The Vibrancy and Colors of a Great American Artist: Praising Ashley Bryan

By Jeff B. RSS Tue, March 22, 2022

For an artist renowned for his use of color, my first exposure to Ashley Bryan (1923-2022) was the pen and ink drawings in The Dancing Granny. In the 1977 edition published by Atheneum, Mr. Bryan's drawn line captures the movement and the joy that he would later call upon his brilliant skill with color to express. Pouring over that black and white '77 edition, it was all I could do to keep from jumping up and dancing away myself! Later, in 1987, Mr. Bryan would reproduce these dynamic drawings in vibrant, living color.

As we begin to put away our winter coats and hang up our wool hats, this is a perfect time to share some of Mr. Bryant's work from across a 40+ year artistic career. This is just a small sampling of a much larger collection of work. You can easily access what the Free Library has on the shelves (and in our digital collections) by searching our catalog or by stopping by and asking your neighborhood Librarian.

First, learn about the life of the artist from the man himself:

Ashley Bryan: Words to My Life's Song by Ashley Bryan

Ashley's autobiography is full of art, photographs, and the poignant never-say-never tale of his rich life, a life that has always included drawing and painting. Even as a boy growing up during the Depression, he painted -- finding cast off objects to turn into books and kites and toys and art. Even as a soldier in the segregated Army on the beaches of Normandy, he sketched -- keeping charcoal crayons and paper in his gasmask to draw during lulls. Even as a talented, visionary art student who was accepted and then turned away from college upon arrival, the school telling Ashley that to give a scholarship to an African American student would be a waste, he painted -- continuing to create art when he could have been discouraged, continuing to polish his talents when his spirit could have been beaten.

Infinite Hope: A Black Artist's Journey from World War II to Peace by Ashley Bryan

Imagine keeping a secret for decades. People have always known Ashley Bryan as a celebrated artist, storyteler, writer - a legend. But there was a role Ashley had that almost no one knew: soldier.

(Also available in eBook and Audiobook Download.)

Second, a small selection sampling his style and technique:

Ashley Bryan's African Tales, Uh-Huh by Ashley Bryan

Come gather round, young and old, and hear these stories from Africa, retold and illustrated by the incomparable Ashley Bryan. Retold with rich, musical narration, and illustrated with Mr. Bryan's distinctive paintings, these tales are full of fun and magic and a few lessons to be learned. They are tales of tricksters, chieftains, and both wise and foolish creatures. You will learn why Frog and Snake never play together, or why Bush Cow and Elephant are bad friends, or of the problems that a husband has because he likes to count spoonfuls. Although the stories come from many parts of Africa, they are full of the universal human spirit, to be shared and treasured for every generation, uh-huh.

Turtle Knows Your Name by Ashley Bryan

A young village boy living in the Caribbean has one problem—his name is so long that not one person can remember it. But still his granny insists he learn and use it. The boy thinks he has the longest name in the world, but could Granny's be even longer?

I Am Loved by Nikki Giovanni, illustrated by Ashley Bryan

Hand-selected by Newbery honoree Ashley Bryan, he has, with his masterful flourish of color, shape, and movement, added a visual layering that drums the most important message of all to young, old, parent, child, grandparent, and friend alike: You are loved. You are loved. You are loved. As a bonus, one page is mirrored, so children reading the book can see exactly who is loved--themselves!

Lift Every Voice and Sing: A Celebration of the African American National Anthem by James Weldon Johnson

A cornerstone hymn chronicling the Black experience, "Lift Every Voice and Sing" was declared the official African American National Anthem by the NAACP in 1919. First published in 1993, this picture book featuring linocuts by Harlem Renaissance artist Catlett is back in print, with a new Foreword by Newbery and Coretta Scott King Honoree Byran.

We Rise, We Resist, We Raise Our Voices by Wade Hudson

What do we tell our children when the world seems bleak, and prejudice and racism run rampant? With 96 lavishly designed pages of original art and prose, fifty diverse creators lend voice to young activists.

(Also available in eBook and Audiobook Download.)

Impressive, moving, and rousing: Ashley Bryan's iconic art spans a lifetime of experience, expression, and culture; has touched the lives of many; and will live on for a long, long time to come. Check it out at your library.

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