Minnie Jones Evans is often referred to as a visionary artist. She received no formal training and did not begin to draw until she was in her forties and heard a voice from God commanding her to do so. “Draw or die” is what the voice said to her and so she did. The resulting images, often crayon drawings on scrap paper, are abstract, intricate, colorful, organic, symmetrical, and sensual. From early childhood, Evans experienced hallucinations in her waking life and very vivid dreams while she slept. These visions led to a confused sense of reality and became the basis for her art.
On Good Friday, 1935, Evans made her first drawing. Beginning in 1940, she began to draw compulsively and obsessively. She seemed to draw completely by automation, and she said, “I have no imagination. I never plan a drawing. They just happen.” Evans was discovered in 1962 by Nina Starr, a photography graduate student who organized showings of Evans’ work in Wilmington, North Carolina, and in New York.
Minnie was born in a log cabin in North Carolina in 1892. Her teenaged father abandoned the small family, and she and her young mother went to live in Wilmington with her grandmother. Minnie Jones’ grandmother became a pivotal figure, telling the young girl stories about a family ancestor, a proud slave woman brought to America from Trinidad. Along with instilling a sense of family pride, Jones’ grandmother also raised her to be a devout Baptist, and her faith remained very important throughout her life.
When Minnie Jones was sixteen years old she married Julius Caesar Evans and the couple had three children together. Both Evans and her husband worked for the same wealthy family in Wilmington. The garden on the property, known as Airlie, was open to the public in 1949 and Evans served as gatekeeper. She remained in this position until 1974, often selling her drawings to visitors for fifty cents a piece.
Curvilinear and floral shapes are characteristic of Evans’ work and may have been inspired by the sculpted gardens at Airlie which she saw daily. She associated these images with mythological characters and scenes from her dreams. More often than not, the images she produced were a combination of fantastical Biblical and mythological imagery and the natural flora and fauna of her environment. However, Evans could never really explain her art saying, “They are just as strange to me as they are to anyone else."