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Art Notes: Portraits of Truth Tellers in South Royalton

  • A portrait from Robert Shetterly's ongoing series "Americans Who Tell the Truth." A selection of the portraits goes on view in South Royalton's White River Gallery on Saturday, March 3, 2018. (Courtesy Robert Shetterly)

  • A portrait from Robert Shetterly's ongoing series "Americans Who Tell the Truth." A selection of the portraits goes on view in South Royalton's White River Gallery on Saturday, March 3, 2018. (Courtesy Robert Shetterly)

  • A portrait from Robert Shetterly's ongoing series "Americans Who Tell the Truth." A selection of the portraits goes on view in South Royalton's White River Gallery on Saturday, March 3, 2018. (Courtesy Robert Shetterly)

  • A portrait from Robert Shetterly's ongoing series "Americans Who Tell the Truth." A selection of the portraits goes on view in South Royalton's White River Gallery on Saturday, March 3, 2018. (Courtesy Robert Shetterly)



Valley News Staff Writer
Thursday, March 01, 2018

Much has changed since Robert Shetterly started painting his “Americans Who Tell the Truth” series of portraits 16 years ago, when 9/11 was a fresh wound and the United States was on the brink of war with Iraq.

Then again, not so much has changed — after all, more than 230 portraits later, Shetterly still feels an urgency to capture the likenesses of “truth-telling” writers, artists, world leaders and activists, so he can help amplify their voices over what he considers a din of political lies.

A show of 14 of Shetterly’s portraits opens Saturday at the White River Gallery at BALE, in South Royalton. After the reception, two of Shetterly’s subjects — Vermont resident and eco-warrior Bill McKibben, and indigenous rights activist Sherri Mitchell — will appear and read from their recent books at the Vermont Law School’s Chase Community Center.

“I came up with the idea mainly to make myself feel better,” the Brooksville, Maine artist said last week. “It was a way for me to focus on the Americans I felt great about, rather than obsessing over the ones I didn’t.”

A longtime social-justice advocate who came of age during the civil rights and anti-war protests of the 1960s, Shetterly has long infused political messages into his art, which until his truth-teller paintings had primarily been surreal. He said he switched stylistic tacks because his dissatisfaction with the George W. Bush administration, and the media’s coverage of current events, spurred in him a new kind of anger.

“It wasn’t until the run-up to the Iraq War, basically, that I decided to devote my life full-time to being an activist,” he said. He was 55 at the time.

He started out by painting prominent American historical figures, limiting himself to those who lived after the advent of photography — Jane Addams, Susan B. Anthony, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman and the like — so that he could base his paintings on real-life depictions. As he branched out into living subjects, he would travel the country to meet them, interview them and take their pictures himself.

Many of the Americans in the White River Gallery show are widely known, including Wendell Berry, McKibben, Sojourner Truth and Walt Whitman. Others are known mostly in smaller circles, such as the clergyman and peace activist William Sloane Coffin (who lived in Strafford), the social activist and philosopher Grace Lee Boggs and the food policy researcher and writer Frances Moore Lappé. Shetterly estimated that he had never heard of about 75 percent of his subjects until the search for truth-tellers took over his life.

“I spend more time researching each person than I do painting. I read all about the person, biographies, interviews, speeches on YouTube, and take long notes about what they said. Then if it’s a living person I send them a list of quotes and say, ‘this is what I’m thinking of using, what do you think?’ I want the subject to be involved in choosing.”

It’s also important to him to get his subjects’ blessing before plowing ahead with their portraits. Not everyone has complied: Garry Trudeau, the cartoonist behind the Doonesbury comic strip, wasn’t into it. The investigative journalist Seymour Hersh also turned Shetterly down — twice.

He looks forward to painting his next subject — now-21-year-old Kelsey Juliana, who six years ago filed a lawsuit against the Oregon state government, claiming that its leaders had “violated their duties” to protect the environment for her generation.

“I want to speak to young people, and show them how much power they can have,” he said.

Shetterly acknowledged that, although his portraits celebrate the work his subjects have done to advance their causes of racial and gender equality, environmental awareness and political diplomacy, he doesn’t mean to canonize the subjects themselves.

“They, too, are deeply flawed human beings. But if they were saints, nobody could aspire to be like them,” or aspire to improve on their legacies, he said. “But in their dedication to their causes, they acted out of courage — in pursuit of the common good.”

A show of 14 portraits from Robert Shetterly’s “Americans Who Tell the Truth” series will open Saturday at White River Gallery at BALE, in South Royalton, with a reception from 3 to 5 p.m. Starting at 5:15, two of Shetterly’s subjects, Bill McKibben and Sherri Mitchell, will speak and read from their new books at the Vermont Law School’s Chase Community Center. The show runs through March.

To learn more about Shetterly’s project, visit americanswhotellthetruth.org. To suggest a portrait subject, email Shetterly at robert@americanswhotellthetruth.org.

