Power of Pencil and Crayon: Meet Visionary Artist Minnie Evans

“Nobody in the world can teach me because they don’t know how to teach me. Nobody!

“My teacher? God has sent me teacher, angel sent me [teacher] and directed me what to do. I don’t know how I did it.

“We will be like the angels in heaven!”

Watching a short documentary on self-taught visionary artist, Minnie Evans— The Angel That Stand by Me, what still resonates to me is Minnie Evans’ constant laughter and her determined voice in proclaiming God’s power over her art-making. In her drawing, she depicted a world of mythical creatures and nature embedded with spiritual symbols. What amazes me is her tireless observation of Airlie Garden where she worked as a gatekeeper for twenty-seven years. She saw beyond the natural beauty to a utopia, or a heaven. Evans never forgot her ancestral trace in slavery from her great grandmother's grandmother who was enslaved from Trinidad to North Carolina.

I first learned about Evans’ art at Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art. Co-founder, retired executive director of Intuit and my friend, Cleo Wilson, is a collector of Evans’ art. As I further explored Evans’ art, I found it had a much more profound meaning. I approached Cleo to find out why she chose Evans’ art for her collection and ways Evans’ art influenced her.

Ng-He: When was your first encounter of Minnie Evans’ art? 

Wilson: I don't really remember when I first encountered Minnie Evans’ work. It may
have been at Luise Ross Gallery in New York. I purchased a piece there 15 or 20 years ago. I had seen work by Sister Gertrude Morgan (another self-taught African-American artist) and I was drawn to the art created by women, specifically African American women. I wanted to add Minnie Evans to my collection.

Ng-He: What does Evans’ art speak to you?

Wilson: Minnie Evans art is full of hope and beauty, which speaks to me. It was created by a woman who lived in poverty and hardship, but was able to transcend her situation through the creation of art. It inspires me. Aside from being one of her best and largest works, the dates on the piece are 1946, 1958, 1960, 1962, 1967, show that she worked on it for 21 years. It shows that she was not satisfied with her first iteration of the work, but continued to improve on it by painting and collaging previous work to make a large beautiful work of art.

Minnie Evans, Untitled, 1967, (1946, 1958, 1960, 1962), Graphite, oil, waxed crayon and collage on canvas board, 
21 x 26 ½ inches, Collection Cleo F. Wilson, Photo by Cheri Eisenberg

Minne Evans’ persistence in art is inseparable with her religious belief and iron will of overcoming life hardships. Her art is relatively small but delicately layered with a great range of color. Spending days after days observing closely and being tirelessly curious about the beauty of the natural world. She once said, “Green is God’s theme color…600 and some shades of green.” Such level of attention to detail is mind-blowing.

For me, Minnie Evans’ art is a journey through her ancestral past, even as far as the birth of the earth. By the use of crayon, she expressed her passion for life, the good one and the bad one. Minnie Evans’ son once asked her how she felt about being famous. Evans simply replied, “I can’t realize it!” Modesty and resilience is what makes me love Evans’ art.