Archive for New Discoveries About Anne Evans

As I enjoyed the celebrations of the holiday season, I remembered one aspect of Anne Evans’ personality, which I have not yet had an opportunity to “blog” about. This was her incredible zest for life. Spending any time as her guest was, by all accounts, a rare and enjoyable experience.

Anne in front of her cabin fireplace. Painting by Allen True, The Trappers (above), Courtesy Margaret E. Hayden

Anne in front of her cabin fireplace. Painting by Allen True, The Trappers (above), Courtesy Margaret E. Hayden

    • After a few day’s stay at Anne Evans’ mountain home, one guest wrote on behalf of a small group, The hospitality of your friendly home quite overwhelmed us all…Dr. Steiner said ‘in some homes one sees only wealth and material plenty, but In Miss Evans’ home one sees love and a great spirit.‘ I(p. 345)


    • In the research about her life, I found several accounts of her idea of hosting children as guests at her home on the Evans Ranch and quoted my favorite: A young niece and nephew, aged 11 and 13, were sent to spend a summer on the ranch with their Great Aunt. They were interviewed. Wide-eyed and apprehensive, they were told that one rule and one rule only must be obeyed. They trembled. “You must have a good time! (p. 346)


  • Anne Evans enjoyed the creative effort of devising plays and pageantry, both as part of the elaborate summer life up on the Evans Ranch, and as a participant in social and artistic activities in Denver. One such occasion was vividly described by Miriam Washburn Adams, remembering the time she was an art student from Colorado Springs, taking classes in the Denver Atelier headed by architect Burnham Hoyt, a longtime friend of Anne Evans. (pp. 356-8)
Anne Evans cabin staircase, Courtesy Margaret E. Hayden

Anne Evans cabin staircase, Courtesy Margaret E. Hayden

Miss Anne told Burnie she had written a medieval play she wanted acted on the stairway in her Mt. Evans home. She wanted ten members of the Atelier to come up Friday and give the play Sunday evening. Burnie sent word to us to be at Willie Mead’s studio by 4:30 Friday afternoon. They had medieval costumes we could be squeezed into…I assure you as we drove through Denver, in the then popular open cars, we were gazed at–catcalls, boos, etc….Miss Anne all but expired when we tumbled into her house all dressed in these costumes! We looked wonderful that evening, in her out-of-this-world house with the enormous logs that made the inside as well as the outside…At breakfast, I will admit, we were a wild sight…

Burnie had us working all day Saturday…making all kinds of necessary crowns, horses, stars, out of cardboard; and believe you me, they had to be perfect–we were working for a perfectionist–but luckily one who could point the way to perfection. One development almost brought the project to a halt. After the most delicious lunch Saturday…it turned out a poisonous toadstool had been lurking in the lunch bowl. Sunday produced a sorry lot of actors. Burnie was the color of chalk. I was all right if I could sit down. By three in the afternoon most has recovered and they started rehearsing. At six, they gave the play.

Margaret Evans Davis (Anne Evans’ niece) read the words on the other side of the screen as she wove her tapestry. Most of us were holding positions and draped up the stairs–Burnie and another man having a big tilt or joust on wooden horses at the top of the stairs. It really must have been fantastically lovely.

Costumed horse for circus performance, Courtesy Margaret E. Hayden

Costumed horse for circus performance, Courtesy Margaret E. Hayden

The audience for this intense effort was small (seven in all including Anne Evans) as it was for many other efforts on the ranch over the years. The reward was apparently more in participating than in the applause.

This is the second of a three-part blog post concerning Anne Evans’ article about the Hopi Indians, their art and their Snake Dance, which was discovered after the publication of her biography.

To read the previous article, click here.

Portrait of Anne Evans DPL Western History Collection

Portrait of Anne Evans DPL Western History Collection

Anne Evans concluded her Fortnightly Club paper with a sensitive and well-informed description of the the Hopi Snake Dance. This was the subject of an earlier article, The Hopi Snake Dance, a Religious Ceremonial, the third of those that have surfaced since the biography’s publication. This article was published in the Theosophical Quarterly in April, 1912. In both articles, Evans gave a brief description of her own experience of watching parts of the Snake Dance, or, as she preferred to call it, “the dramaturgy of the Sun-serpent Myth.” It is not easy to find a satisfactory definition of dramaturgy that fits the sense in which she is using it. Perhaps the best one is “shaping a story into a form that may be acted.” She wrote both descriptive pieces in the present tense.

The Snake Dance, she says, “is an elaborate nine-day prayer for rain that the crops may ripen and our children have food–then, afterwards that we too may have to eat.” In the Hopi world, the snakes are wise Elder Brothers who, because they live underground, have “intimate relations with the spirits of springs and the germinating seeds.”

Only the dramatic events of the eighth and ninth days are performed publicly, but she observes that the entire ceremony had already, in 1912, been witnessed and written about by scientific observers, who had gained the trust of the Hopi and so were freely admitted to the kivas where much of the first parts of the ceremony take place. As a broad generalization, Evans says, the first seven days are devoted to preparation and consecration.

