Thank you, Ashley Bryan

by | Feb 11, 2022 | News

Renowned American illustrator and author Ashley Bryan passed away last Friday, February 4, 2022. As a resident of Islesford, Ashley the person and Ashley the artist had a tremendous impact on the island. His contributions extended beyond his art. He was a valued community member and friend. 

Ashley Bryan teaches students in his home on the Maine island of Islesford

When honored with the Mission’s Sunbeam award for his contributions in 2012, one young girl said, “Ashley deserves this award because he’s an absolutely amazing person. He teaches us in school. He teaches us in his home. Being in Ashley’s house is like being in Ashley’s imagination. He helps not only in our small community here in Islesford, but in the global community. And he’s an honor to have here on our island.”

Ashley Bryan teaches students in his home on the Maine island of Islesford

During the renaming of the Cranberry Isles school to the Ashley Bryan School, one adult said, “So many of us remembered and realized the lessons that Ashley has taught us, the values that he has taught us, the humanity, the respect, the understanding of other cultures.  Love is the only word I can say to describe this relationship.” 

Ashley Bryan stands in front of the Cranberry Isles school named in his honor

Ashley also touched the hearts of Mission staff as well, particularly the crew of the Sunbeam. Here, the Mission shares their personal reflections, and as an organization, we pass our condolences onto Ashley’s family and the community of Islesford.

From the desk of Sharon Daley, Director of Island Health, RN 

It should be simple to write about Ashley. In fact, when I try, a few words come to mind, maybe because they describe him so well. They would be wonder, love, and kindness. To meet Ashley, you immediately saw and felt those things. His warmth as he met you; his wanting to know and hear about who you are. As you talked, he might see a flower as simple as a dandelion, and his joy at its beauty led to stories and sharing. He had great joy. Not that he didn’t have pain from the losses he endured, but that joy and faith always shone through.

American artist and author Ashley Bryan admires Maine flora on a warm, sunny day.
American artist and author Ashley Bryan admires Maine flora on a warm, sunny day.

American artist and author Ashley Bryan reads aloud to an audience of children on the Maine island of Islesford.

I wonder what a world like Ashley’s would be like. I think everyone who met him felt a little bit of wanting to be a better person. I hear that on the island where he lived and from the people he was loved by and loved so dearly. He connected with thousands of people. We can only hope that is what his life and legacy will continue to do and grow.

Ashley Bryan reads aloud to island children

I take back that only a few words come to mind. I could add joy, strength, wisdom, caring, awe-inspiring—the list could go on and on. Here is to you, Ashley, for all we learned from you and the hope that we can all be more like you.

From the desk of Douglas Cornman, Director of Island Outreach, MA, BC-DMT

It’s a tremendous understatement to say that Ashley was a uniquely special person. He had qualities in abundance that most of us seem to possess in drips and drabs. It’s a seemingly impossible challenge to list and rank the many virtues that made him so special to so many. From my perspective, he mastered each and every virtue and employed them with effortless grace. Two of his attributes deserve mention, however. These are the aspects of Ashley’s humanity that inspire me daily to be a better person than the one who crawls out from under the blankets each morning.  

The first was his almost other worldly ability to find the transformative power of beauty and art in everything that he touched. I have yet to encounter a piece of his artwork that doesn’t inspire beauty and joy and accentuate the loveliness of whatever medium he used. From pieces of tumbled sea glass to bleached bird bones, Ashley made insipid objects glorious and meaningful. Take a look at any one of his puppets or his stained glass windows to understand what I mean. His written words bring life and emotion to stories and messages that need to be heard, again and again, and again. I have never witnessed an author who recites with such passion and animation. Ashley danced and sang stories more than he actually read them. Beautiful Blackbird and My People are my absolute favorites.

The second quality I want to mention was Ashley’s ability to make you feel like you were the most special person in the world. Though I wish it otherwise, I can count on my fingers and toes the number of times that Ashley and I shared time and space. My relationship with him was nominal, at best, in comparison to others. Nevertheless, Ashley’s face lit with joy and recognition every time I visited with him on his beloved Islesford. Not once was I turned away or asked to leave after a period of time.

Instead, Ashley welcomed me with literal open arms. I was invited to sit by his side, where he would share thoughts regarding his latest project. A visit with Ashley always included his offering a piece of candy, or two, from the many packages he received from friends, far and wide. I know for a fact that I was not the only person to benefit from his generous hospitality. He treated everyone with equity whether it was your first meeting or your hundredth.

Douglas, Ashley and Mission videographer, Hunter Billings

It may seem as if I have put Ashley on a very high pedestal, but it’s just the opposite: Ashley was the most human and humble of people. He wore his talents, recognition, wisdom, and intellect as casually as he wore his cardigan. I would be remiss if I ended without mentioning just one more of Ashley’s qualities that I admire. Upon reflection, perhaps, it is the one I admire most of all. Perhaps, Ashley’s most virtuous virtue and his most precious gift was his modeling for us that being authentically kind and giving and selfless and loving is obtainable. It is something that each of us can actually achieve if we put our hearts and minds to it. 

In the hall of Neighborhood House on Islesford, Douglas Cornman, Ashley Bryan, and Emily Axelrod celebrate Ashley's 95th birthday.

Rest In Peace, my friend. Though I can hardly imagine you resting at all. I can imagine you reciting My People or dancing your way through Beautiful Blackbird or eating your beloved gummies or creating magnificent creative works of beauty or loving people deeply and honestly. You will always be my hero and inspiration, Ashley Bryan.  To Ashley – with gratitude for being you and all my love, admiration, and respect.

Douglas, Ashley, and Emily Axelrod celebrate Ashley’s 95th birthday.

Thank you, Ashley Bryan, for the impact you made not only in Maine and on the Mission, but around the world.