Openings and Receptions

“Depth of Expression: Photographs of Children” by Toni Gildone, of Strafford, goes up Saturday at Chelsea Public Library. The reception date has yet to be announced. Through April 28.

A show of black-and-white and color photographs by John Lehet, of Hartland, goes up Friday at Long River Gallery and Gifts in White River Junction. As part of this month’s First Friday celebrations, the gallery will host an opening reception for Lehet’s show, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., featuring live music by Meadowlark. Through May 31.

The Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction will hold an opening reception Friday night for the Argentinian cartoonist Liniers, aka Ricardo Siri, of Norwich, a fellow at the cartoon school. The show features 30 original drawings from Liniers’ Macanudo comic strip, children’s books and Google Doodle. The reception goes from 6:30 to 8 p.m.

“Spring Around the Upper Valley,” a show by the Odanaksis artist group, goes up Friday at Norwich Public Library with a reception from 5 to 7 p.m. Through April 27.

Two Rivers Printmaking Studio in White River Junction will hold a mid-show reception Friday night for “Body Language,” a collaboration of poetry and prints by Don and V. Shalvah Herzberg, of Norwich. The reception will take place from 5 to 7 p.m. A reading of poems from the collection will start at 6. Through March 31.

Of Note

The radiology department at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, in Lebanon, recently partnered with Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site, in Cornish, to create 3D-printouts of long-sealed molds by the sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens. The results of the project are on display in the main rotunda of the hospital. Superintendent of the historic site, Rick Kendall, will join DHMC radiologist Jeffrey Volckaert to discuss the project on Friday morning, from 10 to 11:30, in Auditorium A.

Ongoing

AVA Gallery and Art Center, in Lebanon. The 10th annual Best of the Upper Valley High School Exhibition features student work nominated by art faculty at Upper Valley high schools, including Hanover High School; Hartford Area Career and Technology Center; Hartford High School; Holderness School, in Plymouth, N.H.; Kimball Union Academy, in Meriden; Lebanon High School; Ledyard Charter School, in Lebanon; Mascoma Valley Regional High School, in Canaan; Newport High School; Oxbow High School, in Bradford, Vt.; Rivendell Academy, in Orford; The Sharon Academy; Stevens High School, in Claremont; Thetford Academy; and Woodstock Union High School. The painter Patrick Dunfey, who is head of exhibitions design and planning at the Hood Museum of Art, in Hanover, judged this year’s awards. On view through March 9.

“Journey,” an exhibition of paintings by Brenda Phillips, is also on view through March 9.

Barrette Center for the Arts, White River Junction. “VoxSomnium,” an exhibition of mixed-media work by Norwich artist Laura Di Piazza, is presented in conjunction with the Vermont Pastel Society’s group exhibition and Northern Stage, the theater company that calls the Barrette Center home.

BigTown Gallery, Rochester, Vt. A retrospective exhibition of paintings by Nancy Taplin, of Warren, Vt., is on view until March 31.

Center for the Arts, New London. Exhibits in micro-galleries at Lake Sunapee Bank, the New London Inn and Whipple Hall are on view through April 30.

Chandler Gallery, Randolph. “A Closer Look” features photography by Valerie Daniel, of Bethel; watercolors and mixed media work by Judy Laliberte, of Quechee; and chalk pastels by Jo Levasseur, of South Royalton. Through Saturday.

Converse Free Library, Lyme. Thetford ceramicist Amanda Ann Palmer’s show, “Recent Explorations in Clay,” includes rustic pieces as well as items from Palmer’s “Relics” series, inspired by seed pods. Ten percent of art sales will go toward the Friends of Lyme Library. Through March 30.

Hood Downtown, Hanover. “Reason’s Oxymorons,” a video installation by the French-Algerian artist and philosopher Kader Attia, dissects Western and non-Western conceptions of mental health through a range of interviews. Through March 18.

Hopkins Center, Hanover. Judy Glantzman, Dartmouth College’s artist-in-residence, exhibits recent work in drawing, painting, mixed media collage and sculpture in clay and carved wood in “Vigilant on Behalf of Kindness.” On view in the Jaffe-Friede Gallery through Sunday.

Kilton Public Library, West Lebanon. Art by Lebanon Middle School students is up through March. Work by Mount Lebanon Elementary School students will be shown from April 5 through May.

Quechee Inn at Marshland Farm. “Winter Magic,” a show of watercolors and pastels by Kate Reeves, is on view through March 14.

Taylor Gallery, Kimball Union Academy, Meriden. “The Golden Age of Haitian Art: Late ’80s and Early ’90s” shows through April 7.

Tunbridge Public Library. “Before the Storm,” an exhibition of abstract landscapes by the Barre, Vt., painter Jennifer Palkowski Jacques, is on view through Wednesday.

Zollikofer Gallery, White River Junction. South Royalton artist Cecily Herzig shows recent paintings in “Dark Botanicals and Swamp Nonsense.” Through March 31.

EmmaJean Holley can be reached at ejholley@vnew.com or 603-727-3216.