Americans Who Tell the Truth: Portraits by Robert Shetterly

How do you capture courage in a painting? Artist Robert Shetterly can tell you how. Since 2002, he has painted over 250 portraits of Americans who have displayed courageous citizenship in his Americans Who Tell the Truth series. Subjects range from the turn of the 19th-century abolitionists to young political activists living in Philadelphia today. Shettlery hopes the portraits make viewers “ponder a person, their words, the issues that inspire their life’s journey, work, activism, and imagination. And then they welcome you into that vital conversation — across time and space —  about what it means to be an American citizen.”

With a mission to foster and inspire “a profound sense of citizenship,” Shetterly’s portrait project has become a broad-based, not-for-profit arts and education organization, and it is coming to Shipley in February. In partnership with Speer Gallery Director Meredith Turner, a cross-divisional and multi-disciplinary team selected 12 portraits from Shetterly’s series to display in Shipley’s Speer Gallery in recognition of Black History Month.

The exhibit is rooted in Shipley’s mission of educational excellence and compassionate participation in the world, and the portrait selections support a range of curriculum and programming in each division. Portraits will include: James Baldwin, John Brown, Zyahna Bryan, Claudette Colvin, Elizabeth Mumbet Freeman, Reggie Harris, Chief Joseph, Bayard Rustin, Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, Reverend Lennox Yearwood, and Lily Yeh.

This exhibit of portraits from The Americans Who Tell The Truth Collection by Robert Shetterly was made possible through the generous support of CHRISTIE’S, with a gift directed by Ellanor Notides ’69, in memory of former Art History Teacher Catherine Bohlen.

We will host the artist on February 16 for workshops with students during the school day, including a history lesson with third through fifth graders, a presentation about portraiture at the Middle School Assembly, and a visit with Upper School students. 

Members of the community are invited to join us for an artist reception from 4:00-6:00 pm in Speer Gallery and a viewing of the documentary film Truth Tellers, which chronicles Shetterly’s art and activism will begin at 6:00 pm in Riely Theatre, concluding with a Q&A.


The Shipley School is a private, coeducational day school for pre-kindergarten through 12th grade students, located in Bryn Mawr, PA. Through our commitment to educational excellence, we develop within each student a love of learning and a desire for compassionate participation in the world.