Americans Who Tell the Truth
Exhibit Location: Stairwell Gallery
Notes: 12 portraits from Robert Shetterly's series Americans Who Tell the Truth will be on display in March. In February, the library has hung placeholders with clues as to the subjects of the portraits.
About Robert Shetterly
Robert Shetterly was born in 1946 in Cincinnati, Ohio. He graduated in 1969 from Harvard College with a degree in English Literature. At Harvard he took some courses in drawing which changed the direction of his creative life — from the written word to the image. Also, during this time, he was active in Civil Rights and in the Anti-Vietnam War movement
After college and moving to Maine in 1970, he taught himself drawing, printmaking, and painting. While trying to become proficient in printmaking and painting, he illustrated widely. For twelve years he did the editorial page drawings for The Maine Times newspaper and illustrated National Audubon’s children’s newspaper Audubon Adventures and approximately 30 books.
Robert’s paintings and prints are in collections all over the U.S. and Europe. A collection of his drawings and etchings, Speaking Fire at Stones, was published in 1993. He is well known for his series of 70 painted etchings based on William Blake’s “Proverbs of Hell,” and for another series of 50 painted etchings reflecting on the metaphor of the Annunciation. His painting has tended toward the narrative and the surreal; however, for more than 20 years he has been painting the series of portraits Americans Who Tell the Truth. These portraits have been traveling around the country since 2003. Venues have included everything from university museums and grade school libraries to sandwich shops, the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine in New York City, and the Superior Court in San Francisco. To date, the exhibits have visited 35 states. In 2005, Dutton published a book of the portraits by the same name. In 2006, the book won the top award of the International Reading Association for Intermediate non-fiction. New Village Press in New York City is currently publishing a series of themed books on the portraits. Each volume contains 50 portraits. The first two are Portraits of Racial Justice (2021) and Portraits of Earth Justice (2022).
The portraits have given Shetterly an opportunity to speak with children and adults all over this country about the necessity of dissent in a democracy, the obligations of citizenship, sustainability, US history, and how democracy cannot function if politicians don’t tell the truth, if the media don’t report it, and if the people don’t demand it.
Shetterly has engaged in a wide variety of activist and humanitarian work with many of the people whose portraits he has painted. In the spring of 2007, he traveled to Rwanda with Lily Yeh and Terry Tempest Williams to work in a village of survivors of the 1994 genocide there. And then to Palestine twice with Lily Yeh for art projects in refugee camps. Much of his current work focuses on the intersections of climate change, systemic racism and militarism.
For 25 years he was the President of the Union of Maine Visual Artists (UMVA) and a producer of the UMVA’s Maine Masters Project, an on-going series of video documentaries about Maine artists.
Richard Kane’s film Truth Tellers about the Americans Who Tell the Truth project premiered in the fall of 2021 and has been showing across the country. In July 2022 it played at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C.
Robert Shetterly lives with his partner Gail Page, a painter and children’s book writer and illustrator, in Brooksville, Maine