an angel, because they come from the throne of God. We can get the imitation, but we can’t paint the real angel.”36

The best of the work of Minnie Evans can be compared with similar work being done in early and mid-20th century by European surrealists, the 1934 pastels of Miro, the biomorphic forms of Arp, the oblique eroticism of Tanning. As critic Gordon Onslow Ford says of surrealist de Chirico: “Instead of looking at his immediate surroundings for inspiration he looked deep into his unconscious. By abandoning all moral and aesthetic control he was able to dream on the canvas, and to give us a record of his unconscious thoughts.”37

Minnie Evans, like other artists working in a surrealist idiom, presented visions from her “dream realm,” are not unlike what Breton termed psychic automatism in its pure state.38 Dorothea Tanning has similarly expressed the notion of her vision: “My dreams are bristling with objects that relate to nothing in the dictionary. On waking they lose their clarity. Dreams one reads in books are composed of known symbols (but) it is the strangeness of dreams that distinguishes them.”39

While past research on Evans has not elaborated enough about he skills and subsequent development as an artist, she was capable of making an extremely accurate copy of her first two drawings, done also free-hand in pen and ink. She came up with several novel devices in her work, such as drawing or painting a mat line or border to frame the work. Her final experiments with the combination of collage and paintings represent advanced aesthetic refinement and artistic decision making.

It is my hope that in the presentation of Minnie Evans: Artist, with 130 works spanning Evans’ artistic career, 1935-1981, Minnie Evans will be reexamined for her remarkable artistic talent. The work of Minnie Evans communicates with a universal voice. Her art should not be explained solely by the perspective of culture, family background or education, but it should be recognized for the power and vitality it possesses. Let us understand why Kandinsky characterized “true naiveté in art as ‘the greatest reality.’”40


1 Conversations with Nina Howell Starr, New York, January, 1993.

2 Ibid.

3 Nina Howell Starr, Minnie Evans, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 1975.

4 Nina Howell Starr, Conversations with Minnie Evans, tapes transcribed from interviews with Minnie Evans.

5 Conversations with George Evans, Wilmington, North Carolina, March, 1993.

6 Ibid.

7 Conversation with Nina Howell Starr, op. cit.

8 “The second plane is that of dreams experience: cognitive of the fluid, subtle forms of private interior world, self-luminous and of one substance with the dreamer.” Campbell, Joseph, The Hero With A Thousand Faces, New York, Pantheon Books, 1949, p. 266.

9 Perry, Regina A., “African Art and African American Folk Art, A Stylistic and Spiritual Kinship,” Rozelle, Robert V., Wardlaw, Alvia and McKenna A., eds., Black Art: Ancestral Legacy, New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1989, p. 48.

10 Koota, Sharon D., “Cosmograms and Cryptic Writing: Africanisms”, The Clarion, Summer, 1991.

11 Mason, John, Old Africa, Anew, Another Face of the Diamond: Pathways Through the Black Atlantic South, Exhibition Catalogue, Intar Latin American Gallery, New York, 1988.

12 Thompson, Robert Farris, Black Gods and Kings, Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press, 1976.

13 Mason, John, Old Africa, Anew, op. cit.

14 Southern, Eileen and Wright, Josephine, African-American Traditions in Song, Sermon, Tale and Dance, 1600’s – 1920, An Annotated Bibliography of Literature, Collections and Artworks, New York, Greenwood Press, 1990.

15 Steibich, Ute, “Black Art of the Caribbean,” Rozell, et. al., Black Art, Ancestral Legacy, op. cit.

16 Thompson, Robert Farris, “The Song That Named the Land,” Black Art, Ancestral Legacy, op. cit.

17 Lippard, Lucy C., Mixed Blessings, New Art in Multicultural America, New York, Panthenon Books, 1991, p. 66.

18 Ferris, William, “Black Art: Making the Picture,” Black Art, Ancestral Legacy, op. cit.

19 Conversation with Jo Kallenborn, Wilmington, North Carolina, March, 1993.

20 Rawl, Phillip, The Art of Tantra, Greenwich, Connecticut: New York Graphic Society, Ltd., 1972.

21 Caillet, Collete, and Kumar, Ravi, The Jain Cosmology, Basel, Switzerland: Harmony Books, 1981, p. 17.

22 Chogoyam Trunga, Rinpoche, Visual Dharma: The Buddhist Art of Tibet, Berkeley: Shambhala Publications Inc., 1975.

23 Ashe, Geoffrey, Camelot And The Vision of Albion, New York, St. Martin’s Press, 1971, p. 183.

24 Conversations with Nina Howell Starr, op. cit.

25 Hamilton, Edith, Mythology, Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1940, p. 8.

26 Ferrier, R.W., The Arts of Persia, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989, p. 123.

27 The Jain Cosmology, op. cit., p. 149.

28 Conversation with Minnie Evans, Nina Howell Starr, op. cit.

29 Conversation with Jo Kallenbon, op. cit.

30 Judith McWillie, “Introduction,” pp. 5-12 in Another Face of the Diamond (New York: Intar Gallery, 1989).

31 Manley, Roger, Signs and Wonders, Outsider Art Inside North Carolina, Raleigh: North Carolina Museum of Art, 1989, p.6.

32 Piper, Adrian, “the Logic of Modernism, How Greenberg Stole the Americas Away from a Tradition of Social Content,” Flash Art, January/February 1993, p. 57.

35 Conversation with Minnie Evans, Nina Howell Starr, op. cit.

36 Rogers, Barbara, Draw or Die, Wilmington Star News, Wilmington, North Carolina, January 19, 1969, B-1.33.

37 Onslow-Ford, Gordon, The Painter Looks at Himself, p. 178, from Lippard, Lucy R., ed., Surrealists on Art, Englewood Cliffs New Jersey, Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1970.

38 Lippard, ibid. “Andre Breton, Exerpts from The First Surrealist Manifesto.”

39 Chadwick, Whitney, Women Surrealists And the Surrealist Movement, Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1885, p. 135.

40 Bihalji-Merin, Oto, Masters of Naïve Art, A History and Worldwide Survey, New York: McGraw-Hill Books, 1970.