  • Altars, symbolizing rainclouds and lightning and the serpents of the four world quarters, are painted with colored sands: always yellow for the North, green or blue for West, red for South and white for East.
  • Pa-hos or prayer sticks, of which eagle feathers are an indispensable part, are prepared and consecrated, and deposited by bearers at surrounding shrines on the plains.
  • The bearers, on four successive days, make a complete circuit around the base of the mesa. They visit the farthest shrines on the first day. The circuit is contracted on each succeeding day, in the hope that the gods may “likewise so approach, the dry river-beds be swollen with water and the farmers hear the pattering of rain.”
  • Four days are also allocated to the capturing of the snakes. The hunt is ritually conducted, one day each to the North, East, South and West. “…afterward these formidable Elder Brothers must perforce undergo the priestly purification by water, smoke and breath before being duly laid upon the altar.”

This is the last in a series of four blog posts about Anne Evans’ journey with theosophy. All quotes are from an article written by Anne Evans in 1909*, which came to light after the publication of my book on Anne Evans.

Learning more about Theosophy
In following Anne Evans’ long journey to becoming a member of the Theosophical Society in America, I ended the last blog with her decision to become better informed about this organization she found herself defending against numerous critics. She started by borrowing issues of the Theosophical Quarterly and discussing the contents with her growing circle of theosophical friends. Here she “had an amusingly lively time” for she seized on the strong points to present to critics and the weak ones “to discomfit my friends.” On a serious level, she was weighing all she was reading in forming her own independent judgment.

At Theosophical meetings “the grace to keep quiet.”
I also frequented the theosophical meetings, where I had the grace to keep quiet.” She was obviously deeply moved by the experience. “The membership was small, but the evenings were very beautiful, very simple, marked by a spirit of restraint and tolerance; the devotional atmosphere distinctly to be felt.” Only once before had she experienced this same atmosphere and it couldn’t have been in a more different setting, “one that had every outer aid to heighten and abet it; a great cathedral, a concourse of devout peasant worshippers and the wonderful voices of the Greek Catholic priests.”

Plunging into Waters Too Deep for Me
In the actual subject matter of Theosophical beliefs, Anne Evans found much that she found familiar and acceptable, but “also many things absolutely baffling in their newness and incomprehensibility.” These were expressions and similes and symbols which she would have said were nonsense – except for her respect for those to whom they were so meaningful. The other alternative was to try to understand, to confess “that I had met something beyond my mental depth, something my mental smattering did not permit me to grasp…It was alluring and I splashed and plunged in waters too deep for me, occasionally bringing up a pebble or a pearl, but chiefly discovering new depths, new mysteries.”

Seal of the Theosophical Society

Seal of the Theosophical Society:

Exactly What do Theosophists Believe?
She arrived at a point where she was “practically a convert” to the overall philosophy of the organization. and anxious to learn more about what exactly Theosophists believed. Of course their tenets included the universal brotherhood of man, but so, she wrote, did socialism, communism, most churches, the constitution of the United States and the French Revolution. So that was not grounds enough for embracing Theosophy. Tolerance for all religions, and an emphasis on constant widening of one’s knowledge, were worthy principles but weren’t “All scholarly, cultured and social people more or less enlisted under such a banner?

Because of the intricate and sometimes dogmatic language in which theosophical tenets were worded by its founder, Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, it was another long interval before Anne Evans came to the full understanding that “theosophical doctrines were held tentatively, subject always to proof or to refutation, subject to immediate revision should anything present itself more unifying, more perfectly explanatory of life.

Something of Value in Spiritualism? Really?
All that remained now of all of Anne Evans’ difficulties with Theosophy was Madame Blavatsky’s conviction that, in spite of many examples of deceit and chicanery, something genuinely valuable and unique about the human psyche was revealed in the practices of spiritualism. So Anne, in spite of her long-standing prejudices, began to investigate biographies of saints and mystics, and found herself especially moved by the lives of Joan of Arc and St. Francis of Assisi. “Paracelsus, Swedenborg and William Blake helped build an evidential mass of some bulk, to which the bits of other-worldliness which I was learning to trace in poets, painters and musicians, added weight.” To this body of personal research, she added the contemporary “logical and painstaking investigations” of psychologist William James, Sir Oliver Lodge and Myers. “When at length I turned back to those once mistrusted theosophical records, their facts were too easily grouped and classified to provoke challenge.”

Why, in the End, Did I Join?
While all of this long journey of discussion, research and reflection had brought Anne Evans to “the full acceptance of a great philosophy, a profound religious concept,” it was the publication of a book attacking Theosophy in a way she felt was “so manifestly unfair, so unscrupulous in its use of flippant humor” that finally caused her to join the “maligned body.” For, she decided, “if one believed in a cause open to such attacks, one should be in a position to defend the faith from within the ranks.

More information about the Theosophical movement in America is contained in Chapter 17 (Anne Evans and the Theosophical Movement) of my biography of Anne Evans.

