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Mary Page Evans’ Natural Lifescapes


The Delaware Art Museum is presenting an exhibition of Mary Page Evans’ work entitled Painted Poetry: The Art of Mary Page Evans. Featuring 50 paintings and drawings, the exhibit runs from March 31, 2012 to July 15, 2012. This article ran in The Hunt in 2010.

The sleepy villages, the velvety purple grapes, and the glowing carpets of sunflowers define the Gascony countryside near the village of Auvillar. Unspoiled by changing times, life is slow and relaxed. It is a feast for the eyes and soul of an artist.

Greenville’s Mary Page Evans returned to the French outpost last summer to teach an “en plein air” workshop at Moulin à Nef studio. Evans guided a half dozen painters who planted their easels on village streets and countryside meadows, tuning into its stunning natural beauty.

Whether capturing southwest France or the Brandywine Valley, her beloved Virginia hills or the beaches of Florida, Evans brings to her work the grace and fluidity of nature. Mixing colors with oil and pastel, charcoal and gouache, Evans consistently evokes the living cycles of her subjects.

Delineating her outdoor world in rapid strokes, Evans believes spontaneity is everything.

“Painting on top of a hill the wind can blow up all of a sudden and your canvas goes flying off,” Evans says in the slight drawl of her Virginia accent. “But it gives a sense of immediacy to your work. The light is changing all the time. There is more movement, which makes the work much livelier for me.

“Artists can become habit-ridden. You know all these tricks that work. Painting in nature keeps you honest. When it’s stormy you can really feel emotion with the cloud movements. I have a studio on the ocean so I can study the changing sky all day long.”

Since the early 1970s, Evans’ work has been the focus of numerous solo and group exhibitions in galleries, art museums and universities as well as in US embassies around the world. Her work is in the collections of the National Museum of Women in the Arts, the State Museum of Pennsylvania, the Delaware Art Museum, and the Kennedy Center in Washington. She is represented by Carspecken-Scott Gallery.

She brings a curiosity and joy that can be admired in both the artist and her work. These days Evans’ paintings also can be enjoyed at a Camp David cottage and inside the grand foyer at the Vice President’s residence in Washington.

In January of 2008, when Joe and Jill Biden moved into the 19th-century house, they opted to hang works by Brandywine Valley artists. From still-lifes and portraits to landscapes and beach scenes, the Greenville residents selected more than 20 paintings, including a pair of landscapes by their longtime friend Evans. One is of her native Virginia, the other, Large Sussex, depicts broad fields just off Route 23 in lower Delaware. The works accompany a 1945 oil painting by N.C. Wyeth.

As a youngster growing up in Virginia Beach, Evans traveled to Norfolk twice a week for piano lessons at the Bristow Hardin School of Music. She studied art history at Hollins University, a women’s liberal arts college in the Blue Ridge Mountains. There, Evans absorbed the structural lessons of Cezanne and the “push-pull” principle of Hans Hoffman, learning to loosen the form and let color determine the structure and create the space.

After marrying fellow Virginian Thomas Evans, the couple settled in the Wilmington area in the late 1960s. Tom went on to be an elected member of the House of Representatives for Delaware from 1977 to 1983.

Delicate and feminine, yet rugged and down-to-earth, Mary Page is a rare mix. She taught art at a Washington inner-city daycare center and in a women’s prison, and often claims that prisoners were more interesting than politicians.

“She has this Southern belle quality, proper and gracious, but I think when she came up north Mary Page became something of rebel,” says Steve Bruni, who met the artist in a drawing class taught by renowned illustrator Tom Bostelle 35 years ago.

“People admire her because she was able to break away. As the Congressman’s wife she got along with everyone and it never interfered with what she was doing as a painter. She lived on both sides and handled it exceptionally well.”

Working directly with nature, Evans also calls upon her musical background—each colorful element working in harmony to create vivid works of art. The late artist Gene Davis, a pivotal member of the Washington Colorist School in the 1960s, was a towering early influence. His use of color as a rhythmic and repetition device in painting attracted Evans and pushed her forward through four decades in the genre of contemporary impressionist painting.

“Mary Page has always been more about the process than the final project,” says Bruni, former executive director of the Delaware Art Museum, “I don’t think the trees and landscape are as important. Now it’s about color in a purer sense.”

Last year Evans returned to Hollins University for a reunion weekend and the opening of her exhibition, “From Nature.” Her paintings and works on paper portrayed the unique elements of nature of the Roanoke Valley.

“The red buds on trees, purple flowers in a field or the snow on the Blue Ridge mountains, her paintings are so special to this region,” says Amy Moorefield, the director of the Eleanor D. Wilson Museum at Hollins. “Mary Page is very close to the faculty and embraces the current generation of students. She also makes a point of drawing you into her circle of friends.”

An admitted Francophile, Evans painted in Monet’s gardens for several summers. By the last evening of the 2009 Moulin a` Nef workshop, the studio walls were plastered with broad views of rolling countryside and intimate views of small gardens. Journals penned by writers and painters alike were on display for all to flip through.

“Writers paint, painters write, it’s a great pollination of ideas,” says Evans. “Poetry is all about feeling, so I’ve learned a lot hanging out with writers. Love the way they view the world.

“But I also love looking out my window here at the sky and being down in Virginia. Listen, you don’t have to travel around the world for inspiration. You can get it in your backyard. Inspiration to me comes after a lot of hard work.”