A tornado ripped and roared through Onalaska on April 22, 2020, destroying many picturesque homes of Sam Houston Electric Cooperative consumer-members.
Kip Robins’ family home, where he and his wife raised their seven children, was among the many structures in Yaupon Cove that were heavily damaged, the families’ effects sucked into the sky. Robins and his family had many questions swirling in their heads as they pulled up to their home and saw it no longer had a roof nor the art studio he built for his daughter, Victoria Evans.
But Robins also saw hope. Somehow his favorite painting had survived the tornado.
“I walked upstairs, and I saw the painting still on the wall. There was no roof, nothing upstairs, but there was still that painting,” he said. “That was pretty emotional. I realized all the questions I had were going to be answered. I didn’t know when or how, but God was going to take care of us.”
The oil painting, created and given to him by Victoria several years ago, is of a ship being battered by waves. It is a piece of true artwork—much more than something only a parent could love.
The sails of the ship are filled with Bible scriptures that Robins read to his children over the years. A compass is embedded in the wood on the bow. Victoria told her father, “The ship is you, the waves are life, and the compass is you focusing on your path.”
Symbolism met reality after the tornado, the gift becoming even more fitting as glass shards embedded into the canvas and raindrops mixed with the painted waves.
Many of Evans’ paintings, finished and in progress, were lost that evening in April, but another piece survived—a painting of a dog that she made as a first grader, when she was just six years old. It was one of her first pieces of art, and her talent was obvious then. The painting was even selected to be shown at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.
“The Houston Livestock and Rodeo show was always so big in school,” Evans said. “I remember being in art class and taking it so seriously. The other kids were joking about it, but even as a kid, it was such a big deal to me.”
She continued to grow as an artist, improving the quality of her paintings and submitting paintings each year to the event, and each year the results improved too.
“I started off with getting red ribbons, which everyone gets. Then I moved up to being a finalist,” she said. “That was huge and really exciting. And then, my junior year, I got best in show for the district.”
Robins encouraged all of his children to pursue their passions in life, and he helped them along the way. He built an art studio on the deck to allow Victoria to engross herself in her work. The studio also saved some cleanup time in the house.
“She would turn on the music and almost go into her own world. Between that and getting paint all over the floor in the house, her mom said we have to do something,” Robins said. “We had a deck, but nobody ever used it. I decided to close in half of it and make an art studio for her. It had big windows so she could get the view of the lake. The first day I turned it over to her she painted the entire wall. When she paints a wall, it is magical.”
Victoria credits growing up in a rural area for a lot of her growth as an artist.
“I think of living in the country like this: You just have more peace of mind,” she said. “Being an artist, no matter what type of artist you are, it has to come naturally. In order for something to come naturally, you have to be at peace. I think that is why you end up finding people who are artists more in the country. They just have that peacefulness that comes with living in the country.”
Victoria attended Livingston High School, where Robins is the technology director. She appreciated the encouragement of her art teachers throughout grade school and high school, even if she didn’t always see eye to eye with her teachers.
“Since I always went to a small school, they knew me, so they would work extra with me,” she said. “During my free time, I would go into the art classrooms to get extra help if I needed it. I used to get mad at my art teachers at times in high school because they were trying to conform me in certain ways, but there are no rules in art.”
Today, Victoria continues to find artistic inspiration from her surroundings, which have changed somewhat frequently since she married her husband, Robert, five years ago. He is a religious program specialist in the Navy and is temporarily assigned to Okinawa, Japan, where she cannot live with him. But prior to that, he was first assigned to the Marine Corps at Parris Island, South Carolina, where Victoria became inspired by the Low Country of that state. Her work was noticed by locals who still contact her for artwork, though she moved away several years ago.
Victoria says she became a professional artist while in South Carolina. She was a waitress at a local restaurant, and when the owner learned of her paintings, he allowed her to hang them on the walls of the restaurant. Later, the Beaufort Art Association hung one of her paintings, of a shrimp boat, on its door.
Victoria also inspired a young girl in South Carolina to become an artist, just as she was inspired in first grade by the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.
“I did a painting of a pig, and these little kids loved it,” Victoria said. “This little girl came up and she said, ‘I want to be as good as this artist.’ She didn’t know I was the artist, so I got a chance to introduce myself to her. I couldn’t stop smiling all day. I felt like I was a Disney princess and she thought I was some fairytale creature. It was amazing. I felt like I was doing something important just by doing something I loved.”
Though Victoria feels at peace when painting and loves being an artist, she does not plan to make painting her sole professional priority. She will graduate with a Bachelor of Science in geology from Southern New Hampshire University in December, and ultimately she wants to purse a doctorate in hydrology.
“I have always thought it was cool how water has shaped the Earth,” she said. “I have the artistic brain that sees the beauty in it, but I also have the science part that wants to understand why it is like that.
“I will always paint on the side for myself. As far as selling pieces, I wasn’t expecting to end up in an art gallery in South Carolina. The opportunity presented itself, and that was a blessing. I don’t have any specific plans. I want to see where it takes me.”
Friends and family see Victoria’s paintings as a way to stay connected to her even though she no longer permanently lives in East Texas.
Jessica Claycomb, a member service representative at Sam Houston EC, has one of those paintings and said her friendship with Victoria dates to when they were in first grade in Onalaska.
“Our friendship is a perfect balance,” Claycomb said. “Now that I have the painting, I feel like she is always with me, which is really cool. I have it at my desk so I can look at it and feel like my best friend is here no matter where she is.”
Victoria shares the strongest connection with her father.
“My dad has always been the [most deeply] connected to my paintings. I always joke that we have the same soul, so he deeply understands the meaning of my paintings,” she said.
While Victoria was home for a few months, she once again turned to her surroundings for inspiration. She only had to look outside the family home that has been rebuilt beside a tree she planted more than 15 years ago.
“The tornado did not take it away, but it did crack and now there is a fungal infection, which will eventually kill the tree,” Victoria said. “It is devastating because, yes, it is only a tree, but it is the only tree that survived the tornado, and it is something that I planted for the future. Knowing it is going to die, knowing it won’t make it another five years, it hit me deeply.”
Though the tree won’t survive many more years, it will live forever in her painting.
View more paintings by Victoria Evans at @victoriartgallery on Facebook.