American, born 1923
The Negro Speaks of Rivers, 2014
Final illustration for Sail Away: Poems by Langston Hughes (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2015)
Cut-paper collage on paper
Collection of the Ashley Bryan Center
Artist, author, and educator Ashley Bryan (American, born 1923) says he can’t remember a time when he was not drawing and painting. His unending creative zeal has fueled a long and prolific career.
At a young age, Bryan noticed the lack of children’s books with African American characters. Bryan is committed to filling that void in black representation by creating books about the African and African American experiences.
Bryan’s art is as varied as his stories. His accomplished draughtsmanship is evident, whether he is drawing with pencil to create meticulous renderings, printing with cut linoleum to make vibrant celebrations of linear movement, or using tempera in colorful paintings that simulate his block prints and impart a similar visual intensity. In addition to his works on paper, Bryan also creates puppets from found objects and returns to one of the earliest forms of visual narrative in the stained-glass windows he fashions from sea glass and papier-mâché.
This exhibition showcases the breadth and depth of Bryan’s creative output, from the dynamic figure drawings he made while serving as a soldier in World War II, to his first published book in 1967, to his 2016 book Freedom Over Me, awarded a Newbery Honor, Coretta Scott King Author Honor, and Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor.
Exhibition Organization & Support
Painter and Poet: The Wonderful World of Ashley Bryan is organized by The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, Amherst, Massachusetts, in partnership with the Ashley Bryan Center.
Support for the High Museum’s presentation is provided by the Lettie Pate Evans Foundation and the Inaugural Grandparents Circle of Support: Spring and Tom Asher, Jane and Dameron Black, Lucinda W. Bunnen, Anne Cox Chambers, Ann and Tom Cousins, Shearon and Taylor Glover, Nancy and Holcombe T. Green, Jr., Joy and Tony Greene, Ellen and Tom Harbin, Mary Ellen and John Imlay, Sarah and Jim Kennedy, Jane and Hicks Lanier, Rene and Jim Nalley, Margaret and Terry Stent, Margaretta Taylor, and an anonymous donor.
This exhibition is made possible by Exhibition Series Sponsor Turner, Premier Exhibition Series Supporters Sarah and Jim Kennedy, Anne Cox Chambers Foundation, and wish Foundation, and Contributing Exhibition Series Supporters Corporate Environments and Margaret Foreman. Generous support is also provided by Anne Cox Chambers Exhibition Fund, Alfred and Adele Davis Exhibition Endowment Fund, Forward Arts Foundation Exhibition Endowment Fund, John H. and Wilhelmina D. Harland Exhibition Endowment Fund, Dorothy Smith Hopkins Exhibition Endowment Fund, Howell Exhibition Fund, Helen S. Lanier Endowment Fund, Barbara Stewart Exhibition Fund, and Eleanor McDonald Storza Exhibition Endowment Fund.
Photo: Billy McGuinness
Born in 1923, Ashley Bryan grew up in the Bronx during the Great Depression. His parents emigrated from Antigua in the Caribbean and settled in New York after the First World War. Bryan began making books at the age of six and has never stopped. Trips to the public library—where he sought out folktales, fairy tales, novels, biographies, and poetry—fueled his passion for storytelling. There were, however, few opportunities to identify with African Americans, a problem Bryan determined to fix through his work.
Drawing helped Bryan maintain his humanity, even when drafted from art school into a segregated unit of the U.S. Army during World War II, where he served in the D-Day invasion. Bryan later studied philosophy at Columbia University, won a Fulbright scholarship to study in Germany, and taught art in high schools and universities. In the summer of 1946, while attending Maine’s Skowhegan School of Art, he visited Acadia National Park and saw the Cranberry Isles; he has called this island community home for the past sixty years.
Bryan illustrated a volume of poems by the Bengali writer Rabindranath Tagore in 1967. That book, Moon, for What Do You Wait? became Bryan’s first published book. He has continued publishing books ever since, now with more than fifty titles to his name.