Listening to Ashley Bryan tell his remarkable life story at his kitchen table is a little like a private fine jazz recital. A master story-teller with an astounding command of detail and history, Bryan tells a wonderous story that is uniquely American.
Renowned artist, children’s book author, and humanitarian, Ashley Bryan has libraries and schools named for him from Kenya to California. This July, a celebration of his legacy opens on the Maine island he calls home. Housed in Acadia National Park’s Islesford Historical Museum on Little Cranberry Island, the exhibit is the inaugural event of the Ashley Bryan Center, established in 2013.
“A Visit With Ashley Bryan” features the astonishing range of the 90-year-old artist’s work — from his drawings, book illustrations, and paintings, to stained glass windows created from sea glass, to puppets constructed from objects Bryan finds on island beaches. It encompasses Bryan’s life in art: his childhood in the Bronx, his studies at Cooper Union, his years teaching at Dartmouth College, and his time in Maine. Tales of his many journeys are recounted, including his life-changing connection to world-famous cellist, Pablo Casals, and the never-before-displayed drawings Bryan created during his World War II service in the segregated United States army. Even on D-Day, Bryan concealed a sketchbook in his gas mask to draw his fellow soldiers, seeking, he says, “to preserve my humanity.”
The show coincides with the release of his latest effort “Ashley Bryan’s Puppets: Making Something from Everything,” which has been called by Kirkus Reviews, “a stunning work of creative genius.” Several of the spectacular puppets depicted in the book are on display. Bryan has received the highest honors for his children’s books, including the New York Public Library’s Literary Lions award, the Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal, and the Coretta Scott King-Virginia Hamilton Lifetime Achievement Award, as well as numerous honorary degrees. As touched as he is by these tributes, he says his greatest honor is having the two-room school house on Islesford renamed The Ashley Bryan School.
“A Visit With Ashley Bryan” is presented by the Ashley Bryan Center in partnership with the National Park Service and numerous sponsors. The free summer show runs daily from June 23 to Sept. 30, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. through August; and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. in September (except Sundays from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.). The island is reached by a short ferry ride or water taxi from Mount Desert Island. For more information, please visit www.ashleybryancenter.org or contact Donna Gold at 207 266-4470.