American Artist Robert Shetterly to present at Berea College Convocation

American Artist Robert Shetterly to present at Berea College Convocation

March 21, 2024

By Paula Keshderian

BEREA, Ky. – Visual artist, social activist and writer Robert Shetterly will present at the Berea College weekly convocations on Thursday, March 28 at Phelps Stokes Chapel.

Born in Cincinnati, Ohio, and based in Brooksville, Maine, Shetterly started with an English Literature degree from Harvard. After taking courses in drawing, Shetterly realized his artistic desires and changed the direction of his creative life from word to image.

In 1970, Shetterly moved to Maine and taught himself drawing, printmaking and painting. While growing as an artist, he illustrated for newspapers and books.

In 1993, “Speaking Fire at Stones,” a collection of Shetterly’s drawings and etchings was published. He has worked on 70 painted etchings based on William Blake’s “Proverbs of Hell,” and 50 more etchings inspired by the metaphor of the Annunciation.

One of Shetterly’s longest and most prominent projects has been an ongoing series of portraits called “Americans Who Tell the Truth.” The project began as a response to the actions taken by the U.S. government after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center towers.

For Shetterly, the portraits were a way to cope with his grief and anger.

“I couldn’t take it anymore,” Shetterly said. “I wanted to fight for social, racial and economic justice, and I chose to do it through the medium I am most articulate in, that is, painting.”

The subject of each portrait is an American who has been a profound truth-teller. One of the portraits is Berea College graduate Carter G. Woodson.

“Shetterly’s portraits are a stunning presentation of what it means to be American,” said Pamela Corley Slowkowski, a Berea College alumna ’71 who graduated with an art degree and brought Shetterly to her alma mater. “I want Berea College students and the community to see his works not only as an inspiration, but also as an important representation of society and art as a form of therapy.”

The accessibility of art and education through art is vital for Shetterly. “I want my art to be where the people are,” he said, hoping to use his paintings as doors to discussion about important issues.

A total of 12 portraits are currently exhibited across the Berea College campus—six portraits at the Doris Ulmann Galleries and six others at Hutchins Library. Students and community members can see the portraits at the library until March 31 and at the galleries until March 28.

“We are very excited to collaborate with artist Robert Shetterly, the Convocations program and Hutchins Library to showcase Mr. Shetterly’s work in the Galleries,” said Dr. Kelsey Malone, director of the Doris Ulmann Galleries and curator of the Berea College Art Collection. “We’re always looking for unique opportunities like this to bring art to campus and share it with our students and broader community.”

After the convocation, a new portrait of a subject that has helped the Berea community will be revealed at Hutchins Library.

The exhibits, convocation and portrait reveal are all free and open to the public.

About Berea College

Berea College, the first interracial and coeducational college in the South, focuses on learning, labor and service. The College only admits academically promising students with limited financial resources, primarily from Kentucky and Appalachia, although students come from 45 states and 70 countries. Every Berea student receives a Tuition Promise Scholarship, which means no Berea student pays for tuition. Berea is one of nine federally recognized Work Colleges, where students work at least 10 hours a week to earn money for books, housing, and meals. The College’s motto, “God has made of one blood all peoples of the earth,” speaks to its inclusive Christian character.