Paul Evans quite literally devoted his life to his art; the day after he retired, he died. A prolific innovator, Evans was a trained metallurgist and translated his skill and ingenuity into thirty years of inspired sculptural objects and furniture design. Though he’s now acclaimed for his unique aesthetic and timeless American classics that stand alone as sculptures, for years after his death in 1987, his work fell into obscurity. Gallery owner Todd Merrill attests to rescuing several Evans pieces from being thrown away. Evans and his works—ranging from monumental forged-steel cabinets to sculptural tables to glitzy remote-controlled consoles—finally get their due, as they are currently featured in a new documentary and a retrospective at The Michener Art Museum.
Born in Trenton, Pennsylvania, Evans got his start in silversmithing and was instrumental in the rise of the design community in the Great Philadelphia and Bucks County area. An early collaboration with Phil Powell launched his career, resulting in iconic grills featuring a fish scale motif. Evans established his own studio and gradually hired what would become a collaborative community of artists to create his designs, in a setup that’s been compared to Warhol’s Factory.
Remembered by many as a temperamental character, Evans’s personality is reflected in his constantly changing style. Notable among his broad oeuvre was his “Argente” series, aluminum works that were treated to resemble silver, which were prematurely discontinued when it became apparent that the process emitted toxic fumes; any existing works are extremely rare. His best-known works, though, were from his “Sculpted Steel” series, grand cabinets with forged facades and intricate grids, motifs, and colors. The 1970s saw a drastically different series, “Cityscape,” marked by mirrored surfaces, sleek lines, and pared down forms, which was said to have “embodied the disco era.”
By 1976 Evans had a factory in Plumsteadville with 80 employees, who remember him fondly; he made a point to greet everyone each morning. Though he’s noted as a masterful businessman, the demanding process of expanding his business, developing new lines and techniques, maintaining studios and showrooms, and supporting his employees wore on him. Evans suffered a heart attack and died at the age of 55. Thankfully, Evans’s spirit lives on through a devoted following who cherish his works, each one different than the next, and each one a part of his prolific career.
Watch “From High Craft to High Glam: Paul Evans,” a new documentary.