Ashley Bryan

After the war, Ashley completed his degree, studied philosophy and literature at Columbia University on the GI Bill, and then went to Europe on a Fulbright scholarship, seeking to understand why humans choose war. In 1950, renowned cellist, Pablo Casals, agreed to break the vow of silence he had taken after Franco came to power in his native Spain. Ashley was permitted to draw Casals and his fellow musicians during rehearsals in Prades, France, where Casals was in exile. Through the power of Casals’ music sessions, something “broke free” for Ashley: “I found the rhythm in my hand.”

Ashley returned to the U.S., teaching art at several schools and universities and retiring to Maine’s Cranberry Isles as professor emeritus of Dartmouth College. Ashley also published books—more than 50 to date. Writes his editor, Caitlyn Dlouhy, in The Horn Book Magazine: He had discovered a hole in children’s literature. There were no introductory books of African American spirituals. There were no stories from the African oral tradition. The translations he found were academic. Dust in the throat. … He couldn’t duplicate the oral traditions of Africa, so he set out on a mission to create something for a new audience: beautiful books to be read and shared aloud … Ashley had bridged time and space, bringing past and present together to create a new voice, born of an ancient one.

Among Ashley’s awards are the Coretta Scott King–Virginia Hamilton Lifetime Achievement Award, Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal, and the New York Public Library’s Literary Lions award. Throughout the U.S. and Africa, libraries, children’s rooms, and literary festivals are named for him. As much as Ashley is humbled by these honors, it is the joy of creation, the excitement he sees in children’s eyes, that delights him most.

Freedom Songs! at the Mariposa features Ashley’s exquisite, “Block Prints of Black American Spirituals,” which he created to raise awareness that the creators of sacred songs that have shaped American culture and spiritual life were created from the “genius of an enslaved people.” Hand printed limited editions of these masterpieces are available exclusively through the Mariposa Museum, thanks to our collaboration with the Ashley Bryan Center.

To hear Ashley in his own words, click here: