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Robert Shetterly, Artist and Activist

Published on 01/02/2019

What is your life’s purpose?
My life’s mission has become to use my passion and my talent to increase, in whatever little way I can, the amount of peace, justice, responsibility, sanity, and compassion in the world.

How are you living your purpose?
For the past 16 years, I’ve been painting a series of portraits I call “Americans Who Tell the Truth.” They are portraits of some of the people who have struggled to close the gap between what we say as a country about our ideals and what we do. The portraits travel to schools, colleges, museums, libraries, and churches all over the US. I use them to teach history and citizenship. And I run an educational project for middle school students challenging them to get engaged is serious issues.

Ai-jen Poo is the founder of the national Domestic Workers Association, a labor union for domestic workers.

How did you find your purpose?
I found my purpose out of desperation. I was so full of anger and grief at the way our government and media were lying to promote the Iraq War that I knew I had to respond in some way. I had to find a way to use the energy of my distress in a positive manner. I decided to begin surrounding myself — by painting — with people who made me feel good about this country rather than let myself be colonized by those I had no respect for.

Fannie Lou Hamer, co-founder of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party

What advice do you have for purpose seekers?
Examine your passions and your talents, find where they intersect, then fully engage. You won’t regret that.  In this engagement is both meaning and joy. If there is another meaning to life, I don’t know what it is. Life is short, the times are urgent, our children and all the other species of the planet need us to act with purpose.

Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, Iraqi-American pediatrician, whistleblower of lead in the Flint water supply.

What resources do you recommend?

Wisdom is everywhere. Your greatest resource is your own heart. I recommend reading biographies of people you admire. You will find they are ordinary people who took a risk to do something they cared about and their lives changed because of it. And then they had the power to affect other people’s lives.

Here are biographies of people I admire:
Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World, by Tracy Kidder
Walking with the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement, John Lewis, autobiography
Harriet Tubman: The Life and the Life Stories, Jean Humez
Road from Ar Ramadi: The Private Rebellion of Sergeant Camilo Mejia, Camilo Mejia
Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, David Garrow
Granny D: Walking Across America in My Ninetieth Year, Doris Haddock


I was asked to give the Hands of Peace award here in Maine to Sherri Mitchell , Native American, indigenous rights lawyer.



Connect with Robert Shetterly
Email: robert@americanswhotellthetruth.org
Website: www.americanswhotellthetruth.org
Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/americanswhotellthetruth/
Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/56635513@N04
Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/truthamerica/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/truthamerica/


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, 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 & 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 ten years he has been painting the series of portraits Americans Who Tell the Truth. 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.

Since 1990, he has been 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. Robert Shetterly lives, with his partner Gail Page, a painter and children’s book writer and illustrator, in Brooksville, Maine.

HeleneTStelian Musing
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