Olen Bryant was a good man and a great artist. Humble to the nth degree, he would deflect praise much like Superman deflected bullets. It just wasn’t that important to him. The work is what mattered to Olen.
I spent the day with him at his modest home in Cottontown, Tennessee, and it was everything I expected and wanted the place to be. This is where an artist should live. The place was organized chaos in need of a serious spring cleaning, but I got the sense that was not high on Olen’s priority list. Art, however, was—and it was everywhere. Every corner of the house was brimming with half-completed pieces, sketches, ideas in progress, wood shavings, tools of the trade, old magazines piled high everywhere. You get the picture. Occasionally I stumbled across a finished sculpture that would take my breath away with its elegant simplicity and remind me why I was there and that I was in the company of a bona fide genius.
After we talked and took photographs for our article, he took us to his favorite restaurant. You’d think Elvis had just shown up. People started whispering and pointing in our direction; waitresses came over for a hug; the owner came out and made sure we got the best table. Make no mistake—around town Olen was a big deal. But I don’t think that was high on his priority list either. I will miss Olen, his gracious manner, and his gentle demeanor. An artist in every sense of the word.
Paul Polycarpou | Publisher