Ashley Bryan is the most celebrated member of the island community of Little Cranberry, ME. He has spent the majority of his 91 years as a working artist, but is also a war veteran, philanthropist, teacher, and poet. He went to art school with Halsey’s grandmother, Sara Weeks Peabody, and they have stayed friends ever since.
On Wednesday, he welcomed us into his home for lunch and tea. Ashley immediately encouraged us to look around his house, which is filled with a lifetime collection of toys, books, and folk art. He appeared to have at least two studios: one dedicated to puppet making, and another for painting and collages. His collection is astounding, and though I could probably revisit it a thousand times and not see every little thing, I’m sure Ashley could tell an anecdote about each one.
During lunch, our friend, Jack, asked Ashley if he liked the German poet, Rilke. Ashley looked up for a moment and then began reciting a translation from memory, adding emotional phrasing and emphasis as if he truly knew how Rilke intended it. He paused afterwards and explained how the translated words transform him, but asked us to listen to the original version. “Even if you can’t understand the words, you can hear the music.” He began from the beginning, in perfect German, and yes, we could hear the internal rhymes: the music.
His audience was in awe, to put it simply, but this is Ashley Bryan’s effect.
Ashley obliged every question, every request for a photograph…he insisted on doing the dishes. He said he had profound gratitude for the community that has fostered him and his art. After being in his presence for the afternoon, I understood that he is the real gift. He said, “We must always consider others.” I see how Ashley has contributed so much love and kindness to others, and how such sentiments can only be reciprocated. This is how Ashley brings peace and joy to the world.
For more about Ashley Bryan and the Ashley Bryan Center, visit: ashleybryancenter.org