A New Look at Faulkner

Local artist sketches book for eminent biographer

Artist Evelyn Mayton of Hendersonville is a voracious reader, especially of Southern literature, which makes her a natural fit to illustrate books about her literary heroes.
Photo by Jack Robert

When Hendersonville artist Evelyn J. Mayton discovered her favorite Southern author, she could hardly have known that her attachment to William Faulkner would one day grow even more intimate — and revive an interest in drawing that had lain dormant for years. This month, Mayton’s art will anchor the cover of a new biography of Faulkner, Carl Rollyson’s William Faulkner: Day by Day, to appear November 15 from the University Press of Mississippi.

“I am obsessed with great literature, and Faulkner is the best,” Mayton says of the Nobel- and Pulitzer-Prize-winning author of such classics as The Sound and The Fury and As I Lay Dying. 

Her enthusiasm for Faulkner led to several visits to Faulkner’s Oxford, Mississippi home, Rowan Oak, and to her longtime role as moderator of the online William Faulkner Book Club, of which Rollyson is a charter member. 

Faulkner by Mayton

Rollyson, a prolific biographer (40 books) and a scholar of the form, is a journalism professor at Baruch College, City University of New York. “He saw my drawings [on the Faulkner site] and asked if I would do drawings and a cover for the book,” Mayton explains. Producing up to three drawings a day as the final draft of the book took shape, Mayton eventually created 18 portraits for the volume, including the Faulkner head study for the cover and studies of Faulkner’s family and acquaintances. They accompany Rollyson’s closely observed survey of Faulkner’s family history and daily life, from the birth of his great-grandfather in 1825 to Faulkner’s own birth in 1897 and his death in 1962.

With deep family roots in southern Kentucky and Virginia, Mayton has been fortunate in combining her artistic talents with her love of Southern authors, also including Eudora Welty and Flannery O’Connor, whose portraits are part of her portfolio. “Portraiture has always come very easily,” Mayton says of her most widely distributed work. “I’m entirely self taught [besides attending] some random workshops years ago. I have no art degree; I was actually more interested in books and creative writing.” 

In fact, Mayton didn’t start seriously making art until two years ago, five years after moving to Hendersonville and into a 100-year-old cabin surrounded by apple orchards. “I went years and years and had done [no drawing],” she says. “I worked full time like most people do, and just did not draw or paint. I had horses, read a prodigious amount, kept thinking about writing. But now I have the time, and I draw mostly every day.” 

She works from a studio near her cabin gifted to her by her fiancé, Monte McCraw, whose family has owned the surrounding apple orchards for generations, and who took Mayton on her first visit to the Faulkner home in Oxford. “Monte really got the ball rolling!” Mayton says. 

Mayton’s portraits of Faulkner’s Rowan Oak estate in Oxford, Mississippi, and the author’s wife Estelle Oldham.

Her non-portraiture drawings – in pencil, graphite, and charcoal — favor landscapes, abandoned farmhouses, weathered old barns, and trees, and are notable for a near-impressionist softness and attention to light effects. “I love graphite and charcoal, the moody feeling of that medium,” she says. “But I also work in pastel, watercolor, acrylic, and colored pencil.” Mayton recently became a member of the Art League of Hendersonville.

Other subjects that capture her eye include the animal life she can see from her studio, particularly the horses that have been part of her life for many years. But her portraits have brought Mayton a presence well beyond Hendersonville. She recently completed a drawing of Flannery O’Connor which is featured in the special collections of Georgia College’s Russell Library — an important repository of the novel- and short-story writer’s personal papers and correspondence, located in O’Connor’s home town of Milledgeville. 

Despite her niche in rendering iconic authors, Mayton doesn’t draw only in memoriam. “Right now, I’m working on a portrait for a man who saw my work on an Asheville art site,” she reveals. “Portraiture has been kind to me.”

Evelyn J. Mayton, Hendersonville; see “Evelyn’s Art Book” on Facebook. Carl Rollyson’s William Faulkner: Day by Day, illustrated by Mayton, is published by the University Press of Mississippi and should appear on bookstore shelves and online bookselling sites on Tuesday, Nov. 15 (see upress.state.ms.us and carlrollyson.com for more information).

1 Comment

  • Susan Grant says:

    Hi EJ: something inspired me to Google your name (maybe the Holy Spirit?) and I am so happy to see that you have survived the pandemic and are now famous! I’ve never read anything by Faulkner, but I’ll get this book and learn more about him. It’s simply thrilling — but don’t get too puffed up about it, I was also thrilled when I learned that my ancestors in Swain County have a cemetery named after them. Since then the South has seemed intriguing, and I’m glad that you are doing so well in NC. I’m doing OK, broke my arm last year and have a new dog. Left Paradise after the fire and bought an RV. Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

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