Ashley Bryan: The Spirit of Joy
On view: Saturday, September 30, 2023–Sunday, January 7, 2024
Elizabeth de C. Wilson Museum

“I want the spirit of joy to fill anyone who comes into my home.”

Numerous exhibitions have celebrated the significant contributions that award-winning illustrator and author Ashley Bryan made to the field of children’s literature. The Spirit of Joy at Southern Vermont Arts Center will be the first, however, to examine the interior of Bryan’s home and its relationship to his creative output.

Ashley Bryan’s collection is displayed on shelves, tables, and even suspended from the ceiling /
Photo credit: Parrish Dobson

Over four decades of living and working on Little Cranberry Island off the northern coast of Maine, Bryan amassed thousands of toys, puppets, and other curios that he lovingly and purposefully displayed throughout his home. Patterns emerge from this remarkable, eclectic, and global collection of objects that expand understanding of the subjects and themes Bryan explored in his artwork, such as: music/song/poetry, the animal world, African and African-American heritage, and family/community.

The exhibition will bring the interior of Bryan’s home to life through a selection of toys, objects, puppets, and paintings borrowed from the Ashley Bryan Center as well as images documenting the space, taken by Boston-based photographer Parrish Dobson. In addition, the Eric Carle Museum is lending several of Bryan’s book illustrations for the exhibition.

“Mother and Child” (around 1995), Oil on canvas, Collection of the Ashley Bryan Center

Ashley Bryan (1923-2022) is widely respected and beloved for helping fill a void in the historically white-dominated field of children’s literature through centering stories of Black life and African folk tales. SVAC is honored to be the first institution to bring public and scholarly attention to understudied aspects of his life and work. An array of public programs for youth, families, and adults will complement the exhibition and further engage our audiences.



Exhibition image: Ashley Bryan, Illustration for Let It Shine: Three Favorite Spirituals (Atheneum). Collection of The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, Gift of and copyright © 2023 the Ashley Bryan Center.

In conjunction with this exhibition, the following program is planned:

Joyful Remembrances
September 30, 1–2 p.m.
Register HERE

In conjunction with the opening of Ashley Bryan: The Spirit of Joy, four panelists will share their joyful remembrances of Ashley Bryan drawn from their relationships, both personal and professional, with him.

  • Nichols B. Clark, founding director of The Ashley Bryan Center
  • Parrish Dobson, photographer and educator
  • Jennifer R. Gross, independent curator and writer
  • Ashley J. Swepson, nephew of Ashley Bryan

Alison Crites, SVAC’s Manager of Exhibitions & Interpretive Engagement, will moderate the panel. Afterwards, attendees are invited to join us for the public opening of the exhibition from 2–4 p.m.

This exhibition is supported in part by the Vermont Humanities and Awesome Graphics. 

September 30 at 10:00 am — January 7 at 5:00 pm
10:00 am — 5:00 pm (2383h)

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