New exhibit featuring portraits  of ‘honest and courageous Americans’ has opening reception Tuesday

Published 10:09 am Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Portraits of truth-telling


News release 

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Stirring portraits highlighting honest and courageous Americans are on exhibit now through March 2 at the Jones Visual Arts Center on the Centre College campus. 

Marian Wright Edelman

“Americans Who Tell The Truth: Models of Courageous Citizenship” features portraits and narratives of well-known Americans such as Rachel Carson, Noam Chomsky and Marian Wright Edelman as well as extraordinary citizens we may not know but who have acted selflessly for the common good.

Robert Shetterly, who created the portraits, will give a talk at 7 pm February 20 in Young Hall on the Centre campus, preceded by a reception at 6 pm in the Jones Visual Arts Center’s Aegon Gallery, located at 209 S. Beatty Avenue.

 Shetterly, a native of Cincinnati, will be a Woodrow Wilson Visiting Fellow, in residence at Centre from February 19-23. The goal of the Fellow’s program is to create a better understanding and new connections between the academic and non-academic worlds.  During his stay, he will visit classes including Art and Social Justice, Comparative Politics, Environmental History, Environmental Economics, Ecology, Humanities, Photography and Painting. These classes will meet him in the Aegon Gallery so that they can have the discussion surrounded by the portraits. 

 Professor of Art, Judith Pointer Jia, invited Shetterly after seeing his portraits online. 

Delores Volk holds a photo of Elizabeth Mumbet Freeman

“I was struck by their appeal as paintings in the realist tradition and by the range of courageous people covered.  A pertinent quote by the person is scratched into the paint and that gets the viewer thinking, even if they’ve never heard of the person. The portraits should spur productive conversations among students and faculty from all areas of study. Also, Robert is an engaging person to talk with so we are delighted that he will be on campus.” 

  According to the Americans Who Tell the Truth website, the mission of the portraits and narratives is to “highlight citizens who courageously address issues of social, environmental, and economic fairness. By combining art and other media, AWTT offers resources to inspire a new generation of engaged Americans who will act for the common good, our communities, and the Earth.”

 Shetterly has been adding to the series of portraits for more than 10 years. The exhibit has 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 26 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.

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 political 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. Much of his current work focuses on honoring and working with the activists trying to bring an end to the terrible practice of Mountaintop Removal by coal companies in Appalachia, on climate change, and on the continuation of systemic racism in the US particularly in relation to the school-to-prison pipeline.


“Americans Who Tell the Truth: Models of Courageous Citizenship” will be up through March 2 at Jones Visual Arts Center on Centre College’s campus. An opening reception will be held 6 p.m. Feb. 20. Also on Feb. 20, Robert Shetterly, who created the the portraits, will give a presentation at 7 p.m. The exhibit, reception and artist’s talk are free and open to the public.