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Ashley Bryan

“There are so many ways in which we learn about life and the self. Each day opens paths to this exploration. For many of us, books play a major role in that adventure” ~ Ashley Bryan

Renowned for the extraordinary range and depth of his talent, Ashley Bryan is an artist, a writer, an anthologist, a storyteller, and a noted scholar of African and African American folklore. He hopes that his work with African tales will be like “a tender bridge” connecting past to present, reaching across distances of time and space. Ashley Bryan's numerous awards and honors include the Coretta Scott King Award for Illustration, six Coretta Scott King Honors, the Arbuthnot Prize, one of the highest honors in children’s literature, and a Fulbright Scholarship. His poetry and paintings have, and continue to influence a whole generation of children.

Bryan’s story is one of courage, ethnicity, generosity and inspiration. His work has an ethereal feel to it. His books are full of love, all embracing, inspiring, warm, colorful, joyous, and bursting with song. His work ranges from geometric shapes and bright colors to line drawings reproduced in sepia tones and block prints. A spirited performer himself, he is a compiler, beholder and reteller of the traditional legacy of African folk-tales. As an illustrator of children's books, Bryan has explored the African-American experience from the angle of the Black Oral Tradition. He works largely with Black African-American poetry and spirituals. Bryan is also a poet himself and has created and beautifully illustrated his own poems in Sing to the Sun.

Born in 1923, in Harlem, to Jamaican immigrants, Bryan’s childhood was filled with books, music, and art, even though resources tended to be scarce during the Great Depression. Second of six children, Bryan cannot remember a time when he was not drawing or painting. His first memories were of his parents sending him to Government run WPA classes which were free, and where he learned to draw, paint and play musical instruments. Bryan's mother sang and his father played the piano. Bryan self- published his very first book in kindergarten. An alphabet book, authored, illustrated and bound by Bryan himself; it received rave reviews from teachers, family and friends. After graduating from high school, Bryan applied for a scholarship at a prominent art institution, but was essentially told that a scholarship would not be wasted on a colored person. Under the guidance of his high school teachers, Bryan then applied and was accepted into New York's prestigious Cooper Union Art School. Two years at Cooper Union, and Ashley was drafted into the army to serve in World War II. At the age of nineteen, as a part of the fleet that sailed to Normandy for the surprise invasion, Bryan drew whenever he could, keeping a sketch pad and art supplies in his gas mask. From there, Bryan went on to study philosophy at Columbia University, earn a Fulbright scholarship to study art in Europe, and become the head of the art department at Dartmouth College. Ashley Bryan lives on Little Cranberry Island off the coast of Maine. His art studio, often open to visitors, is filled with toys, paintings, illustrations, and handmade puppets.


Ashley Bryan
Image © Steve Butman

Rhythms of the Heart: The Illustration of Ashley Bryan

Exhibition Retired