A Maine Literary Lion

Posted Oct. 15, 2008, at 7:46 p.m.
Last modified March 20, 2011, at 3:25 a.m.

Ashley Bryan, a Maine artist and author, will be honored at the New York Public Library’s annual Library Lions benefit on Nov. 3. Others receiving the Literary Lion awards this year are playwright Edward Albee, screenwriter and essayist Nora Ephron and novelist Salman Rushdie. The master or ceremonies will be Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison.

The $l,000-a-seat gala, dinner and dance began 11 years ago, when the philanthropist Brooke Astor joined in naming it for the twin stone lions, “Patience” and “Fortitude,” which stand at the main entrance of the library.

One of the first honorees, the biographer Robert Caro, was greeted on a red carpet by an attendant in red hunting coat, who slipped a wide ribbon with a gold medallion over Mr. Caro’s head.

Whether or not this year’s event will feature such details, it will be strictly formal, with male guests attired in black-tie tuxedoes. All but Mr. Bryan, that is. Questioned at his home in the village of Islesford, he said he would be wearing his customary brown suit, with his usual purple four-in-hand tie with an embroidered religious symbol instead of a black bow.

The 85-year-old artist, best known for his many children’s books, often tours the country and the world, reading from his books and telling stories based on his studies of African and Caribbean folklore. At home on Islesford, he paints regularly and does serious beachcombing to gather sea glass, shells and bones for his constantly growing collection of puppets. His house is a frequent destination for visitors, with its shelves filled with toys and flotsam he has picked up in his travels.

In January, he will head off to Kenya on one of his regular visits sponsored by a children’s charity in Atlanta. He has helped transform a library that had only a dirt floor and holes in the walls for windows and doors into a solid structure with furniture, where books could be shelved instead of being kept wrapped in plastic. He also raised money for cisterns and water tanks, the planting of 500 trees and libraries in other Kenyan villages.

On his return from Africa, he will open an exhibition of paintings, drawings and block prints from his books at a show at the National Center for Children’s Literature in Abilene, Tex.

Mr. Bryan, born in New York and educated at Columbia University, Cooper Union and the Skowhegan School of Art, sketched in France as a soldier in World War II, keeping his drawing paper dry under his helmet. He taught art for many years at Dartmouth College before settling in Maine 50 years ago.

Maine is honored in having one of its citizens recognized as a Literary Lion.

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