BAR HARBOR — “A Visit with Ashley Bryan,” a landmark show featuring one of Maine’s most beloved artists, will be on exhibit at the College of the Atlantic’s Ethel H. Blum Gallery through February.
The exhibit, designed and conceptualized with the help of College of the Atlantic students, staff, alumni and faculty, was on display at Acadia National Park’s Islesford Historical Museum this summer. It features work from Bryan’s 80-year career in art, literature and music, and includes paintings, drawings, illustrated books and puppets featured in his newest book of poems.
The Ethel H. Blum Gallery is open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.
The exhibit was conceived by a group of admirers in the fall of 2013. That group consisted of Ashley Bryan Center board members and founders Henry and Donna Isaacs, Dan and Cynthia Lief, and the artist, as well as exhibition developers Dru Colbert, a College of the Atlantic faculty member; and Betts Swanton ’88, a COA alum.
As the project developed, the group was joined by Ashley Bryan Center project manager Josh Winer ’91, a COA alum and current COA lecturer; local Islesford resident and craftsman Courtney Chaplin; and graphic production designer Danielle Meier ’11, another COA alum.
“He’s active all over the world. He’s very philanthropic,” Winer said. “He is someone who takes the educator part on his own professional background extremely seriously.”
Ashley Bryan, 92, is a renowned artist, children’s book author and humanitarian who has had libraries and schools from Kenya to California named for him. He was born in New York in 1923, in Harlem; his parents were natives of Antigua. He began painting as a very young child and self-published his first book, an illustrated alphabet, in kindergarten. In a career spanning almost a century, he has illustrated approximately 40 books and focuses on the cultural contributions of black artists, teachers, activists and storytellers.
Two years into his college career, World War II intervened, and Bryan was inducted into the Army, participating in the Normandy invasion. He continued to draw throughout his time in Europe.
“Ashley’s personal story of courage, perseverance and dedication is presented in a timeline that includes seldom-seen work from the artist’s years serving in the segregated U.S. Army in World War II,” according to a description of the exhibit.
COA students visiting Bryan’s Islesford home recently found a space filled with creative wonder. The walls are mostly hidden with shelves, and the shelves are populated with a fantastic array of toys, gadgets and artifacts. As he passed around items from his collection of international push-pull toys, the artist encouraged students to learn how things work and how to make things. “You can make things,” he said. “You don’t have to buy them.”
Currently, Bryan is illustrating a new edition of Langston Hughes’ “Poems of the Sea.” For this book, he is using colored paper that he cuts and layers to form vivid images.