Robert Shetterly

Artist born November 26, 1946

Robert Shetterly is an American artist best known for his portrait series, Americans Who Tell the Truth and his book of the same name. (date) Shetterly’s portraits have long been touring the U.S., where they are exhibited in schools, libraries, museums, galleries, and other public places. Shetterly combines his love for art and activism with a wide variety of political and humanitarian activities in partnership with many of the people whose portraits he has painted. The issues that are closest to his heart are democracy, the environment, and social and economic justice. 

Robert Shetterly has been a friend of MY HERO for a long time: each year, Robert Shetterly generously partners with MY HERO as sponsor of the Robert Shetterly Portrait Contest, held in December.

In July 22, Richard Kane’s film, Truth Tellers: An Artist’s Journey to Uphold our Founding Ideals, was screened at the National Portrait Gallery as part of an exhibition entitled, The Struggle for Justice, that looks at the history of democracy in the U.S.

The program was presented by Smithsonian museums, Anacostia Community Museum and the National Portrait Gallery.

Kane’s documentary is about Shetterly’s Americans Who Tell the Truth (AWTT) portrait project and the power of teaching social justice through art to create engaged citizens.

See the trailer for the film here.

And please check out the stories and student artwork, below!



Robert Shetterly

Producer: The MY HERO Project

Watch Robert Shetterly discuss his series, Americans Who Tell the Truth.

This short film was produced by The MY HERO Project.


Robert Shetterly's series "Americans Who Tell the Truth"  is a collection of portraits that has toured around the country and the world.

Rosa Parks
Credit: Robert Shetterly
Ron Kovic
Credit: MY HERO
Harry Hay
Credit: MY HERO
Paul Robeson
Credit: Robert Shetterly | Used with permission.
James Baldwin
Credit: MY HERO
Walt Whitman
Credit: MY HERO
Fannie Lou Hamer
Credit: MY HERO
Marian Wright Edelman
Credit: MY HERO
Claudette Colvin
Credit: MY HERO
Susan B Anthony
Credit: Robert Shetterly
Martin Luther King Jr
Credit: MY HERO

Click the banner below to view some of Robert Shetterly's beautiful portraits.

Credit: MY HERO

"At first, what I wanted most was to express my grief, cynicism, and shame. But I soon realized that agonizing over my shame for this country would lead me nowhere positive. Why, I wondered, don’t I surround myself with people who make me feel proud, people who have insisted that this country live up to its own professed ideals about inalienable rights, equality, and justice? Why don’t I invoke their spirits by painting their portraits?

I did not want to support the myth of American exceptionalism, the stories of power and domination that we tell to set ourselves apart from the rest of humankind, but to tell the story of this country’s long and courageous struggle for justice." 

- Robert Shetterly

Eva Haller Salon - Robert Shetterly

By: Eva Haller

Robert Shetterly speaks at MY HERO's International Day of Peace Celebration

Producer: The MY HERO Project

Robert Shetterly Discusses Americans Who Tell the Truth at MY HERO Salon Event

Producer: The MY HERO Project
Robert Shetterly Discusses Americans Who Tell the Truth at MY HERO Salon Event

About Robert Shetterly

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 some 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 and 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 approximately 30 books.

Robert's paintings and 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. He is well known for his series of 70 painted etchings based on 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,however, for more than ten years he has been painting the series of portraits Americans Who Tell the Truth . The exhibit has been traveling around the country since 2003. Venues have included everything from university museums and grade school libraries to sandwich shops, the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine in New York City, and the Superior Court in San Francisco. To date, the exhibits have visited 26 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 Shetterly 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, US history, and how democracy cannot function if politicians don't tell the truth, if the media don't report it, and if the people don't demand it.

Shetterly has 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, on climate change, and on the continuation of systemic racism in the US particularly in relation to the school-to-prison pipeline.

Since 1990, he has been the President of the Union of Maine Visual Artists (UMVA), and a producer of the UMVA's Maine Masters Project, an on-going series of video documentaries about Maine artists.

Americans Who Tell the Truth has been an active partner of The MY HERO Project Gallery, specifically promoting activism and compassion through the vehicle of fine art.

Awards and commendations:

  • In 2005, the Maine People’s Alliance awarded him its Rising Tide award.

  • Also in 2005, he was named an Honorary Member of the Maine Chapter of Veterans for Peace.

  • 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.

  • In 2009, he was named a Woodrow Wilson Visiting Fellow that enables him to do week long residences in colleges around the country.

  • The University of Maine at Farmington awarded him an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters in 2011.

Robert Shetterly lives, with his partner Gail Page, a painter and children’s book writer and illustrator, in Brooksville, Maine.

Robert Shetterly

By: David Kemker
Robert Shetterly paints portraits of Americans who have acted with courage to do the right thing.

Robert Shetterly Award

Portrait Contest for Students 2024
Credit: MY HERO
Professional artists and students- you are welcome to submit one or more hero portraits as an entry or multiple entries!


Works of art submitted will be judged by Robert Shetterly, artist founder of Americans Who Tell the Truth and the MY HERO Gallery staff!


Each work of art can represent someone you admire who has done something significant - for you, for your community or for our planet.

Each of work of art can illustrate an heroic act that has impacted your world or our society as a whole.

All winning entries will also be shared with students around the world online on

Organizer created on 11/20/2017 1:00:06 PM by Xenia Shin

Last edited 1/23/2024 12:17:56 PM by Laura Nietzer