Three other articles written by Anne Evans surfaced at the same time as the one about why she joined the Theosophical Society. The subjects are: John Wesley and the Methodists (the faith that was so vital to Anne’s parents), George Fox, and The Snake Dance (Hopi). Unless some topic more immediate comes up, the next three blogs will deal with these lively articles.

*The article referred to is Why I Joined the Theosophical Society, in the Theosophical Quarterly, January 1909, Vol. 6, No. 3, pp. 220-224.

This is the second in a four part blog post about Anne Evans’ journey with theosophy. All quotes are from an article written by Anne Evans in 1909.* The article came to light after the publication of my biography about Anne Evans.

Those of you who have read my historical biography of Anne Evans may remember that a major challenge to the writing arose early in the research: Anne Evans ordered all her personal materials destroyed when she died. This made very difficult the task of finding answers to some questions essential to understanding this dynamic woman leader in Denver’s cultural development. One such question: why did this daughter of two devout Methodists, who made unique and indispensable contributions to the establishment of Methodist churches in Colorado – and to the establishment and growth of the University of Denver, originally a Methodist foundation – not herself affiliate with a Methodist Church in Denver as an adult? Why, instead, did she “take the road less travelled by” and become a member of the Theosophical Society in America?


Anne Evans, 1940, Denver Public Library Western History Collection

In a 1909 article that has come to light since the book’s publication, Anne Evans tells us exactly why. She says that, when she returned to live in Denver after completing her education in Paris, Berlin and at the Art Students’ League in New York, “The attitude of my most clear-thinking friends was either that of scientific materialism or of agnosticism, and I looked upon myself as a weak and mild specimen of the latter class.” By scientific materialism, she makes it clear that she is referring to the evolutionary theories of Darwin and Huxley.

Considering that many school boards throughout the country are still under pressure to avoid the teaching of evolution or, at the very least, to offer parallel courses in “creation science”, Anne Evans’ remarks about this issue are quite startling. “It was past the time when that great wave of enthusiasm for the new-shorn and naked truth could have swept me quite off my feet; the active fighting days were over; to proclaim oneself an evolutionist and a religious doubter was but following the line of least resistance, instead of calling for the courage and independence it once had demanded. Darwin and Huxley were too victorious to need recruits…” (And this was almost 100 years ago.)

However, she goes on to explain that for her, agnosticism lacked an important ingredient that “religionists” had: “a stiffer springboard from which to leap into unselfish action, as well as a more assured resting-place.” She also admits to “loving the concrete body of worship and adoration which I had occasionally sensed.” But still, the viewpoint of the Christian churches “as presented to me seemed wofully (sic) lacking in reason.” So for many years she simply avoided discussing religious beliefs with her devout friends, whether they were Roman Catholics, Christian Scientists or members of any other denomination. “Since to them these subjects were evidently vital, it would have been discourteous to exhibit my apathy and distrust.

Her attitude towards the Theosophical Society at the time was even more skeptical. “The Society then existed on the dim horizon of my thoughts as a body of fanatics, charlatans and dupes, engaged in a profitless and foolish enterprise. Far from meaning Divine wisdom, the word theosophy was vaguely indicative of clairvoyance, spiritualism and legerdemain…” The steps by which Anne Evans’ attitude towards theosophy was transformed are the subject of my next two blogs.

The article referred to is Why I joined the Theosophical Society, in the Theosophical Quarterly, January 1909, Vol. 6, No. 3, pp. 220-224.


Catkin – courtesy Hugh Grant, Kirkland Museum Fine and Decorative Art, Denver

Anne Evans spent much of her time in the years between 1897 and 1999 training to become a professional artist. In 1896 she was accepted as a professional member of the recently-formed Denver Artists’ Club, the organization which eventually became the Denver Art Museum, on the basis of her Portrait of her Father, Governor John Evans. That portrait, together with a painting of her young niece Margaret – both of which hang in the Byers-Evans House Museum – were the only two works by Anne Evans known to exist when I first started the research for my book about her life. During the years before its publication a third painting, A Little Winter Scene, was discovered by Deborah Wadsworth as she conscientiously digitized the entire art collection of the Western History Department of the Denver Pubic Library. Imagine, then, the excitement when a private show/sale of “important early Denver and boulder painters” advertised a landscape, Catkin, by Anne Evans! Imagine also the dismay, when it was reported almost immediately that the painting had been sold. And imagine, finally, the relief when we learned that the buyer was Hugh Grant, and that the painting was to become part of the Kirkland Museum’s collection.

Many questions remain about Anne Evans and her art. Why did she apparently decide, quite early and quite definitely, to give up her own painting and devote herself to nurturing the careers of other artists, and to helping the young cultural institutions of Denver and Colorado to flourish? And what happened to the scores of drawings, sketches and paintings which she must have produced in the many years of her artistic training? The discovery of the landscape, Catkin, gives me hope that more of her work – perhaps now hanging in private homes or lingering in basements or attics, may yet be discovered.

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