Olen Bryant (1927 – 2017) is one of Tennessee’s most treasured artists of the last 50 years. He held a Master of Fine Arts degree from Cranbrook Academy of Art, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan and retired from Austin Peay State University, Clarksville, TN, where he was a Professor Emeritus of Art from 1963-1991. Bryant won the Governor’s Award for the Arts in 2007, and had a major retrospective show at Customs House Museum the same year showcasing over 300 pieces, many of which were borrowed from collectors who purchased work as far back as the 1960’s. Throughout his life he chose a modest pursuit of exposure even though his work was consistently in demand.
“Like Brancusi and Moore before him, Bryant most often chooses flowing line that communicates not only human essence, but also Mother Earth, muses, gods of many cultures, and unknown spirits…His is a cerebral art of subtle variations and seemingly endless variety.”
“The pendulum of style, materials and techniques may continue to swing, but sculpture that asserts itself by quality of concept, confidence of composition, and mastery of technique endures. And that is where the art of Olen Bryant stands, secure in its excellence.”
“Bryant’s regard for humanity, and the need to acknowledge it in his work, contributed to his choices of methods and materials…In Bryant’s work, many sculptures invoke life force and the inner self, rather than specific gender.” – Philancy Holder, PhD, Professor Emeritus of art, Austin Peay State University
The Tennessee Arts Commission established the Governor’s Awards in the Arts in 1971 to recognize individuals and organizations that make outstanding contributions to the cultural life of Tennessee. The contribution may be as an artist or patron, an arts or private-sector organization, in arts education, community involvement, or for a unique achievement. The awards were created to recognize extraordinary contributions to the arts and achievements with state, regional, or national impact in whatever form they may take, and are Tennessee’s highest honor in the arts.
Seven recipients were honored during the 2007 Governor’s Awards in the Arts. Recipients were selected from 69 nominees to receive awards in the Folklife Heritage, DistinguishedArtist, and Arts Leadership categories. Olen Bryant received the Distinguished Artist Award.
“Olen’s genius is his sensitivity to the regular flow of the grain and textures in the natural materials he uses. He follows them, listens to them and lets them guide him instead of trying to reform them. All the figurative spirits or beings Olen’s work is known for are never imposed into the material, but revealed by the material. This is the legacy of Olen Bryant“. – Alan LeQuire