Evelyn Terry’s Gallery a “Little Gem”
Veteran Milwaukee artist turns home into gallery, seeks funding for renovations.
Tucked away on the North Side of Milwaukee, Evelyn Terry’s century-old home displays art on every wall.
The residence, built in 1904, is where Terry spent her childhood. It hasn’t had any major renovations since she converted it to an art gallery in 2009. The gallery, Terry McCormick Contemporary Fine and Folk Art Gallery, is located in the Lindsay Heights neighborhood.
Terry transformed the space into a gallery following the death of her partner, self-taught artist George Ray McCormick, Sr.
“I decided, ‘Well, I have all this artwork that I’ve been collecting for years, and I have my own, so why don’t I just make it into an art gallery?’” Terry said.
Community activist Karen Royster has known Terry for longer than she can remember.
“It’s amazing that she has that many wonderful pieces, that many different artists, in this little tiny house in the middle of the inner city,” Royster said. “I mean, it’s a miracle. It’s like this little gem.”
After being broken into and set afire in recent years, the house still stands. However, damage from water leakage is visible in the ceilings and walls. Fixing the bathroom damage is on the top of Terry’s to-do list.
Royster said Terry needs financial support to maintain her gallery.
“Evelyn doesn’t make much money. She manages to survive, but she doesn’t have the kind of money it takes to really ensure that the building [stays in good condition],” she said. “You need good temperature and moisture control if you’re going to store art.”
In June 2017, Terry reached out to an acquaintance, who created an online fundraising campaign on her behalf called “Rebirthing 53206.”
Once Terry received initial funds from the campaign, she fixed the deteriorating banister on her front porch in preparation for Doors Open Milwaukee in September 2017.
“At that time, the porches were really rickety and fragile,” Terry said. “If a lot of people came, I didn’t know if they would fall over or the banister part would give way if somebody leaned on it.”
James Godsil, a community organizer and entrepreneur who began bringing tours to Terry’s gallery a few years ago, said the gallery is a beautiful place in an area that lacks positive attention.
“[The guests I brought] were absolutely enchanted with Evelyn and the art and the beauty that she has created inside her house,” Godsil said.
For the gallery to stay in its current location, Terry needs funding, Royster said.
“Evelyn doesn’t have to be there. She could probably find a way to move her art and her gallery into an area that’s maybe a little safer,” Royster said. “But she doesn’t. She’s so committed both to her art and to her community and finding a way to make her community thrive in an artistic sense.”
Despite the setbacks caused by home damage, Terry continues to create artwork, including her newest project: “artist books.”
Terry recently connected with a couple from Alabama, who sell her books, which feature uniquely textured pages with innovative touches. For example, she uses locks of her own hair as book ties in place of ribbons or strings. Terry said working directly with clients has been an adjustment.
“I just have to learn the trade,” she said. “I’m really learning slowly as I go.”
Terry attended North Division High School and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She began pursuing art professionally in college. She went on to earn her Master of Fine Arts degree at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
Although she didn’t originally intend to major in art, a UWM professor saw potential in a budding student. As the only African-American in many of her classes, Terry said she was taken aback by the idea that she could pursue art.
Since beginning her art career, Terry has fought to improve the community, Royster said.
“I think that’s the best kind of community activism there is, is when you really invest your life in making your own community stronger and more vibrant and richer, especially for the young people growing up,” Royster added.
Considering the disturbing statistics associated with the 53206 area, Terry said the presence of an art gallery in her neighborhood is meaningful in itself.
“Evelyn’s life is a poem, an expression of art,” Godsil said. “She, to me, is living on a higher plane of reality, and she is profoundly selfless and also very gifted in conventional art.”
This story was originally published by Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service, where you can find other stories reporting on eighteen city neighborhoods in Milwaukee.