Kelly Bryant: Art Steeped with WV Folklore


It’s not hard to tell artist Kelly Bryant grew up in WV in Putnam County. Just one look at her art and you are overwhelmed with a sense of wonder and romanticism. Kelly has since lived in Charleston for 25 years. She grew up in Pliney, WV and has been an artist since before she could write, “I’ve always drawn. I remember my dad would always try to get me involved in art. But I wouldn’t do it. The only people that knew I drew and painted were close to me.” As a teenager, Kelly, like most teens, wanted to socialize. But truth be told, most of us WV kids hold some sort of secret passion and talent behind closed doors.


Appalachia has always carried a lot of stereotypes, and we might be those things, but we’re more than that. You can see this budding talent in Kelly Bryant’s art. When she was in her late 20’s she started bringing that art to show people at her work. Her art began to evolve when those people would ask her to paint a pet or a landmark. Kelly started getting commissions, so in 2013 she got her business license.


Fast forward a few years, and Kelly Bryant is an artist in full bloom. Her art is inspired by WV Folklore. Her commissioned pieces remind me of George Stubbs. Particularly his painting Whistlejacket (c1762). In 2014, The Guardian published a piece on the top 10 animal portraits in art, “This magnificent animal seems free of everything, even space and time, as it rears up in an abstract unfinished setting. By portraying a riderless horse in the pose of some classical equine statue, Stubbs concentrates our attention on its awe-inspiring singularity. This is a noble portrait. Whistlejacket was a racehorse, Stubbs an artist so dedicated to horses he studied their anatomy, and this is a work that escapes into the secret life of nature.” That is exactly how Kelly Bryant paints animals. They have a soul and a romanticism about them.


Her main medium is pastels, “Right now, I’ve been painting mostly pet portraits. Years ago, it was musical instruments like guitars. I grew up around a lot of musicians - for years I would paint guitars.” Kelly’s art, no matter what the subject, is life in stillness. Here Black Cat Painting, Giclee print of original pastel painting in her Etsty store shows you just how a cat looks at its human. She captures the spirit of an animal in this painting because it’s just the way an animal looks at it’s owner.


If you live in Charleston, WV or have visited the quaint capitol of WV, you’ve probably seen Kelly Bryant’s art and not even known it, “I do some acrylic painting. I did three of the paintings under the I-64 bridge for Gallery 64. The Mothman, Almost Heaven (which is sheet music to country roads with Martin guitar), and Celebrating 150 Years of Music on the Virginia Street column. Most kids in WV are taught Appalachian tales and ghost stories from a very early age. To see these tales and folklore in the paintings of Kelly Bryant brings a persona to your youth.


Kelly was born in Gallipolis, Ohio, “So I’ve heard about the Mothman all of my life.” While she travels to festivals far and wide, The Mothman Festival is her favorite. “It was canceled the last two years, but it’s on this year. I’ve done about four or five, and I would


have never dreamed it was that big. I start selling stuff while I’m trying to unpack - right out of the truck. Every booth has lines all day long until it’s time to go home. People come from all over the world. I never dreamed that many people knew who the Mothman is! I’ve had people visit from Japan, a little boy for his 7th birthday from California, people come in costume - one family was dressed as The Adams Family.”


Places to see Kelly Bryant’s art:

Kelly also works with stained glass. She’s been staining glass for 15 years, “The whole reason I got into it was to make stained glass windows, maybe one of these days, but I don’t do windows. I do miniature prints and sandwich them together with glass and turn them into magnets.” Kelly’s art has evolved from drawing to even making spiders out of crystal chandelier parts.


For now, Kelly is working on getting things in shops and galleries, “I’m picking and choosing between festivals this year. I am focusing on getting in more shops because festivals are very time-consuming. I’ve had to focus on other things because of COVID, so this can all change in a year. That’s the fun thing about art - it does change.”


See more of Kelly's work and learn how to connect with her GetCreativeWV Artist Profile.



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