Painter and Poet: the Art of Ashley Bryan at Portland Museum of Art (PMA), August 3 – November 25, 2018

Painter and Poet: the Art of Ashley Bryan is the first major art museum exhibition in Maine for the award-winning 95-year-old artist and Little Cranberry Island resident, a pioneer of African and African American representation in the children’s book medium, who has published more than 50 titles since his first collection of poems in 1967.

This exhibition highlights the breadth of Ashley Bryan’s prolific and varied creative output. It features original art from 14 titles and a selection of independent work, including sketches made while serving in World War II and large puppets made from found objects washed ashore on the Maine island where he has lived for over 60 years. It provides audiences with the full scope of his career, from his earliest books of African folktales to his 2016 book Freedom Over Me: Eleven Slaves, Their Lives and Dreams Brought to Life by Ashley Bryan, which won a Newbery Honor and Coretta Scott King Honors in both Author and Illustrator categories.” — PMA

Extrapolating from sources ranging from South Africa to Angola, Bryan continues to introduce readers to African tales. He notes that “it means a lot to me to open up aspects of black culture to people. I hope that my work with the African tales will be . . . like a bridge reaching across distances of time and space.” In 2003, for instance, he adapted Beautiful Blackbird, a story from Zambia, which he illustrated using a collage-based process. In the book, Blackbird shares his gifts by giving each bird “a touch of black,” demonstrating the importance of inclusion, diversity, and self-worth, saying, “just remember, whatever I do, I’ll be me and you’ll be you.”

Ashley Bryan (American, b. 1923). Front cover illustration, 1974. Walk Together Children: Black American Spirituals Cover, page 30 [Atheneum, 1974]. Linoleum cut on rice paper. Image: 7 1/4 x 8 3/4 in.; Object: ; Mat: Frame: 15 1/8 x 16 7/8 x 7/8 in. Collection of The Ashley Bryan Center

Ashley Bryan (American, b. 1923. Endpapers, ca. 2002. Beautiful Blackbird 2-3 [Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2003]. Collage of cut colored paper with mixed media on paper. Image: 10 3/8 x 18 7/8 in.; Object: 15 x 22 1/4 in.; Mat: Frame: 20 1/8 x 28 1/4 x 1/2 in. Collection of The Ashley Bryan Center

Ashley Bryan (American, b. 1923). “Oh, when the children sing in peace”, 2006. Let It Shine: Three Favorite Spirituals 24-25 [Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2007]. Collage of cut colored paper on paper Image: 12 x 20 1/2 in; Object: 14 7/8 x 22 1/8 in.; Mat: 20 x 26 in. Frame: 22 1/8 x 28 1/8 x 3/4 in. Collection of The Ashley Bryan Center

Ashley Bryan in gallery

Painter and Poet: the Art of Ashley Bryan was organized by The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, Amherst, Massachusetts.

Images courtesy Portland Museum of Art.