Women Artists

Dream-Like Artworks: Minnie Evans’ Divine Inspiration

Rachel Witte 25 February 2023 min Read

Folk Art, Surrealist, Visionary, Americana, call it what you will. Minnie Evans’ (1892—1987) dream-like artworks speak of another world, a world which the artist believed God had given her insight to see. The North Carolina native’s oeuvre ranges in size and medium, but take a look at any of Minnie Evans’ artworks and you will quickly notice that there is another-worldly aspect to them, from the colors and symbols to the overall themes of religion and a higher being.

Minnie Evans
Photo of Minnie Evans at Airlie Gardens, Wilmington, NC, USA. Anthony Petullo Art Collection.

Born outside of Wilmington, North Carolina, towards the end of the 19th century, the visionary artist left school after the 6th grade to help provide for her family. Minnie Evans’ art, has been shown across the US, especially in Wilmington where she has been the center of numerous exhibits and events across the state.

Evans worked as a domestic and gatekeeper for Airlie Estate and later Airlie Gardens in Wilmington, often selling her paintings on the grass next to the park’s gates. Influenced by the lush greenery in the gardens, she stated that Green is God’s theme color”. Upon further inspection, there is evidence of influence from both African and Western cultures which her ancestors stemmed from.

Part of the reason for the excitement which still surrounds her dream-like artworks is the artist’s creative process, hardly even understood by Evans herself.

…It was shown to me what to do…I have to look at them like everybody else. They are just as strange to me as they are to anyone else…

Minnie Evans, Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Minnie Evans : Prophet in the Air, 1956
Minnie Evans, A Dream, Prophets in the Air, 1959, North Carolina Museum of History, Raleigh, NC, USA. Museum’s Social Media.

The artist stated that she was the recipient of visions from a young age. It was not until she reached adulthood when she records that a voice spoke to her saying Why don’t you draw or die?” The symbols and Biblical images were as foreign to Evans as they are to the viewer.

I have no imagination…they just happen.

Minnie Evans quoted by Nina Howell Starr, ​The Lost World of Minnie Evans, The Bennington Review vol. 111, no. 2 (Summer 1969): 41.

Evans was the subject of a 1983 documentary aptly titled The Angel That Stands by Me. In the documentary, Evans recounts that she was not formally trained in regard to art because no one knew what to teach her:

Now if I had been painting life, studying how to make people’s’ faces, maybe I’d have had a teacher…God has sent me a teacher…an angel that stands by me.

Minnie Evans quoted in documentary The Angel That Stands by Me, 1983, directed by Irving Saraf and Allie Light.  Posted by American Visionary Art Museum via YouTube,  2021.

Minnie Evans: The Tree of Life, 1962,
Minnie Evans, The Tree of Life, 1962, North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh, NC, USA. Museum’s Website.

What is surprising to learn is that Evans never really grew used to the voice she heard which directed her to draw or paint. The artist had a story for every painting and drawing, detailing what can only be described as a mystical knowledge of a world outside of our own realm.

The idea of a visionary process is not new. However, Evans’ out-of-body experience is worth discussing in terms of divine inspiration. (It could be said that the Renaissance greats such as Michelangelo and Leonardo received inspiration from the heavens – from a supernatural force outside of their control.)

Her artwork may be deemed primitive or child-like by some, but it is evident that there is something special about the North Carolinian’s artistic style. Even though I am from the same region as the late artist, I still found myself drawn into her mystical world and creative process while researching her work for this piece, as if I was learning about her for the first time.

Minnie Evans: Day into Night, 1962,
Minnie Evans, Day into Night, 1962, North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh, NC, USA. Museum’s Website.

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