I Think the Best Art to See Before Breakfast
(or Any Time) is Ashley Bryan’s Art …

h1 May 24th, 2012 by jules

Photo of Ashley Bryan courtesy of Alazar PressA week ago today at Kirkus, I conducted a short Q & A with Jennifer Dasal, Associate Curator of Contemporary Art at the North Carolina Museum of Art, about their current exhibit of Ashley Bryan’s artwork, Rhythms of the Heart: The Illustration of Ashley Bryan, which runs until August 19 of this year.

As I wrote over there, Bryan (pictured right) has led a long and distinguished career in children’s literature and his work draws, in particular, upon African-American spirituals, poetry, and folklore.

That link is here. You can read more over there from Ms. Dasal about the pieces in the exhibit, and I thank her for taking the time to talk to me.

Today here at 7-Imp, I’ve got images from the exhibit, and I thank the museum for sharing.

Released in conjunction with this exhibit will be two volumes of spirituals from Ashley, Walk Together Children: Black American Spirituals, Volume One and I’m Going to Sing: Black American Spirituals, Volume Two, published by Alazar Press. Over at the Q & A, I also spoke briefly with Rosemarie Gulla of Alazar, and here is what she told me in her entirety, for those interested in Ashley’s work and, in particular, these new volumes:

I am an elementary school educator, who was profoundly influenced by Ashley’s style of presentation more than twenty-five years ago. We have been friends since the day we met, and a few years ago he offered me the opportunity to take care of those first two books of collections of spirituals that both were award winners but have been left out of print. It took Ashley a decade of requests to get the rights back. Since the rights eventually were reverted, I could set out to offer the new editions in the highest quality way I could. Ashley contributed new colorized cover art and a new introduction — with Henrietta [Mays Smith]* contributing a foreword. Images could be digitally manipulated in the front and back matter to lift the book into the present day. The art and the music notations remain the same in a slightly enlarged trim size. We paid a premium amount for high quality paper and the ability to print and bind these volumes in the USA. Gross profit margins were not high on the list.

Our relationship brought these books back into print. They would not be here without his compelling stories of why they needed to be offered once again. Each volume took him three years to complete, because of the time it took to create the linocuts and the time and effort involved in cutting and pressing each note, bar line, time signature, [and] staff one at a time to produce musical notations that equaled the strength of the linocut prints. Ashley explains that he did this to honor the creative genius of enslaved Africans, who despite their impossible circumstances, could create these songs. Ashley stands in awe of the human spirits that found a way to do this and uses these volumes to help teach their historic significance. Lastly, and for me most significantly, the ability of these spirituals to help us all walk together is at the heart of the power of these volumes. It has been an honor to bring them back….

Through this process, I have learned that people can step up and take ownership of projects they believe in. The touching images and the beautiful spirituals took six years of Ashley’s life and talent to complete. I couldn’t let them be lost forever and am enjoying this chance to offer them once more.

*Henrietta won the Coretta Scott King–Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement in 2011, and Ashley has been named the recipient for 2012.

(Click each book cover image to enlarge)

Here are more images from the exhibit. At the bottom of the post, you’ll see the copyright info for the images in the order they appear in the post; if you’re curious to know from where these images come, check that info below.


(Click to enlarge)

(Click to enlarge)

(Click to enlarge)

* * * * * * *

Ashley Bryan, Title Page, 1999, from Aneesa Lee and the Weaver’s Gift (HarperCollins, 1999), tempera and gouache on paper, 9 ¾ x 9 ½ in., courtesy of the artist, © 1999 Ashley Bryan.

Photo of Ashley Bryan courtesy of Alazar Press.

Ashley Bryan, A Nest Full of Stars, 2004, from A Nest Full of Stars: Poems (Greenwillow Books, 2004), poster paint on paper, 5 x 8 in., courtesy of the artist, © 2004 Ashley Bryan.

Ashley Bryan, Elephant and Frog Go Courting, 1993, from The Ox of the Wonderful Horns and Other African Tales (Atheneum, 1993), tempera on paper, 7 x 10 ½ in., courtesy of the artist, © 1993 Ashley Bryan.

Ashley Bryan, Hen and Frog, 1980, from Beat the Story-Drum, Pum-Pum (Atheneum, 1980), tempera on paper, 7 x 10 ½ in., courtesy of the artist, © 1980 Ashley Bryan.

Ashley Bryan, The Hidden Ring, 1976, from The Adventures of Aku (Atheneum, 1976), tempera on paper, 7 x 10 ½ in., courtesy of the artist, © 1976 Ashley Bryan.

Ashley Bryan, Leopard, 1998, from Why Leopard Has Spots: Dan Stories from Liberia (Fulcrum Publishing, 1999), linoleum print, 8 x 5 ½ in., courtesy of the artist, © 1999 Ashley Bryan.

Ashley Bryan, The Little Birds’ Touch of Black, 2003, from Beautiful Blackbird (Atheneum, 2003), mixed-media collage, colored paper, 20 x 8 ½ in., courtesy of the artist, © Ashley Bryan.

Ashley Bryan, Q Maya Angelou, 1997, from Ashley Bryan’s ABC of African American Poetry (Atheneum, 1997), tempera and gouache on paper, 8 ¾ x 11 ¾ in., courtesy of the artist, © 1997 Ashley Bryan.

Ashley Bryan, Spider Anansi and Granny Dancing (preliminary sketch), 1977, from The Dancing Granny (Aladdin, 1977, 1980), ink on paper, 6 x 4 ¾ in., courtesy of the artist, © 1997 Ashley Bryan.

Ashley Bryan, Jacket Art, 1992, from Sing to the Sun: Poems and Pictures (HarperCollins, 1995), watercolor on paper, 6 x 7 ¾ in., courtesy of the artist, © 1995 Ashley Bryan.

11 comments to “I Think the Best Art to See Before Breakfast
(or Any Time) is Ashley Bryan’s Art …”

  1. Beautiful beautiful beautiful! Love his work. ♥

  2. Just quietly breathing in the presence of such fabulous art…

  3. Had the opportunity to see Mr. Bryan at the NC Art Museum—he is as lovely as his work

  4. Ashley Bryan’s beautiful art, his writing, his personality and his masterful storytelling inspire and enlighten people of all ages. He has touched my heart..

  5. Lovely!

  6. I look at his hands, and I think, “He has such young hands. He will live forever.”

    If I say it, then it is true, right?
    I think I have for Mr. Bryan what you had for Mr. Sendak – that love mingled with awe and dread that someday, it will all stop.

    But, it never will. Always the books. Always the art. Always. ♥

  7. Bryan’s work lets color sing and dance. Thanks for this and for other recent gems. Lucky for us, you never seem to stop either, Jules.

  8. p.s. and Bryan’s black and white work is just as full of “color” as his colorful pieces. Those dancers look like they’re about to burst off the page.

  9. Thank you Jules for this and everything.

  10. […] Children:  Black American Spirituals, is complete with music for each song. The linoleum print artwork, stunning in black and white if you can get your hands on a 1974 edition, has companion books […]

  11. […] my eye on what Alazar Press is doing? They have previously published the work of Ashley Bryan (see this older 7-Imp post), and they’re doing it again this year. But this time it’s a very unusual collaboration […]

Leave a Comment

Should you have trouble posting, please contact sevenimp_blaine@blaine.org. Thanks.