I fell in love during a visit to the new show, “Painter and Poet: The Wonderful World of Ashley Bryan,” at the High Museum of Art. Before even going downstairs to see the exhibit, I browsed several of Ashley Bryan’s fabulous children’s books in the museum’s gift shop. My heart stirred.
Next, I took a tour of the exhibit. While gazing at Ashley Bryan’s adorable puppets – made from found objects – my heart fluttered.
And, when I learned during the tour about Ashley Bryan’s powerful new book, my heart beat faster.
Finally, while watching a video of Bryan, I heard this 93-year-old author and illustrator say, “Never lose the child within you,” and I fell head over heels in love.
At a young age, Ashley Bryan noticed the lack of children’s books with African-American characters. He has been filing that void for 50 years, with books influenced by African folktales, jazz and poetry.
Here are a few highlights from the exhibit.
- Exclusive to Atlanta. First thing to know: Atlanta’s High Museum is the sole venue for this show, which runs through Jan. 21, 2018.
- Forgotten No More. The title of Ashley Bryan’s newest book is “Freedom Over Me: Eleven Slaves, Their Lives and Dreams Brought to Life by Ashley Bryan.” The author was inspired to write and illustrate this book, for children ages 6 to 10, after digging through a trove of slavery-related documents where he found the bills of sale for 11 enslaved people. Ashley Bryan restores their long lost humanity by giving them histories and dreams. Important for visitors to the exhibit: Several of the original pieces of art from this book are on display. "Freedom Over Me" received a Newbery Honor and Coretta Scott King Author honor.
- Black is Beautiful. One example of a beautiful Ashley Bryan books is “Beautiful Blackbird.” You can see some of the art – colorful cut-paper collages – for this book at the High. "Beautiful Blackbird" is a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award winner.
- “Ashley Bryan’s Puppets: Making Something From Everything:” The eight Ashley Bryan puppets included in the High exhibit were inspired by African art and are made of objects scavenged mostly from the small Maine island where Bryan lives and works. There is one puppet with the bristles from a brush forming a hat, at least one that incorporates sea glass and, my favorite, a puppet whose head is a coconut. And it’s not just any coconut. Ashley Bryan got this one from the island of Antigua, where his parents were born.
- Joyful Song and Dance. The Alliance Theatre brings to the stage the world premiere of “The Dancing Granny,” one of Ashley Bryan’s books. Members of the cast gave a sneak preview during the recent tour of exhibit. This toe-tapping performance finds Ananse, the clever spider of African folklore, trying to trick Granny into dancing away from her garden so he can take her vegetables. His plan backfires when he is drawn into the dance himself. The high-energy and charming snippet we saw left us wanting much more. Fortunately, the entire production soon will be live at these venues: Conant Performing Arts Center at Oglethorpe University, June 10 – 18; The Galloway School, June 24 – July 2; and Spelman College, July 8 – 16 .
“Painter and Poet: The Wonderful world of Ashley Bryan” is organized by The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, Amherst, Mass., in partnership with the Ashley Bryan Center.
While you are at the High Museum, you might visit other nearby museums by going Museum Hopping in Midtown. Or, you may want to tamp down hunger pangs by stopping for a Midtown brunch.
Carol Carter writes and edits for Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau.