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This Day in History: December 12th

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Painter and visionary Minnie Evans was born on December 12, 1892, in Long Creek, North Carolina. Evans’ work is unique because it stems from her ability to manifest her imagination and dreams onto the paper and canvas.

“I have no imagination. I never plan a drawing, they just happen. In a dream it was shown to me what I have to do, of paintings. The whole entire horizon all the way across the whole earth was out together like this with pictures. All over my yard, up all the sides of trees and everywhere were pictures.” — Minnie Evans quoted in Nina Howell Starr’s, “The Lost World of Minnie Evans.”

Evans was born to a poor teen mother but developed a close relationship with her grandmother. She traced her background to her maternal grandmother who was brought to the United States from Trinidad in bondage. The family moved to Wilmington, North Carolina and at the age of 16, she married Julius Evans and they had three children together. 

On Good Friday in 1935, Evans completed two small pen-and-ink drawings on paper that were dominated by concentric circles and semicircles against a background of unidentifiable linear motifs. The majority of Evans’ first paintings were done in wax crayons and consisted of an exercise that utilized every color in the box of crayons. 

Many of Evans’ paintings incorporated a human face surrounded by curvilinear, spiral plant and animal forms, with eyes that connected to various patterns. She viewed the eyes featured in her works as the omniscience of God and felt that the eyes were the window of the soul.

Eventually, Evans’ work came to the attention of Nina Howell Starr, a graduate photography student. Starr worked with Evans and served as an agent that would travel to see her frequently and allowed for her work to be seen in New York galleries.

Starr arranged her first exhibition titled, “The Lost World of Minnie Evans.” 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. 

With the advocacy of Starr, Evans’ work was displayed in larger gallery shows and a solo exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1975. Following the solo exhibition, her work was reviewed by Newsweek and other important national publications.

In the later part of her career, she began to focus on religious subjects such as angels, prophets, the Holy Grail, books with ancient writing and the portraits depicting Christ. She continued making art late in life. One of her most powerful works was a self-portrait painted on a scrapbook that she made for her children.

Evans died in Wilmington, North Carolina, in 1987.

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