Grieving in life and art

by Len Lear
Posted 3/21/24

How does one deal with the sudden tragic death of a loved one? For vision-impaired sculptor Ron Bryant, relief comes by way of his artistic creations.

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in

Grieving in life and art


How does one deal with the sudden tragic death of a loved one? For vision-impaired sculptor Ron Bryant, relief comes by way of his artistic creations.

“My 28-year-old grandson, Charles Bryant, was killed on Feb. 2 of this year,” he told us last week. “He was hit by an 18-wheeler while driving in Florida. It was so devastating for all of us. I was down for a while, but I went back to work sculpting. It helps to keep busy.”

By immersing himself in his art, Bryant soothed his grief and created work that memorialized his grandson. A car sculpted out of clay and papier mache in his memory will be part of an exhibit featuring Bryant’s work at Allens Lane Art Center, on display through March 29.

Bryant, a multimedia artist, works in clay, wood, stone and has even created sculptures out of items he retrieved from the trash. He has developed his artistic skill with help from the Vision Thru Art program, a free weekly sculpture class for blind and visually-impaired artists offered by Allens Lane Art Center for more than 30 years. Instructors with the program taught Bryant to become an artist after he lost his sight completely.

While it seems inconceivable to sighted people, blind artists are not as rare as one might imagine. In fact, some of the most renowned artists in the Western world were partially or completely blind such as Claude Monet, Rembrandt, Edgar Degas and Georgia O'Keeffe.

Born in Philadelphia, Bryant spent his youth in and out of foster homes. He ran away often when foster parents became overprotective because of  his visual impairment. Despite deteriorating eyesight, Bryant prized freedom of movement. He even recalls taking a round-trip freight train to New York as a teenager. By age 17, he had lost the use of his right eye.

“At first I had myopia, near-sightedness,” he explained. “I used corrective lenses, but so much straining to see tore the retina. I had two operations, but they did not work, and at age 32, I lost my left eye to glaucoma.”

While living with a foster family in Mt. Airy, Bryant attended Bok Technical High School in South Philadelphia, where he studied culinary arts. After graduating in 1956, he worked as a chef for 38 years in restaurants, catering companies and private clubs throughout the city and suburbs.

Bryant ran a commissary at Philadelphia State Hospital at Byberry through a state program for the visually-impaired and also worked for several years in the kitchen of the Merion Cricket Club. “People were helpful there,” he said, “and I have also lived with a seeing-eye dog, but eventually they had to let me go from the Cricket Club due to insurance reasons. That's when I started sculpting.”

At 20, Bryant married a woman who had five brothers and four sisters, a strong appeal for an orphan like Bryant. He and his wife had two daughters and stayed together for 30 years. Once he totally lost his vision, however, the marriage came under extreme strain. He required his home to be orderly so that he could find things, which caused problems, but Ron is now a grandfather to three and great-grandfather to six.

Bryant, who says his health is good at age 85, currently lives alone in Southwest Philadelphia. He spends lots of time at the place he calls his “second home,” Center in the Park at Vernon Park where he enjoys singing, exercise and Bible study. He also visits Face to Face, in Germantown, and Allens Lane Art Center in West Mt. Airy. He travels via SEPTA CCT (Customized Community Transportation) Paratransit, then the 23 bus, and finally Amy Cohen, a friend who lives in Mt. Airy, picks him up. “She is so awesome,” Bryant said. 

“I am lucky to have good people in the Northwest helping me. I walk around the neighborhood also. If the CCT vehicle does not show up, I take the 65 bus,” Bryant said. “I travel pretty good. It doesn't bother me. I go with the flow. You never know how a day is gonna go.”

Amy Cohen contributed to this article. For more information, visit Len Lear can be reached at