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Artist’s portraits of influential figures coming to Shelby

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By Scotty McDaniel

In his younger days, Maine artist Robert Shetterly was actively fighting for civil rights and against the Vietnam War.

More recently, he was upset with the U.S. response to the events of Sept. 11, 2001, so he began to paint portraits of past and present Americans who spoke the truth as he saw it, and with those portraits he combined quotes from the individuals.

What resulted was more than 100 portraits of men and women courageous enough to stand up for what they believed in. For example, one of those portraits is of Louisville-native and civil rights touchstone Muhammad Ali.

Shetterly's works are now a part of a traveling exhibit that will make its way to Shelby County on Wednesday, when Shetterly will be at the Jefferson Community and Technical College campus to show some of his portraits and speak with students, starting at 2 p.m.

Three JCTC campuses, in Shelby County and in Louisville, will be visited from Tuesday through Friday. Thirty of Shetterly's portraits will be spread among the campuses to be put on display through February. 

Above Ali's portrait one of his many memorable quotes is written: "If I thought going to war would bring freedom and equality to twenty-two million of my people, they wouldn't have to draft me. I'd join tomorrow. But I either have to obey the laws of the land or the laws of Allah. I have nothing to lose by standing up and following my beliefs. We've been in jail for four hundred years."

Ali, along with other activists, authors and presidents whose ideas had an impact on the country's history, make up a collection called "Americans Who Tell the Truth."

"My respect and love for these people and their courage helped me to transform that anger into hope and pride and allowed me to draw strength from this community of truth tellers," Shetterly said on his Web site, AmericansWhoTelltheTruth.org.

Before this collection, Shetterly was not known for painting portraits. He is well known for his narrative art – with a popular series of etchings based on William Blake's Proverbs of Hell, and another highly regarded series reflecting on the metaphor of the Annunciation.

For more information on Shetterly's visit to JCTC, call Janet Muller at 502-213-2179.