- Associated Press - Saturday, October 25, 2014

ANDERSON, S.C. (AP) - When Dana Evans was a teen, she would lay out on the lawn of her parents’ front yard and spend hours sketching their red-brick, ranch-style home.

She loved the structure of drawing what was in front of her, but also the creativity of making the house come to life on the paper in front of her. She always kept her sketch pads and her pens. When she had time, she would draw.

But for more than 20 years, that talent remained hidden - something only Evans and a few who were close to her knew about.

“I’ve always loved old houses,” Evans said. “I’d put a pallet out on the front lawn, and I would draw all afternoon. But I never thought I could be an artist.”

Recently, all that has changed.

Her artwork has been accepted into local art shows in galleries - the Anderson Arts Center, the Blue Ridge Arts Center in Seneca and the Belton Arts Center. In total, she has six pieces on display.

The way here was not an easy one. Nor was it short.

This Anderson native spent her whole childhood in that brick house on Calhoun Street. Her ancestors owned and operated a dairy farm there at one time. Statues of cows still decorate the home’s front door as a reminder of the history the Evans family has here. A black-and-white picture hangs on the wall of her grandfather, James L. Stevenson, standing in front of a Stevenson Dairy truck.

Her mother and her father, who was a sharecropper, moved here after they married and when Evans was 2.

Today, she and her sister still live in that house. It is the first house Evans ever drew.

The arts were nothing new in her family. Her mother could draw murals. Her great aunt, Ruby Nettles, was an art teacher at Clemson University. Some of the china dishes Nettles painted are in a glass cabinet in the Evans’ home.

In elementary school, Evans’ favorite part of the day was Ann Self’s art class.

As she grew older, fear and doubt about whether she had any talent set in for Evans. As an adult, she worried about working, having insurance and supporting herself.

So after she graduated from T.L. Hanna High School in 1988, she went to work in industry. She worked at BMW and Frigidaire, making parts. Seven years of working in a plant helped her to college. Evans said she knew she did not want to work in a plant her whole life.

At first, she studied engineering.

“I hated it,” Evans said.

Then she decided to study architecture and interior design. She earned a degree in architecture at Greenville Technical College, and studied interior design at Tri-County Technical College.

For nine years, she helped design kitchens. When the economy hit a slump in 2008, she ended up working in retail.

The pay was good. She liked working with people. She was promoted to a management position at Dillard’s department store. She was thrilled at the promotion.

“Things were perfect,” she said.

The one catch was the hours were long.

“I disappeared in November and December,” Evans said. “You wouldn’t see me until January.”

As the hours wore on, she no longer had the energy to pull out her sketch pads. The art set her great aunt gave her years ago was not being used. Evans was always too tired.

A little at a time, the artist had faded away.

Then she tore her tendon, someone stole her identity, and she lost several of her friends because she stopped going out at night. Along the way, she also went through a divorce.

Through it all, the one thing that kept nagging at her was the creative spirit she had gradually silenced.

“Even with the promotion, even when I had everything I thought I wanted, something was missing,” Evans said. “My art kept drawing me back.”

Finally, in August 2013, she took a step to change her pace. She stepped down from her management position. Evans said she is still working in retail but is working fewer hours. It means less money, but she is trying not to let that overwhelm her.

Instead, she is focusing on what she loves first.

The first sketch she did after clearing her schedule was of the Sunshine House on Morris Street. That sketch is called “A New Chapter Begins.”

Evans said that after that drawing was completed, “everything cleared.”

“About four months ago, I started drawing all of the time,” Evans said. “Obviously, this is what God wants me to keep doing, because he keeps drawing me back to it.”

Now, at age 44, she has a new passion, or perhaps a renewed one, for houses.

This time, she wants to draw more houses. This time she wants to draw other old houses. Ones that are empty, ones that are lived in, and especially ones that are in danger of being completely forgotten about.

Already in her collection of drawings are ones of the Morris Tea Room on Morris Street in downtown Anderson, the Honeymoon Cottage on Franklin Street, an abandoned Victorian-style house on Franklin Street, and an old home at 720 Calhoun St.

“I’ve always loved old houses,” Evans said. “Why should we let these places that someone has worked so hard for die? I want my drawings to help save these old houses in Anderson.”

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Follow Charmaine Smith-Miles on Twitter at https://twitter.com/Charmaine_AIM

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