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 a couple of 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 & 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 more than 30 books. He also showed his work in galleries all around Maine & in many other states.
Now, his paintings & 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 with poems written in response to them by William Carpenter. He is well know for his series of 70 painted etchings in response to 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, and he has not been, until 2002, a portrait painter.
For the past six and ½ years he has been painting the series of portraits ( numbering now over 120 ) called Americans Who Tell the Truth. The show has been traveling around the country for over five years and is scheduled for the next two. Venues have included everything from university museums and grade school libraries to sandwich shops and the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine in New York City. It has been in more than twenty 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 him 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, U.S. history, and how democracy cannot function if politicians don’t tell the truth and the media doesn’t report it.
He has also 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.
Since 1990, he has been the President of the Union of Maine Visual Artists (UMVA), and producer of the UMVA’s Maine Masters Project, an on-going series of video documentaries about Maine artists. In May 2007, Rob received a Distinguished Achievement Award from the University of Southern Maine and gave the Commencement Address at the University of New England which awarded him an Honorary Doctorate in Humane Letters.
Robert Shetterly lives, with his partner Gail Page, a painter and children’s book writer and illustrator, in Brooksville, Maine.
The Americans Who Tell the Truth website has a gallery of all his portraits.