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Minnie Evans was born Minnie Eva Jones on December 12, 1892, in Long Creek, North Carolina. Her mother, Ella Jones, was only 13 years old when she gave birth to Minnie. Her father, George Moore, abandoned the newly born Minnie and her 13-year-old mother shortly after Minnie was born.
Jones’ mother decided to take two-month-old Minnie to Wrightsville Sound, North Carolina. There, they lived with Minnie’s grandmother. Jones attended school until the sixth grade. She dropped out in 1903. By 1908, she was working as a door-to-door salesperson.
By this time, Jones’ mother had married a man named Joe Kelly. One of Kelly’s daughters from a previous marriage introduced Jones to a man named Julius Ceasar. Jones (16) married Ceasar (19) and they had three sons together. After their marriage, she took on the last name Evans but the name’s origin is unknown.
In 1916, Evans began working for her husband’s employer, Pembroke Jones, as a domestic. After Pembroke Jones died, his widow, Sadie Jones, remarried to a man named Henry Walters. Evans continued on as their domestic. Sadie converted her property, the Airlie Estate into a garden which became extremely famous.
After Sadie died, a man named Albert Corbet bought the property where Evans worked. Because the Airlie Estate had grown to such prominence, Evans worked as the gatekeeper. She worked as the gatekeeper from 1947 until she retired in 1974 at the age of 82.
In 1935, 43-year-old Evans began drawing. She completed two drawings using ink to create circles against a background of straight lines. She did not draw again until 1940. She drew most of her inspiration from Bible scripture and the Airlie Gardens.
Evans began selling her work at the Airlie Gardens and eventually gained notoriety throughout the south. People began visiting the Airlie Gardens solely to see and purchase a piece of her artwork. She held her first formal art exhibition at the Artists Gallery in Wilmington, North Carolina in 1961.
Evans began making a career out of her artwork after she met Nina Howell Starr, a photographer. Starr sought to assist Evans in bringing more attention to her work. Evans was apprehensive about trusting Starr but they built mutual respect for one another and began working together.
Evans heeded Starr’s advice on numerous occasions. For example, Evans would sell her art for $.50 a piece until Starr told her to increase the price. She also never signed or dated her work until Starr advised her to. In the 1960s, Starr curated all of Evans’ New York exhibitions.
Evans’ health began failing in 1980. Minnie Eva Evans died on December 16, 1987, at the age of 95. She left over 400 pieces of art with the St. Johns Museum (presently the Cameron Art Museum). The Minnie Evans Bottle Chapel at the Airline Gardens was built in her honor. Additionally, May 14, 1994, was declared Minnie Evans day.
**The views and actions of the DDH historical figures that are featured may not reflect the views and beliefs of Ramiro The Writer (Nikodemus Mwandishi). Thank you.**