The paintings and drawings of Minnie Evans depict scenes from the artist’s private dream world. But even to the artist herself, this dream world was not entirely comprehensible. Evans was born in 1890, the only child of Joseph and Ella Kelley, farmers who lived in rural Pender County, North Carolina, near Wilmington. Evans’ parents moved to Wilmington during her early childhood, and she attended school there through the sixth grade. She married Julius Evans of Wilmington and had three sons.
Minnie Evans, Untitled, 1943. Crayon, graphite, and gold paint on paper. Morris Museum of Art, Augusta, Georgia.
Evans traced her background to a maternal ancestor who was brought to the United States from Trinidad as a slave. There are elements in Evans’ art that invite comparison to Caribbean folk art forms, though the artist only once traveled outside her native North Carolina. The bright colors and floral motifs that appear in her paintings were most likely inspired by trees and flowers, especially azaleas, at Airlie Gardens in Wilmington, where Evans worked as the gatekeeper for many years.
“My whole life has been dreams … sometimes day visions … they would take advantage of me,” Evans once said. She also recalled that in 1944 a fortune teller informed her that she was “wrapped completely in color,” and that she had “something of all nations.”
Evans’ first paintings were done entirely in wax crayons and resemble an exercise employing every color in a gigantic box of Crayolas. The colors included greens shaded from light to deep, purples from mauve to pink, rose, and royal, and full ranges of reds, blues, and yellows with a sparing use of black and white. Evans’ complex designs reveal an unaccountable presence of Caribbean, East Indian, Chinese, and Western elements in color and subject matter. Her own explanation of her work was 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.”
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