Ashley F. Bryan, an illustrator, poet, puppeteer, storyteller and scholar of African American folklore, was honored at the Black New England Conference on Friday, Oct.19 at the University of New Hampshire with the Black Heritage Trail of New Hampshire Citizen of the Year Award.
Each year the Black Heritage Trail of New Hampshire choses a recipient of its Citizen of the Year Award, presented at its annual black history conference awards dinner.
Bryan, a 95-year old American artist who lives in Maine, has received a multitude of awards and recognition, including nomination for the Hans Christian Andersen Award, short-listed in 2016 for a Kirkus Prize, recipient of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award, a Newbury Honor, and two Coretta Scott King Awards.
Bryan was born in Harlem, New York in 1923, the second of six children. His parents were descendants of enslaved West Africans from Antigua. His father, a printer by trade, was able to supply young Ashley with left-over paper for the child’s endless flow of artwork and drawings.
When Ashley applied for scholarships to art schools at 16, he was told that his portfolios were among the most impressive ever submitted. Yet, his applications were denied, since, “It would be a waste to give a scholarship to a colored person.”
Bryan was eventually accepted to Cooper Union School of Art and Engineering in New York City, where applicants were not seen—they were judged only on their portfolios
During WWII, Bryan served in the segregated U. S. Army. When off-duty, he hid his art materials in his gas mask and drew everything he observed from daily life in his port battalion.
After his service in the war, Bryan returned to Cooper Union to complete his art. He was later offered a summer scholarship to the new Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in central Maine. That was the first time Ashley Bryan visited Acadia National Park and the Cranberry Isles.
Bryan went on to study art in France and he received a Fulbright grant to study in Germany.
In 1974, Ashley Bryan joined the faculty of Dartmouth College’s newly established art department, eventually becoming head of “Visual Studies,” teaching all levels of undergraduate drawing, painting and design. When Bryan retired from Dartmouth in 1988, he became a year-round resident of the Cranberry Isles.
Creating art from “things cast off,” he recovers “treasures washed up by the sea,” on his daily walks and makes fantastic hand-held puppets from bones, shells, drift wood, fishing net, and sea glass.
Bryan continues to publish illustrated books in which he attempts to bring to life African tales, proverbs and spirituals of enslaved African-Americans whose free expression through these enduring popular songs are rarely given appropriate attribution.
In 2013, a long-time dream of Bryan’s was realized when two sets of his sea glass panels were installed in the Islesford Congregational Church.
The Ashley Bryan Center was founded on Cranberry Isles with the mission “to fostering cultural understanding and personal pride through scholarship, exhibitions and opportunity in the Arts.” It is open daily to the public during summer months.
For more information or to register for conference visit: http://blackheritagetrailnh.org/2018-black-new-england-conference
The 2018 Black New England Conference is Sponsored by:
TD Bank; Eastern Bank; Eversource; Delta Dental; Kennebunk Savings; Center for New England Culture; The University of New Hampshire