Americans Who Tell The Truth: An Exhibit at First Church

Exhibit Extended with Select Portraits Through June 18

What an inspiring gift it has been to have Robert Shetterly’s truth-telling portraits gracing our walls these past 40-plus days. Some of them will be leaving us after Easter, so as to be shown elsewhere.  However, the following five will be with us through June: Denise Altvater, Harriet Jacobs, Bob Moses, Bryan Stevenson, and Ida B. Wells. We are also hoping to use Memorial Funds to purchase two or three fine art prints of the portraits to keep on our walls throughout the coming year, even as we anticipate curating a new set of portraits in 2024. Please make your way into Hastings Common and the Harter Room to see them over the next few weeks, again or for the first time!

First Church in Cambridge is excited to  partner with portrait artist Robert Shetterly and his organization Americans Who Tell The Truth to host 11 of Robert’s remarkable works depicting courageous truth-tellers, both historic and contemporary. Some were chosen for their local connections to our city and region. Others have directly inspired our congregation’s antiracist journey and wider social justice work. Americans Who Tell the Truth (AWTT) is an organization dedicated to the belief that a profound understanding of citizenship is the only safeguard of democracy and the best defense of social, racial, economic, and environmental justice. Working with portraits and narratives of courageous citizens to craft collaborative educational and community experiences, AWTT uses the power of art to illuminate the ongoing struggle to realize America’s democratic ideals and model the commitment to work for the common good.

The 11 portraits chosen for First Church’s AWTT exhibit include: Ida B. Wells, Bob Moses, Denise Altvater, Maulian Dana, Betty Burkes, Bryan Stevenson, Frederick Douglas, Gladys Vega, Bill McKibben, Amara Ifeji, and Harriet Jacobs.  The portrait of the writer and abolitionist Harriet Jacobs is Robert’s latest work;  we are thrilled that it will be unveiled here on February 26, given recent local interest in preserving Jacobs’ legacy, which includes her ownership of a boarding house at 17 Story Street in Cambridge.

Truth Tellers Documentary Screening
Sunday, February 19, 12:30 – 1:30 p.m.

As we prepare for First Church’s exhibit of Americans Who Tell the Truth, we offer a hybrid screening of an hour-long 2021 documentary film: “Truth Tellers: Robert Shetterly’s journey to paint portraits of activists fighting for justice.”  The film “chronicles the lives of courageous Americans fighting for racial equity, climate justice and indigenous rights through the eyes of Robert Shetterly, a long time activist and artist. The film explores the intersection of these issues stressing the urgency of coming together to confront them and galvanizing our resolve to uphold our country’s founding ideals.” All are welcome!

Exhibit Opening and Portrait Unveiling
Sunday, February 26 at 12:30 p.m.

First Church in Cambridge and portrait artist Robert Shetterly will co-host an exhibit opening of 11 works from his Americans Who Tell the Truth collection. Robert will introduce the exhibit and unveil his latest work, a portrait of the writer and abolitionist Harriet Jacobs. We will also hear remarks from Harvard Divinity School Associate Dean of Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging Dr. Melissa Wood Bartholomew, who teaches a course on Harriet Jacobs. We’ve invited several of the living truth-tellers whose portraits will be featured to join us for this celebration!

Visit a Truth Teller
Sundays, March 5 – April 2, 12:15 p.m.

Each Lenten Sunday, we invite you to gather around one or two of our Truth Telling portraits for a brief ritual after worship. After listening to a short description of the truth-teller’s life and work, we will pause to look at the faces—the eyes—and to read the quote. We will sing a verse or two of a song and then send each other forth, inspired to go speak the truth in our lives and in our world! You will also be invited to linger in casual conversation and to engage each other in response to some ‘truth-telling prompts’  that will be available on tables in Margaret Jewett Hall and Hastings Common.

These portraits are the opposite of “hot takes” or quick opinions. They invite you to ponder a person, their words, and the issues that inspire their life’s journey, work, activism, and imagination. They welcome you into a vital conversation, across time and space, about what it means to be an American.