June 29, 2008

The Minnie Evans Sculpture Garden
and Bottle Chapel

Bright colors, mythical animals, religious symbols, and a natural garden setting – words that could describe the artwork of visionary folk artist Minnie Evans. It can also describe the Minnie Evans Sculpture Garden and Bottle Chapel, a memorial installation at Airlie Gardens in Wilmington, North Carolina.


Minnie Evans was a self-taught African-American artist known for her works depicting a world based on her dreams and visions. Born in 1892, her family moved to Wilmington from Pender County, North Carolina, during her early childhood. Evans left school after the sixth grade to work, married at the age of sixteen, and would raise three sons.

“My whole life has been dreams. Some times day visions,” Evans said, “They would take advantage of me. No one taught me to paint. It came to me.” It was on Good Friday 1935 that Evans said she heard God’s voice tell her to draw. She began creating drawings with wax crayons and colored pencils – later using oil painting as well. Her work was filled with vivid plants, animals, piercing eyes representing the all-seeing eye of God, angels and demons. A member of the AME Church, her work was filled with religious symbolism. Of her work she said, “This art that I have put out has come from the nations I suppose might have been destroyed before the flood... No one knows anything about them, but God has given it to me to bring them back into the world.”

For twenty-five years from 1949 to 1974, Evans worked as the gatekeeper at Airlie Gardens in Wilmington. This setting undoubtedly influenced the plants and flowers incorporated in her art. Sitting in her little wooden gatehouse collecting admissions, she would often work on her drawings during slow periods.

Evans never aspired to be an artist nor sell her artwork. It was not until 1960 that an out-of-state art scholar visiting the gardens discovered what Newsweek magazine would later describe as “breathtakingly gifted”. Her first art exhibit was held in 1961. Evans died in 1987 at the age of 95 and is today considered one of America’s most important visionary artists.

A Historic Garden

Airlie Gardens began as a private garden for a wealthy industrialist in 1901. German landscape architect Rudolf Topel was commissioned in 1906 to transform the stretch of land along salt marshes into a formal garden incorporating European and Southern garden styles with an emphasis on azaleas and camellias. The gardens were opened to the public in 1948, but remained in private ownership until its purchase by New Hanover County in 1999. Today Airlie Gardens consists of 67 acres of the original 155-acre estate. Among the time worn trees draped in Spanish moss you will find walking trails, themed gardens, 10 acres of freshwater lakes, and a 450 year-old live oak.

A Memorial

In August 2004, the Minnie Evans Sculpture Garden and Bottle Chapel was dedicated in honor of Minnie Evans. The centerpiece is a bottle house conceived and created by local artist Virginia Wright-Frierson. Primarily a painter and illustrator, Frierson was commissioned in 2000 to paint a large ceiling mural for Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, as a memorial for the tragic shooting that occurred there.

The bottle house was constructed as a 16-foot high roofless outdoor chapel built out of bottles of various sizes, shapes, and color. The bottles were arranged to create images and symbols found in the work of Minnie Evans.

Just inside the entrance to the sculpture garden, a bas-relief sculpture featuring Minnie Evans in the window of her gatehouse was created by Hiroshi Sueyoshi. Two angel sculptures by Dumay Gorham sits to either side of the Bottle Chapel. At the center of the Bottle Chapel is a copper tree by Karen Crouch filled with metal birds created by Michael Van Hout. Brooks Koff, assisted by local schoolchildren, created mosaic tiles used in the walls and walks surrounding the Bottle Chapel. There is also a fountain created by Sueyoshi featuring images from Minnie Evans’ paintings just outside the Bottle Chapel.

Minnie Evans never thought of her work as art, yet her work has been shown internationally including the Whitney Museum of American Art and is today in numerous collections including the Smithsonian Museum of American Art. Her life and work has also been captured in a book and a documentary film.

The Minnie Evans Sculpture Garden and Bottle Chapel pays tribute to a woman who merely followed the command given her – to draw. “I have dreams of the thing,” she said, “and I feel God gave me this mission to do this.”

— Dan Hardison

Photo by Dan Hardison
The Minnie Evans Sculpture Garden and Bottle Chapel
Wilmington, North Carolina

Also available:
Read or print PDF
View slideshow of the Bottle Chapel

View artwork by Minnie Evans at Smithsonian American Art Museum
View artwork by Minnie Evans at North Carolina Museum of Art

June 20, 2008

A Thing of Beauty

I believe in beauty
for beauty's sake,
and that no matter
where it hides,

it is never wasted.

If, in some dark
and secret place it lies,
where eyes of man
will never see it,

it is no less lovely.

It needs neither praise
nor adoration
to justify its being.

It exists.
It need do no more

to serve its purpose.

I believe in beauty
as a noble end
within itself.
And I believe
that God does.

Were it made
for man alone
it would not adorn
the silent floors of oceans

where he will never walk.

Or be buried for eternity
beneath the sands

of barren deserts.

If a man should wander
from his charted way
and chance upon

a thing of beauty, hidden,

then it is he
who will be rewarded;
he who will be changed.

The thing of beauty
will remain the same.
As it was before he came,
so will it be

when he is gone.

Jim Metcalf
From his book “In Some Quiet Place”.

Photo by Dan Hardison
Wilmington, North Carolina

Also available:
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Listen or Download MP3

June 14, 2008

The House is Still

There stands a house
abandoned and forgotten
lost somewhere in time.

But it was once new,
long ago,
the pride of a young couple.

Children came,
the family grew,
and time passed on.

The children left,
the couple grew old,
and the house grew silent.

First one and then the other
the couple passed on –
the house was left unwanted.

Where once was laughter and love
all are now gone
and the house is still.

— Dan Hardison

Photo by Dan Hardison
Maury County, Tennessee

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June 7, 2008

Book: After the Fire

In the 1945 Oscar-winning movie, “The Lost Weekend”, Ray Milland gives a riveting portrayal of an alcoholic. The film, based on a book by Charles R. Jackson, is still regarded today for its portrayal of alcoholism and addiction. Although the movie includes a caring girlfriend and brother, it still centers on the alcoholic main character, his struggle with addiction, and his inevitable downfall. But what about those who struggle with a loved one’s addiction?

Best-selling mystery writer, J. A. (Judith) Jance, has brought us the book “After the Fire”. Unlike “The Lost Weekend”, Jance portrays her own personal struggle of being married to an alcoholic. “After the Fire” chronicles the author’s journey of living with an alcoholic, her own denial as his life spirals downward dragging her with him, her awakening, the divorce, his death, and her eventual triumph.

During her years of marriage, Jance composed poetry that captured her feelings and circumstances happening in her life. Written in secret and kept hidden, the poems were finally published as a chapbook in 1984. The following year would be the debut of her first novel that would begin a career as a popular mystery writer.

“After the Fire” was re-issued in 2004 with the addition of prose that gives insight into where she was and what was taking place at the time each poem was written – and why they were written. It is a very personal and candid description of a life spent under the weight of alcoholism, but also one person’s struggle to find themself.

In speaking about “After the Fire”, Jance has said, “My life is far richer because of this book. My hope is that others will find answers here as well – answers and their own share of strength and courage.”

An audio edition of “After the Fire” has now been released, that finds Jance telling her story with her own voice. Reading in a soft matter-of-fact voice, she brings added emotion and feeling to the already compelling prose and poetry.

I walk in fog
Its velvet touch caresses me
And hides the hurt.

Beyond the fog, the sun
Shines clear and bright.
I must keep moving,
I have earned the light.

(From Fog by J.A. Jance)

— Dan Hardison

Also available:
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