In Virginia B. Evans: An All-Around Artist, author John A. Cuthbert presents the life and work of West Virginian painter, designer, teacher, and arts advocate, Virginia B. Evans (1894–1983). While Evans has long been recognized as a designer of Upper Ohio Valley glass, Cuthbert’s account emphasizes painting as Evans’s primary artistic focus. The author intends to convince readers of the significant role that painting played in Evans’s life and to introduce readers to her paintings. A lavishly illustrated volume, the book includes forty-four full-page plates of reproductions of Evans’s paintings with an additional forty-nine illustrated pages throughout the text. Paintings thoroughly and cleverly punctuate Cuthbert’s detailed account of Evans’s life. These reproductions allow readers to acquaint themselves with the work of an accomplished artist who has remained relatively unknown for her paintings, even, as Cuthbert states, “in her own backyard” (11).
The obscurity of Evans’s paintings even regionally is due in part to the fact that today her work resides primarily in private collections. The book was published to coincide with a retrospective of Evans’s work that Cuthbert organized at the Oglebay Institute in Wheeling, West Virginia, in celebration of the state’s sesquicentennial in 2013. Cuthbert’s organization of the retrospective, entitled “Virginia B. Evans: Wheeling’s All-Around Artist,” and his publication of the book demonstrate his resolve to set the record straight regarding Evans’s work. As the sole publication dedicated to Evans, and the only published treatment of her paintings, Virginia B. Evans: An All-Around Artist makes a meaningful gesture toward situating Evans in a well-deserved, prominent position within West Virginian art history.
Cuthbert dedicates the majority of the text to Evans’s biography. A native of Moundsville, West Virginia, Evans is characterized as a strong-minded, independent woman whose influence through her dedication to her art, art education, and arts advocacy was wide reaching. As a young woman, Evans made four trips abroad at a time when, as Cuthbert states, “her propensity for solitary, unplanned, unguided travel was, in fact, deemed so unusual” [End Page 98] (39–40). Her travels and studies contributed to her successes both regionally and nationally; she was a frequent contributor to the regional Associated Artists of Pittsburgh Annual Exhibitions, and her work was included in various national exhibitions as well.
For Cuthbert, Evans’s significance also stems from the crucial role she played in promoting art education and women’s role in the art world in West Virginia. She impacted many through her teaching at various institutions and her work in arts advocacy. Cuthbert points to Evans’s significant involvement in the West Virginia Federation of Women’s Clubs, both locally and statewide, as well as in the Wheeling Art Club. Lesser attention is paid to the period in the 1940s and 50s during which Evans worked as a designer, primarily with the Imperial Glass Company of Bellaire, Ohio. While her design of Cathay Crystal for Imperial Glass was a critical success, Cuthbert implies that the time and effort she expended in researching and executing her designs brought an end to her development as a painter. Her return to painting in 1957 coincided with Evans’s relocation to Naples, Florida. She returned to West Virginia in 1974 to live out her final years in Glen Dale with her brother and his family.
Evans’s paintings are addressed in a brief section that follows the detailed biographical account but precedes the plates. Here, Cuthbert considers formal aspects of a handful of paintings. He assesses Evans’s development as a painter as well as examines particular characteristics of her style. For example, he points out that many of her panoramic landscapes feature “a plunging perspective and horizon so high that the sky is barely a factor in her works” (30). He attributes this compositional characteristic to “her roots in West Virginia’s hill and hollow landscape where the heavens play a lesser role than in other places” (30).
A more detailed consideration of...