Stained glass window
Cultural Broker in Bonnets: Jane B. Evans, Florence, South Carolina
Shoes Painting Pot

Special Collections and Archives Exhibition
James B. Duke Library
1 March - 30 June 2006

The mid-19th century was characterized by dramatic social change, including explosive urbanization, a burgeoning middle class, advancements in science, growing support for women's suffrage, and new educational opportunities. Change dominated the first half of the 20th century as well. The airplane and the automobile, Marie Curie's discovery of radium, Sigmund Freud's psychoanalysis, World War I, and the Great Depression altered the way people experienced and interpreted the world around them.

Women, however, still faced opposition from the establishment. In response, some women constructed fresh approaches: founding museums and alternative art institutions, traveling to new places, exploring employment opportunities, and engaging in political activity. A modern notion of femininity emerged, the "New Woman," who was much less traditional in appearance and attitude.

Jane B. Evans exemplifies the "New Woman." For this reason, we have chosen this exhibition to recognize not only Women's History Month, but also The Year of the Museum, and Furman University's Year of the Humanities. The pottery, paintings, and other artifacts on display in this exhibition are on loan from the Florence Museum of Art, Science, and History.

Jane B. Evans (1866 - 1950) changed the cultural landscape of her hometown of Florence, South Carolina. A social activist, Evans assumed a leadership role in the patriotic National League for Women's Services during World War I. One program led to the organization of The Blue Bird Tea Room, a popular canteen for soldiers passing through the railroad hub of Florence. Serendipitously, funds from the Tea Room allowed Evans to establish the Florence Museum, the foundation of which was Southwestern Native American pottery.

In the 1920s, Evans, like many of her fellow women artists, journeyed to the alluring landscapes and peoples of the American Southwest. She seized this opportunity to fulfill a lifelong desire, a museum for her hometown. The Blue Bird Tea Room Committee, reconstituted as the Florence Museum, purchased several of the pieces which are currently on display. Through Evans' determination and persistence, the Florence Museum was chartered several years later (1936) and initially displayed the pottery collection in a corner of the public library.

Evans' contributions to the Florence Museum developed from her artistic interests and her conscience of social service. Serving as the first curator of the Florence Museum, Evans tenaciously promoted fund raising drives, recruited prominent speakers, and secured exhibitions to transform the Museum into a cultural and educational center. Under Evans' guidance, the Museum acquired Oriental art and material culture, Greco-Roman and ancient Near Eastern artifacts, and additional Southwestern Native American objects. Typical of the time period, the Museum was not only oriented to the fine arts, but also ethnography and archaeology.

Marie A. Watkins, Assistant Professor of Art
DebbieLee Landi, Special Collections Librarian and University Archivist.

Photos taken by Ryan K. Lazar.
Sponsored by The Year of the Humanities Fund, The Humanities Development Fund, The James B. Duke Library, and the Furman University Art Department.