It was Ashley Bryan’s (1923–2022) lifelong mission to fill the void of Black representation in children’s literature. He grew up in Harlem and the Bronx, and received a scholarship to Cooper Union Art School, where he was the only African American student. At age 19, he was drafted into a segregated unit of the U.S. Army. Bryan’s service on Omaha Beach during World War II greatly impacted his life and art. His vibrant tempera paintings, bold woodcut and linoleum prints, and cut-pater collages brim with life-affirming messages of hope and positive representation. Bryan created over 50 books celebrating the African and African American experience, and honoring the song, folk and oral traditions of Africa and the Caribbean.
Bryan’s work has been a recurring presence in the Museum’s galleries since its earliest days. Solo exhibitions include Ashley Bryan: Beautiful Blackbird (2003), Painter and Poet: The Wonderful World of Ashley Bryan (2005), and Ashley Bryan in Song (2021). He was a Carle Honors honoree in 2007, the second year the fundraiser was held. The Carle also organized the traveling exhibition Painter and Poet: The Art of Ashley Bryan at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta (2017) and the Portland Museum of Art in Maine (2018). Over two decades, Bryan generously donated 160 artworks from 35 picture books to The Carle.
I love the work of the Black American poets. They are at the basis of all that I do in my retelling of African folktales. . . .Ashley Bryan
The illustrations for Let it Shine are in collage. I wanted to present them in materials that children also work with, and collage is natural to children.Ashley Bryan