For the second time since 2011, artist Robert Shetterly has brought a series of 36" x 30" acrylic portraits to SPS. The paintings – collectively called “Americans Who Tell the Truth” – are inspired by Shetterly’s view of his role as an artist, which changed after the events of September 11, 2001. He realized at that time the need to “engage the moment much more directly, be much more of a citizen – the world demanded of all of us that we be better citizens.”
In contemplating how to accomplish that, Shetterly, who visited the School on November 11, realized he could use his talents to highlight Americans whom he admires. The fruit of that labor is a series of portraits, each incorporating a quote from the subject, whose images appear against a black background. Twenty-six of Shetterly’s works will hang from November 4 to November 24 in an exhibit along the wood-paneled walls of the SPS Chapel.
Those pictured include Phillip Berrigan, Father Roy Bourgeois, Smedley Butler, William Sloane Coffin, Ossie Davis, Marian Wright Edelman, Dwight Eisenhower, Dolores Volk, Bunny Greenhouse, Kim Hawkins, Pat Humphries, Helen Keler, Clyde Kennard, Robert F. Kennedy, John Kiriakou, Winona LaDuke, Aldo Leopold, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther Kin Jr., Bruce “Utah” Phillips, Ai-Jen Poo, Paul Robeson, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Hugh Thompson Jr., Harriet Tubman, and Alice Walker.
Shetterly’s original goal was to paint 50 portraits of truthful historic figures, but he has now produced more than 200. He has painted as many living subjects as posthumous ones and considers many of his modern subjects to be friends and mentors.
During his most recent visit to SPS, Shetterly also had a chance to visit with a number of students. The artist asked them to think about courageous role models and stressed to them the importance of narrative activism.
“It’s about giving people the stories they need to empower their lives,” explained Shetterly.
The portraits of “Americans Who Tell the Truth” have made the rounds, traveling from Maine to Wisconsin, from Kentucky to California, for display in galleries and at schools and colleges. On Shetterly’s previous visit to St. Paul’s, he shared 24 portraits.
Reverend Michael Spencer, dean of Chapel, said Shetterly’s exhibit in the Chapel is helping to build on the medieval cathedral model and to coincide with fall evensong.
Dean Spencer also hopes the exhibit will have an impact on daily life at the School, as one portrait is highlighted at each morning Chapel service through biographies and quotes of those depicted.
“Thinking about these individuals educates and inspires the community,” said Dean Spencer. “We can learn about the truly courageous stories of individuals throughout American history.”