Telling a life story through art: The Don Bryan retrospective at Ghost Fleet Gallery

Published 8:06 am Saturday, October 24, 2020

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An exhibition of works by Don Bryan will be on display and available for sale at the Glenn Eure Ghost Fleet Gallery, located at 210 E. Driftwood Street in Nags Head, through October 29. All proceeds will benefit the Don and Catharine Bryan Cultural Series.

Don Bryan was a warrior, leader, politician, artist and philanthropist. He and his wife Catharine created the Don and Catharine Bryan Cultural Series to inspire, educate and challenge the Outer Banks community through the arts.

Don passed away in 2013, but his belief in the arts as transformative continues today.

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He was a complex man. Entering the Army Air Corps as an 18-year-old recruit in 1942, Don became a machine gunner on a B17 flying over Germany in WWII. When the US Air Force became a separate branch of the military in 1947, he transferred to the new service, learned to fly jets and rose through the ranks, retiring as a colonel in 1972.

He and Catharine moved to Nags Head, where he became immersed in local issues. He was first elected to the Board of Commissioners in 1975 and then served as mayor from 1978 to 1991.

It is in his art that the story of Don Bryan emerges.

He began painting when he was an Air Force officer in Germany and his earliest works reflect that. There are street scenes of Paris and towns and villages in Europe. The detail is remarkable and, in fact, that attention detail is a distinguishing feature of his work.

Returning to the United States, he continued to paint and what emerges from his artwork is a fascination with life in this country, its complexity and the many tales it has to tell.

There are paintings of everyday life. “Oh When the Saints” depicts a New Orleans-style jazz band. Painted in an impressionistic style, it is a departure from his usual attention to realism.

Settling into life on the Outer Banks, Don found new stories to tell. His work “Midnight Call to Action” is extraordinary for its realism and attention to historic detail. With their surfboat hauled from the shed, everything is poised for the rescue attempt that is soon to follow.

Over the years, Don created a number of self-portraits.

One of his most powerful self-portraits was Regensberg August 1943, which is no longer available. Created in 2008, the work depicts a young Staff Sergeant Bryan looking frightened as B17s attempt to their first Regensberg bombing run of WWII. The American 8th Air Force suffered horrific losses in the raid.

There is also a self-portrait that is available for purchase, the painting telling the story of a young Don Bryan, holding a paper airplane in his hand, dreaming, perhaps of what is to come.

The Don and Catharine Bryan Cultural Series has brought world class music to the Outer Banks, most recently the sixth annual Surf and Sounds Chamber Music Series in August. Political analyst and commentator Larry Sabato has visited. Pulitzer Prize winning author David McCullough gave lectures at First Flight High School twice; and most recently US Poet Laureate Joy Harjo paid a visit via Zoom.

The Bryan Cultural Series is a non-profit organization formed in 2012. The board of directors is composed of nine community leaders dedicated to offering a series of high quality cultural events. These events will include a variety of visual, literary and performing arts. The board strives to glean from talent that has attained regional as well as national recognition to maintain a high standard.

Substantial support for this annual cultural offering of events is provided by Village Realty, TowneBank of Currituck, Hilton Garden Inn of Kitty Hawk and Ramada Plaza Hotel of Kill Devil Hills.

For more information about these events, visit