William Junior Bryant sponsored and participated in the exploration of prehistoric sites in Florida and the West Indies and created the William LeRoy Bryant Foundation, named for his father. He was born May 4, 1904, in Springfield, Vermont, and attended Phillips Exeter Academy in Exeter, New Hampshire. He graduated from Dartmouth College in 1925 and started working for Bryant Chucking Grinding Company, a machine tool company founded by his father. He married Frances Hazelton in 1926. Bryant worked his way up through the ranks of the family company to become President in 1946. He retired in 1960 to dedicate his time to academic and philanthropic interests. Bryant lived in Woodstock, Vermont moving to the warmer climate of Tangerine, Florida during the winter of each year.
His collection of Spanish works was eventually given to Dartmouth College, where they are now housed in the Baker Library. This rare and comprehensive collection includes over 3,000 volumes in twelve different languages covering all aspects of Spanish culture, including some that are the only copies in the United States. His West Indies collection found a home in the Central Florida Museum (now the Orlando Science Center) and in 1972 was transferred to the University of Central Florida Libraries.
The Florida and Caribbean collecting began in the late fifties when he purchased books during visits to the Haiti and Jamaica. In 1962 he purchased his first painting, The Hat Seller. This straightforward portrait of a young woman carrying her homemade hats to her booth at the market was purchased in Nassau, Bahamas from Marie de Marsan, a French-born (c. 1902) artist whose professional career reached from New York to Key West. While some of the collection was purchased by Bryant himself, most was obtained by Mrs. Eleanor Sleight, Director of the Central Florida Museum (1960-1972). Eleanor Sleight worked closely with Bryant and became a representative of the William L. Bryant Foundation, buying the majority of the books, paintings and ethnic items during trips to the Caribbean in 1969, 1970, 1971 and 1972. He also purchased from catalogs of material for sale in both the islands and the U.S.
The Bryant West Indies Collection, as coined by Bryant, was eventually moved from the Central Florida Museum to Florida Technological University, the predecessor to UCF. In the early 1970s, Bryant was urged to move the collection to FTU (UCF) by Howard Phillips. It was important for Bryant to keep the collection in Florida, believing that Florida was the gateway to the Caribbean. He felt it would be a valued addition to the collections, so when Phillips stated that FTU was the only college able to accommodate such a collection, Bryant moved it to Florida Technological University in 1972.
Neighbors of Bryant in Tangerine, Howard and Peg Reuling, continued collecting in the late 1970s and early 1980s. They had established their main collection in a museum in Iowa, but during the mid 1980s began lending some of their works to the UCF Special Collections for special exhibits. This added to the already established collection in the UCF Library, which now included more then 1,600 rare books and other printed materials, metal and fabric crafts, sound recordings, paintings, sculptures, maps and musical instruments. The collection includes items from the West Indies, Caribbean and Florida, pertaining to the history, geography, economic and social life of these regions. Some of the items are rare, such as first editions autographed by authors and privately printed books with limited printings.
Bryant was a quiet, unassuming man whose goal was the spread of knowledge. He established several programs to further educate and stimulate academic interest in including internships in archeology at Dartmouth College and endowed collecting at the University of Central Florida. His philanthropy and dedication has enriched lives and built wonderful collections. Students at every level benefit from his generosity.