Obit: Dr. Bill Bryant

October 19, 1936 – January 18, 2021

Artist and musician Dr. Billy Joe Bryant, 84, passed away peacefully at home surrounded by family on the morning of Monday, January 18, 2021. Bill Bryant was born on October 19, 1936 in the north Shreveport region of Agurs—the youngest of four brothers (Charles, Tom, and Howard)—to Mack and Goldie Bryant.

He attended Byrd High School and received his B.A. in Art at Centenary College, studying under artists Don Brown and Willard Cooper. He also enjoyed the experience of music, travel, and camaraderie as a member of the Centenary College Choir.

Following college, Bill served eight years in the U.S. Army and was honorably discharged as a captain in 1967. While stationed in Washington D.C., he met his wife of 58 years, Alice Louise Peck, while taking classes with painter Richard Lahey at the Corcoran School of the Arts and Design at George Washington University where he eventually earned his M.A. in Art. He then began his career as an art teacher, working at Louisiana College.

After three years in Pineville, Bill and his family moved to Pennsylvania where he earned his D.Ed. at Penn State University, after which he taught for two years at the University of Kentucky, Lexington and then two years at Morehead State University in Morehead, Kentucky.

In 1976, Bill moved his family back to Louisiana where he began his teaching career at Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, retiring as Professor Emeritus in the Department of Fine and Graphic Arts in 2004.

Throughout his life, Bill Bryant was immersed in a spectrum of art and music activities. In addition to teaching in the classroom and serving as Coordinator of the Art Department for several years, he took NSU students on yearly summer painting trips to such places as Italy, Spain, Mexico, Nova Scotia, and one of his favorite art destinations, Ghost Ranch, New Mexico.

He was a member of the Hoover Watercolor Society and participated as artist and juror in many regional exhibitions. Combining his drawing talent with his famous sense of humor, Bill was also a contributing cartoonist for the Natchitoches Times for many years with his armadillo-themed comic strip.

Having grown up listening to old time string band music, Bill became heavily involved in the folk music revival, learning to make and play mountain dulcimers during his time in Kentucky. For over three decades, he performed with The Back Porch Band, which was an integral part of the Natchitoches Northwestern Folk Festival.

In 2001, he was inducted into the Louisiana Folklife Center’s Hall of Master Folk Artists for his dulcimer craftsmanship. In fact, Bill was as much of a woodworker as he was a painter, making all kinds of musical instruments and furniture. His legacy of art and music lives on with his children and grandchildren as well as with students and friends.

Bill was preceded in death by his parents, three brothers, and first child, Mary Louise Bryant. He is survived by his wife Alice Peck Bryant of Natchitoches; son Benjamin Peck Bryant and his wife Christina of Metairie, LA; daughters Amanda Kingsley Bryant of Charleston, SC, and Emily Adeline Bryant of Bloomington, IN; grandchildren Frances Yi Ling Bryant of New Orleans, Spencer Joseph Bryant of Metairie, Benjamin Curtis Leach and his wife Chanel of Charleston, Nathan Calder Leach and Eva Marie Leach of Charleston; great-grandson Everett Carter Leach of Charleston; and numerous nieces and nephews.

The family would like to thank Hospice of Natchitoches for their care during Bill’s final weeks. A Celebration of Life event will be held later in the year when people can safely be together again. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made in Bill’s name to the Pulmonary Fibrosis Foundation, 230 East Ohio Street, Suite 500, Chicago, Illinois 60611 or pulmonaryfibrosis.org/ways-to-give/donate-now.

 

5 thoughts on “Obit: Dr. Bill Bryant

  1. Losing a good friend is never easy, and losing Bill is devastating. I always admired his artwork and have several pictures throughout my house. Included are yearly birthday cards of me playing the cello wearing tennis shoes.
    I joined the Back Porch Band in the early 90’s and it changed my life. Having performed “seriously” for many years, I had forgotten how fun music-making can be. Our “rehearsals” were always fun and musically rewarding. It was a good thing that our rehearsals were in private, if you know what I mean! Never a dull moment! His knowledge of folk music was incredible. His entertaining abilities were wonderful. For the past several years, I have been the leader of the band, but Bill was always the STAR. My life has been so rich because of him as a close friend and musical partner.

    My life will be forever touched because of Bill Bryant.

    I miss him!

  2. Bill was a talented, funny, intelligent, kind man. It was my pleasure to have known him for decades. I sometimes went for awhile without getting the chance to talk with him, but that only made the occasions when we did hang out even more of a delight.

    Just a couple of months ago, Bill pulled up in my driveway in his old van and handed out a hefty paperclipped stack of typewriter paper. “My poems, such as they are,” he said modestly. We talked and laughed for awhile, but he seemed a little down. So I asked “How’re you feeling, Bill?” He slowly shook his head and said, “lung problems.” I was starting to say I hoped he would be all right when just gestured downward with his thumb.

    I was stricken to see him give that silent medical verdict on himself, but it was so “Bill”: to the point, undramatic, with an almost cavalier “just-thought-you’d-like-to-know” affect. He didn’t stick around for any sympathy, but just backed out of my driveway and slowly drove down Williams toward his house, where his dear Alice was probably waiting for him. After seeing Bill and Alice years ago one chilly winter’s night downtown, I was so tickled to see Alice bundled into a bulky long wool coat with a heavy scarf tied over her head tied under her neck, booted and gloved, that from that day forward I frequently referred affectionately to her as “The Little Matchstick Girl.” Stay warm, Alice, with family and friends who love you.

    But to get back to Bill’s poems, over the next couple of weeks, I read them, and found them so winningly modest, funny, and quietly inspiring, in a kind of Will Rogers crossed with Tom Hanks everyman sort of way. I wrote on the cover of the poems just before returning them to him, “I read them all, Bill. And I had a ball! Thanks for giving me the opportunity.” He wasn’t home, so I put them in his mailbox, expecting I’d soon have the chance to praise them in more detail the next time we met.

    If wishes were horses, beggars would ride, as Bill once joked to me.

    So good bye, Bill, my friend,–and thanks for giving me the opportunity to laugh with you at this crazy world.

  3. Bill will be sorely missed by all who knew him. When I think of him I think of the twinkle in his eyes and the little, seemingly permanent, smile on his face, both of which showed his love of life. I don’t think I ever encountered Bill without him making at least one demonstration of his sense of humor. One of my special joys about Natchitoches was being able to hear the great music of him and his friends in the Back Porch Band. His passing is a loss to our community and I would like to convey my sincerest sympathies to his loved ones.

  4. Alice: Bonnie and I are so sorry for your loss, as are so many of his friends. Bill and I first met in 1945. He was one of the first new friends that I met, and we remained friends for all the years following. I was the first one who taught him how to drive a car, but had not remembered that until he reminded me. We truly had some great times together growing up. Our Prayers will be with you and the family during your difficult times. God Bless
    Bobby Wilson

  5. So, so sad! So talented. So humble. To know him was one of my great privileges in life. Every now and then, you meet a person whose presence cast such hugh shadow it can never be matched!
    Once, I bought the ugliest paper mache armadillo and placed it in his drive way. Knowing Bill, it would drive him crazy trying to figure out who delivered it! Also, knowing him he would never throw it away for fear of offending anyone. I would drive by for month’s watching this ugly thing disintegrate in his flower bed. Finally, after torching him for nearly a year I confessed my crime. He laughed and refused an identical replacement. God bless you Bill. God bless Alice and his family.

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