Americans Who Tell the Truth

In his portraits, artist Robert Shetterly features great Americans who tell the truth about helping the environment. With honesty and courage, these environmentalists pave the way to a healthier, brighter future.

| April/May 2008

I began painting this series of portraits — finding great Americans who tell the truth and combining their images with their words — as a way to channel my anger and grief after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. In the process my respect and love for these people and their courage helped to transform that anger into hope and pride and allowed me to draw strength from this community of truth tellers, finding in them the honesty, tolerance, generosity, wisdom and compassion that have made our country strong.

Human history is not simply something that we read about or that happens to us. History is something we shape by our determination to be involved in the events of our time, or by our complacency. All of us, adults and children, can affect our history by insisting that our questions are answered and the truth is told, and by working to pass on to future generations a more just and equal world.

We have been taught in this country to honor the health of the economy, not the health of nature. A people who believe their reality is the economy will value, above all else, profit, economic growth and materialism. They will poison their children and destroy their land. But the truth is, our fundamental reality is nature. If we disregard, by exploitation and pollution, nature’s laws, we invite our own destruction. We invite ourselves and all living species to be collateral damage for the gods of money. Our economy must be in the service of nature if we are to have true democracy. We must listen to environmental leaders such as the individuals honored here if we are to survive. (See the Image Gallery to find the quotes below paired with Shetterly's portraits of their speakers.)

“The most common form of terrorism in the U.S.A. is that carried on by bulldozers and chainsaws. It is not enough to understand the natural world; the point is to defend and preserve it. Sentiment without action is the ruin of the soul.”
Edward Abbey Writer, ‘Desert anarchist,’ 1927-1989

“The ‘control of nature’ is a phrase conceived in arrogance, born of the Neanderthal age of biology and the convenience of man.”
Rachel Carson  Biologist, Writer, Ecologist, 1907-1964

“The essence of the problem is about consumption, recognizing that a society that consumes one third of the world’s resources is unsustainable. This level of consumption requires constant intervention into other people’s lands. That’s what’s going on.”
Winona LaDuke Native American Activist, Environmentalist, Writer, 1959-

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