Minnie Evans was a Southern Folk artist whose inspiration came from her childhood visions.
Her friends and family thought she was crazy, but over time came to respect her art.
We’re uncovering more about one of the most visionary artists of the 20th century.
Let’s dig in!
The Story of Minnie Evans
Minnie Evans was an African American artist whose active imagination and whimsical visions inspired her art. Though she received these images beginning in her childhood, she didn’t start drawing until she was 34.
Born Minnie Eva Jones in Long Creek, North Carolina, in 1892. Her mother was only thirteen, and her father left soon after her birth.
She attended school until sixth grade, but whimsical visions kept her awake at night. So, due to lack of sleep and the family’s need for assistance, she left school at 13.
Her grandmother raised Minnie and taught her that dreams and visions were “signs and wonders” from God. When she was 16, Minnie married Julius Caesar Evans, and they eventually had three sons.
She worked as a domestic for her husband’s employer for 31 years before being appointed gatekeeper after the estate became a public garden in 1947. She continued to work at Airlie Gardens until she was 82.
Minnie started drawing on Good Friday in 1935, using pen and ink to create her first two pieces, “My Very First” and “My Second.”
She resumed drawing five years later using pencil on wax paper and later with oil paints and mixed media. Her subject matter was typically nature and biblical scenes.
Minnie sold her art by hanging it on the front gate of Airlie Gardens. Eventually, she became known throughout the south, and people came to see her art there. Her first official exhibit was in 1961 at Little Artists Gallery (now St. Johns Museum) in Wilmington, North Carolina.
Initially, Minnie sold her artwork for fifty cents each piece. Later, she met folk art specialist and historian Nina Howell Starr in 1962. Starr convinced her to sell her art for better prices and went on to represent and publicize Minnie’s work for 25 years.
She helped launch Minnie’s career by storing and selling her art in New York City and got her to date and sign her work. From 1966 until 1980, she had many exhibitions in New York before her health deteriorated.
Starting her career at age 43, Minnie drew and painted nearly to the end of her life. The floral gardens where she worked as the gatekeeper mainly influenced her creations. She was even allowed to make and sell her pieces to park visitors while she worked.
Many art critics viewed her art as visionary, surrealistic, and psychedelic. In fact, religion played a large part in her life and much of her art.
She wasn’t sure of the meanings of her art and said her pieces were “just as strange to me as they are to anybody else.”
Minnie died at age 95 in Wilmington, North Carolina, on December 16, 1987. She left over 400 artworks to the St. Johns Museum of Art in Wilmington.
What Inspired Minnie Evans’ Art?
As we mentioned above, the inspiration for Minnie’s art came from her imagination and the visions she had since childhood and continued into early adulthood.
Biblical and floral scenes were dominant and included angels, seraphim, winged devils, serpents, and mythical animals like unicorns and griffins.
What Are Some of Minnie Evans’ Art Pieces?
The central focus of Evans’ art is a human face surrounded by curved and spiral plant and animal forms and eyes merging with flowering designs. She equated eyes with God’s omniscience and as the soul’s window. Here, we picked three of her most famous pieces to dive a little deeper into.
My Very First and My Second
Created on Good Friday in 1935, her first two drawings in pen and ink were on a 5” x 8” scrap of a paper bag. They’re dominated by concentric and semi-circles with a background of unidentifiable line drawings. She showed them to a mysterious prophet named Madame Tula, who told her they foreshadowed World War II.
Minnie created this piece in 1944 after Madame Tula instructed Minnie to do a painting of the war’s conclusion. This time, she painted with oils on composition board in a surreal image of swirls, hands, and faces. It captured total destruction, bombs, and a figure of Fu Manchu.
Tree of Life
Created in 1962 and inspired by visions communicated from God, this drawing is in colored pencil on 16’ x 9” on notebook paper. It includes cornucopias, plants, stars, and angels and has a symmetry that controls the composition, giving it balance.
Is There a Book About Minnie Evans?
Mary E. Lyons wrote Painting Dreams: Minnie Evans, Visionary Artist. An introduction to the life of Minnie Evans explains how she began, at age forty-three, to draw the strange figures that had haunted her dreams all her life. Furthermore, she describes the restrictions Minnie experienced as an African-American artist.
From the Muse: Painting Dreams is available on Amazon and other booksellers.
Where Can I See Some of Minnie Evans’ Art?
Of course, the Internet provides many opportunities to view Minnie’s art. But these are two places you can take a closer look in person.
American Folk Art Museum (AFAM)
Located in New York City, AFAM is a center of scholarship that showcases the creativity of individuals whose talents come through personal experience over formal training.
Three of Minnie’s works are found here, including two untitled pieces of faces hidden behind plants and swirls. Ark of the Covenant, created with crayon, pencil, and paint on cardstock, depicts angels surrounding the Ark.
The museum is open Wednesday through Sunday and offers free admission. AFAM encourages you to purchase tickets in advance.
Museum of Modern Art (MoMa)
Also located in New York City, MoMa’s goal is to connect people from around the world to the art of our time and to be a catalyst for experimentation, learning, and creativity.
The museum has seven works by Minnie Evans in seven exhibitions. Most of these are crayon and pencil on paper, and Green Animal is the only titled piece in the collection.
MoMa is open seven days a week, with free admission for New Yorkers and children under 16. Regular entrance is $25, and it provides discounts for seniors, people with disabilities, and students.
Know Before You Go: You’ll need to purchase your timed-entry tickets in advance.
Outside Folk Gallery
You can explore more outsider and folk art in our personal collection on Instagram at Outside Folk Art. We’re celebrating folk and outsider artists and giving voice to rising black, Native, immigrant, and working mother artisans. We’ll also offer pop-up shows and collaborations with small museums, so be sure to follow us to discover the where and when.
Snatch Up a Minnie Evans If You Can!
Minnie Evans is one of the most important visionary folk artists of the 20th century. She brings her surreal imagination and spirituality to life, blending them with her beautiful swirls and foliage. Despite her prolific and long career, her art rarely comes up for sale. However, it’s highly sought after when it does.
Have you seen any Minnie Evans works in person? Let us know where in the comments!