News From Terre Haute, Indiana

May 17, 2012

Halcyon Gallery showcases art of Evalyn James during May

Steve Kash
Special to the Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — Evalyn Gertrude James settled in Terre Haute the first time in 1928. When James was 30, she accepted a job on the faculty of the art department of what is now Indiana State University. The following year she was the acting head of the department. Soon after the Great Depression of 1929 struck America, her association with the college came to an end. She moved to a small home in rural Clay County west of Brazil and began keeping wild birds and animals in her home, including for several years a blind goose, “Frank,” and his spouse, “Matilda.”  

During the coming five decades she was a dedicated and reclusive artist who managed to eke out a living selling nature paintings featuring landscapes and bird pictures to people in the area, the Wabash Valley, and even throughout the United States. For several years she maintained a gallery in Brazil’s Davis Hotel, which was used by travelers making their way across America by U.S. 40 — The National Road. She also went on art expeditions, traveling by bus to the shores of the Gulf Coast or Lake Erie in search of interesting settings for her art.

Around Brazil, James became as well known for her lifestyle as her art or the fact she was noted several times in Who’s Who in the Midwest books. She never owned a car and could often be seen walking back and forth in old clothes from her residences on the outskirts of town with a bag of art supplies or other necessities over her shoulder. Adding to her curiosity, James became stoop-shouldered, and by the time she was approaching 60, she let her hair grow out into a monumentally huge mound, which she wrapped in colorful scarves.

Although James died in 1990, she has resettled in Terre Haute. Throughout May, the Halcyon Gallery is offering a show of more than 35 pieces of her exquisitely distinctive nature art. A majority were in James’ cache of unsold personal favorites. She willed the artworks to one of her last students, Bill Brown, who has since passed away. The paintings have been in storage for more than 20 years. Other artworks displayed at the Halcyon show have been loaned by the Clay County Historical Museum and private collections.

“The Halcyon is proud to bring Evalyn James’ heritage and memory back to the Wabash Valley,” said Halcyon executive director Ray Chen during the gallery’s May 4 reception for the James show.