Olen Bryant, a resident at Westmoreland Care and Rehabilitation Center, is one of Tennesseeâ€™s most revered artists. Bryant received the Distinguished Artists Award during the 2007 Governorâ€™s Awards for the Arts. In the same year, a major tribute to his work was realized with a retrospective exhibit at Customs House Museum & Cultural Center in Clarksville, Tenn. Bryant graduated from Murray State University in Murray, Ky, in 1950, and later graduated from the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield, Mich., in 1954. He also studied at the Cleveland Institute of Art, the University of Delaware and the Winterthur Museum. Bryant taught art from 1958-1991, and spent 27 years as an art professor and chairman of the Sculpture and Ceramics Department at Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tenn. Bryant influenced numerous students, and many of whom agree that Bryantâ€™s shadow was cast well beyond the formal confines of the classroom. Bryant has 22 solo exhibitions to his credit and numerous pieces on display in public collections, which include Austin Peay State University, the Hunter Museum of American Art, and the Tennessee State Museum of Art and Cheekwood Museum of Art.
Olen awards and achievements include:
1st place in Sculpture at the Mid-South Exhibition Brooks Memorial Art Gallery in 1965
Listed as Who in American Art in 1966
Founding Member of Nashville Artist Guild
Produced The Roy Acuff Award for the Tennessean and Country Music Foundation for outstanding charitable work in the music industry
Founding member of the Tennessee Association of Craft Artist
Received the first Arts and Heritage Development Council Lifetime Contribution to the Arts Award in 2006
Olen was born in Cookeville, Tenn, and moved near Lebanon, Tenn., around the age of 11. His family worked as tenant farmers. Olen stated in his book, Olen Bryant, A Retrospective
According to family lore, I was always making things with clay. I knew nothing about art “ that was an unreality for people from social background and in the schools at that time. I remember early in the comic strip, Gasoline Alley, these people would go up into the country and there was a kind of eccentric man who did Stonehenge kind of thing. â€œThe property we lived on had lots of boulders and chunks of rock and my sisters and I would do these abstract placements of these rocks. In that comic strip they talked about this man as kind of a folk artist. Of course, I didn’t think of it as art, but I was always interested in materials. â€œI think I was interested in woodcarving because my grandfather had made windmills or whirligigs or little things that sat in people’s fence post. I thought that was fascinating so I think that’s where I got involved in woodcarving.