Ashley Bryan / Paula Wilson: Take the World into Your Arms - Exhibitions

Ashley Bryan / Paula Wilson: Take the World into Your Arms

February 17–July 31, 2023

Joan Dignam Schmaltz Gallery of Art at the Paul J. Schupf Art Center, Downtown Waterville

A highlight of the Colby Museum’s inaugural season at its new gallery in the Paul J. Schupf Art Center, this exhibition brings together two extraordinary artists, Ashley Bryan (1923–2022) and Paula Wilson (born 1975), whose passionate and open embrace of the world unites their multifaceted creative endeavors. Through their art they channel the beauty and spirituality to be found in humanity and nature, using texture, color, and light to convey magical lyricism. With knowing and critical eyes, Bryan and Wilson also examine cultural history and tropes of identity and self-representation. The exhibition introduces Wilson to Maine audiences and offers a new perspective on Bryan, an artist who made Maine his chosen home and who was beloved for his illustrated books but is insufficiently recognized for his contributions as a contemporary artist.

Bryan and Wilson are cultural guides, leading us both to a more considered and grateful encounter with the world, and to ways of living intentionally and with care. The exhibition reveals the symbiosis in their study of and response to people, nature, and still life. It includes paintings, large-scale collage, relief printing, bookmaking, video, prints, clothing, and puppets. The works affirm their makers’ shared commitment to innovation and play in response to materials.

Bryan worked mostly on an intimate scale, using woodblock printing, colored glass, ink drawing, and collage to create objects and illustrate more than fifty books of poems and stories, many of which he himself wrote. Wilson sources many of the same printmaking and collage techniques to conjure ambitious large-scale relief constructions and installation works. While Bryan used avatars and puppets to populate his books and embody the stories of his life, Wilson’s questions of cultural identity and representation have been more personal. She consistently reasserts the presence of multiracial women in art history and often makes herself a subject in her work

Paula Wilson, Creatures of the Fire, 2020. Relief print, woodblock print, and monotype with acrylic and oil paint on muslin and canvas. 64 x 57 in. (162.6 x 144.8 cm). Colby College Museum of Art; museum purchase from the A.A. D’Amico Art Collection Fund.

Ashley Bryan and Paula Wilson encourage us to look around us with greater care and listen to one another more attentively. This project will be accompanied by a range of opportunities for engagement through public and education programs for audiences of all ages.

Ashley Bryan / Paula Wilson: Take the World into Your Arms is organized by the Colby College Museum of Art and curated by Jennifer R. Gross.

About the Artists

Ashley Bryan (1923–2022) was a celebrated teacher, author, and artist who recited poetry and created drawings, paintings, meticulous woodcuts, stained-glass windows, and puppets salvaged from materials found on Little Cranberry Island, Maine. Throughout his long life, Bryan committed himself to filling the void of Black representation by creating children’s books about the African and African American experience. He traveled extensively, including many visits to Kenya and South Africa, where he supported educational and infrastructure projects. The child of Antiguan parents, Bryan grew up in the Bronx during the Depression and excelled at art from an early age. He was an art student at Cooper Union when he was drafted into the Army at the outset of World War II. After his military service, he attended the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture and studied philosophy at Columbia University on the GI Bill; later he returned to Europe and spent several years in France and Germany on a Fulbright Scholarship studying poetry and making art. Bryan subsequently became a professor of art at Dartmouth College and received numerous awards and honors, including several Coretta Scott King Awards and ten honorary degrees.

Paula Wilson (born 1975) is a mixed-media artist who enlists an extensive range of techniques to create hybrid works. Using sculpture, collage, painting, installation, and printmaking methods such as silkscreen, lithography, and woodblock, Wilson explores perceptions of light, form, and the body in space. Born in Chicago, Wilson received her BFA from Washington University in 1998 and her MFA from Columbia University in 2005. She has served as a visiting artist at several art schools and her growing exhibition opportunities include a two-person project with artist Nicola López at the Albuquerque Museum, this Colby Museum project, and the solo show, Paula Wilson: Toward the Sky’s Back Door, at the Tang Museum at Skidmore College, opening July 15, 2023. In 2007 she moved from Brooklyn to Carrizozo, New Mexico, where she lives with her woodworking partner and collaborator, Mike Lagg. In 2015 Wilson and Lagg, along with Warren and Joan Malkerson, cofounded Carrizozo AIR, a residency program designed to provide space and time to a range of creative practitioners. In 2010 Wilson and Lagg also cofounded the arts organization MoMAZoZo, which hosts weekly art activities and children’s workshops.

Guest Curator

A curator and scholar specializing in modern and contemporary art, Jennifer R. Gross holds a PhD in art history from the City University of New York and has held curatorial positions at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston; Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Connecticut; and the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum, Lincoln, Massachusetts. Gross is organizing a forthcoming Mina Loy retrospective exhibition at the Bowdoin College Museum of Art in Brunswick, Maine. The author of numerous exhibition catalogues and articles, she was also the inaugural executive director of the Hauser & Wirth Institute and founding director of the ICA@MECA (Institute of Contemporary Art at Maine College of Art & Design).

Banner image: Ashley Bryan, Dahlias (detail), c. 2000. Acrylic on canvas. 48 x 36 in. (121.9 x 91.4 cm). Colby College Museum of Art, Gift of the Ashley Bryan Center, 2022.006