Artist Bernice Davidson, right, places her painting of Will Evans with the help of Perry-Winn Hunt in the James K. Polk Home garden. Photo by Clint Confehr

By Clint Confehr

COLUMBIA, TN — A revered hunting and fishing guide who worked on the Duck River before and during the first half of the 20th Century is portrayed in a painting on display here at the James K. Polk Home and Museum.

 Will Evans is described by artist Bernice Davidson of Summertown, Tenn. as an “Unsung Hero of Columbia” and her painting, “Will Evans, Hero of Integrity,” shows him rowing one of the boats he designed and built for use on the Duck River. 

 Davidson’s painting is in a Polk Home art show at 301 W. 7th St. Its soft opening was Feb. 12. The grand opening — 3 p.m. April 7 — is six days after Columbia’s Mule Day Parade. The show runs through May.

 Meharry Medical College doctors and “the likes of … Franklin D. Roosevelt” were led by Evans on fishing and hunting trips, according to Coleen Farrell’s article (at based on records from Evans’ granddaughter, Sandra Seaton. A librettist and playwright, Seaton’s “Passion of Mary Cardwell Dawson” was on-stage at the Kennedy Center recently. She wrote “The Bridge Party” about Black women playing cards shortly at the time of Columbia’s so-called “Race Riot” of February 1946. Evans died at 63, six months before the confrontation.

 “There were almost as many white people at his funeral as colored,” Farrell wrote from The Tennessean Magazine. Known to Tennessee River-men and sportsmen internationally, Evans’ hunting and fishing trips were in demand.Reservations were made months in advance. His Rosemount Cemetery grave is marked by a 7.5-foot-tall, marble monument funded by Sportsmen of Tennessee.

“He was really beloved,” Davidson said while placing her painting of Owens at the Polk home. Retired from teaching art at what was Martin Methodist College in Pulaski, the artist “heard about Will Evans from his granddaughter, Sandra Seaton… I was fascinated by him because he lived in a very difficult time during the first part of the 20th Century when Jim Crow was raging here. He rose above a lot of negativity and made something beautiful happen. And he had a high standard about who he would take with him on his boat. If someone had been drinking, they could not ride with him even if they had a long-standing appointment. They could not be cursing, or be loud.”

 From all accounts, Evans could shoot a duck while rowing one of the boats he built. Those boats were noted for his craftsmanship and their sublime lines.

 Davidson’s painting reflects her artistic license; showing people placing “a fish made of flowers” in the river. The flowers were really placed at his grave. “The whole time Sandra Seaton was growing up, that dried arrangement was in her grandmother’s house.”

 The Will Evans painting is displayed with art by:

 • Sisavanh Phouthavong Houghton, a Lao-American art professor at Middle Tennessee State University, whose work honors mothers affected by war;

 • Yimy Sanchez, a Honduras native now of Spring Hill, who drew “My Tribute to the Trail of Tears;” and,

 • Ben Cardwell of Nashville who’s displaying his “Betsy Ross Flag” made of copper and enamel.   

 The art show is free, Polk Home Curator Kate Holt said, “But people are welcome to tour the house for which there is an admission fee.” It’s $14 for adults, $8 for those age 6-18, and free for younger children. Senior and military discounts are available. Next to the Polk Home is the Polk Presidential Hall, 810 High St., where an exhibit about the Mexican American War continues through August.

Clint Confehr

Clint Confehr — an American journalist since 1972 — first wrote for The Tennessee Tribune in 1999. His news writing and photography in South Central Tennessee and the Nashville Metropolitan Statistical...