LEWISTON – What do Rachel Carson, Martin Luther King Jr., Dwight Eisenhower and Samantha Smith have in common?

Artist Robert Shetterly said it is a willingness to participate in the world, to improve it and to stand up for what he calls “the promise of America.” Add in courage and wisdom and they and others in their midst define the responsibilities of citizenship and democracy.

Their portraits are part of a landmark nationally touring exhibition, “Americans Who Tell the Truth,” that continues to inspire thousands in community centers, churches, colleges, museums and schools around the country.

A selection of 38 portraits are currently at the Atrium Art Gallery at the University of Southern Maine’s Lewiston-Auburn College after first being shown in 2005.

At 6:30 p.m. Friday, Oct.17, artist Robert Shetterly will give a lecture, “How, Then, Shall I Live?” followed by a reception and book signing in the Atrium Art Gallery. The talk and reception are free and open to the public. Shetterly’s book “Americans Who Tell the Truth” was designed for a young adult audience and published by Dutton in May 2005. Copies of the book, now in paperback, will be available for purchase and signed by the artist.

The “Americans Who Tell the Truth” exhibition marks the 20th anniversary of USM’s Lewiston-Auburn College. Both Shetterly’s exhibit and the USM LAC interdisciplinary core curriculum share a common focus on the principles of justice, sustainability, difference and democracy.

During the exhibition, which continues through Dec.19, USM LAC will offer school tours for fourth grade through high school. In mid-October, Lewiston Middle School students will have the opportunity to hear Robert Shetterly discuss his work and tour the exhibition. Online resources for teachers and students include project ideas, Web sites and assignment suggestions. These are available at www.usm.maine.edu/lac/art/shetterly.

For those interested in learning more about the lives behind the faces, the Auburn Public Library is offering a guide to its collection pertaining to the subjects of “Americans Who Tell the Truth.” Bibliographical resources are available at the library at 49 Spring St., Auburn.

After Sept. 11, 2001, Shetterly’s anger and grief became channeled into the series of portraits that began with Walt Whitman and has now grown to more than 120.

“In the process of creating these portraits, my respect and love for these people and their courage helped to transform that anger into hope and pride,” said Shetterly, “and allowed me to draw strength from this community of truth tellers, finding in them the courage, honesty, tolerance, generosity, wisdom and compassion that has made our country strong.”

Shetterly includes historical figures as well as contemporary Americans whose words and actions are familiar, and those who have worked in obscurity. They come from diverse backgrounds: impoverished to privileged, illiterate to educated. Their differences seem greater than their similarities. Scientists, politicians, artists, writers and advocates for civil liberties, labor, economic and environmental rights all have places in the exhibit. All have had a profound impact on American life.

“One lesson that can be learned from all of these Americans is that the greatness of our country frequently depends not on the letter of the law, but the insistence of a single person that we adhere to the spirit of the law,” said Shetterly.

The Atrium Art Gallery is open to the public free of charge 8 a.m.to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Friday; and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday. USM LAC is at 51 Westminster St.

For more information about the exhibit or school tours, contact Robyn Holman, 753-6554 or e-mail [email protected] The exhibit Web site is www.usm.maine.edu/lac/art/shetterly. The Web site for the entire collection is www.americanswhotellthetruth.org.

Concurrent with “Americans Who Tell the Truth” is “Patricia Wheeler: The Art of Protest” in the Hall Gallery. Wheeler’s work takes the form of paintings, quilts with fabric and collaged paper, reassembled mixed media pieces and collaborative work. Reaching beyond a conventional definition of quilting, some of her work uses stitchery to convey traditional women’s needle arts but with content that is passionately activist.

Who’s in the exhibit

Portraits in the “Americans Who Tell the Truth” exhibition at Lewiston-Auburn College are of Susan B. Anthony, James Baldwin, James Bell, Wendell Berry, Rachel Carson, William Sloane Coffin, Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. Dubois, Marian Wright Edelman, Ralph Ellison, Dwight Eisenhower, Paul Farmer, Bruce Gagnon, Emma Goldman, Doris Haddock “Granny D.,” Jim Hightower, Molly Ivins, Helen Keller, Jonathan Kozol, Martin Luther King Jr., Abraham Lincoln, Natasha Mayers, Bill Moyers, John Muir, Rosa Parks, Sister Lucy Poulin, Eleanor Roosevelt, Margaret Chase Smith, Samantha Smith, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Henry David Thoreau, Helen Thomas, Mark Twain, Alice Waters, Terry Tempest Williams, Chief Joseph Hinmaton, and Howard Zinn.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.