PITTSFIELD, Maine — Artist Robert Shetterly has been touring schools across the country to tell inspiring stories of Americans in history.
On Thursday, he’s making a trip to Pittsfield.
Shetterly, who has lived in Brooksville since 1970, paints portraits of important figures in U.S. history with quotations from them on the canvas. The name of the tour is “Americans Who Tell the Truth.”
He’ll be showing some of his works and speaking with students at Warsaw Middle School on Thursday, Nov. 3, and then he’ll appear at the Mid-Maine Community Forum at the First Universalist Church at 6:30 p.m. The event is free but donations are accepted.
“This has really put me on a mission of teaching empowerment and citizenship,” said Shetterly. “It’s a shame in seeing how little students know about history. It’s very upsetting. In my little way, at least I have a voice in saying something about that.”
Shetterly has toured from coast to coast. He said he has spoken in 25 states now.
Shetterly has been a surrealist painter for years, but after 9/11, he became frustrated with the country going to war with Iraq.
“I wanted to have a voice and engage at the time,” he said. “I was trying to think of a way to use that anger in a positive way. The portraits came about because I felt ashamed of the arrogance of the U.S. against the world. I don’t like to be ashamed, so I started surrounding myself with people I admire in the country. I was trying to make myself feel better.”
Shetterly set out to paint 50 portraits of people he admired in history.
“Now I’m up to 170 portraits. I just keep painting,” Shetterly said. “My life has totally changed because of it.”
His paintings include Susan B. Anthony, Abraham Lincoln, Howard Zinn, Margaret Chase Smith and Frank Serpico.
Shetterly will appear at the fifth Mid-Maine Community Forum held this year.
Trudy Ferland of Pittsfield helps to organize the forums. She asked him to speak after reading his book, “Americans Who Tell the Truth.”
“I was fascinated by his portraits. The portraits are absolutely amazing,” said Ferland. “I thought that it would be wonderful for him to come as a speaker.”
Although some of Shetterly’s subjects can be politically divisive, he said he has no political agenda.
“I don’t like the terms ‘left,’ ‘right,’ ‘progressives,’ ‘conservatives,’” he said.
Instead, he focuses on the stories of the people.
“What is the reality of the situation? Why did we need civil rights? Why didn’t women have the right for vote? What are our ideals and why weren’t they adhered to and what made them become reality?”
His touring has limited his time for painting. He said he has painted about 12 portraits this year, which is down from his 17-per-year average. He said he has met most of the 100 living people he has made portraits of.
“We often do events together,” said Shetterly. “For the most part, they’re extremely positive about this whole endeavor.”
Usually the only complaints he gets from his subjects are when they think he made them look too old.
“I love painting wrinkles on people. Sometimes I exaggerate them,” he said, laughing.
The next Mid-Maine Community Forum will be in February, featuring Maine Poet Laureate Wesley McNair. The spring forum will feature the Rev. Kate Braestrup, an author and Maine Warden Service chaplain.