Several weeks ago Cindy Sheehan came to Maine to speak at the WERU Full
Circle Fair. My partner Gail & I had the privilege & honor
of having Cindy stay with us. I had been in touch with her by email
for months about painting her portrait. So, I was not expecting
some of her characteristics: the high sweet voice contrasting with
the toughness of her words like sugary icing on a cake of
steel; her gentle, calm, humorous manner encasing an absolute determination
to hammer meaning and justice out of the unnecessary death of her
son Casey in Iraq. She was self-conscious & apprehensive about
my desire to paint her portrait, though, saying sheís never seen
a good picture of herself. But she told me that when she looked
at the other people in the Americans
Who Tell The Truth portrait series, saw what company
she was joining, she wept with humility and gratitude.
a portrait is a curious business. You might think that getting the
likeness is the hard thing. Itís not. After one has been painting
for awhile, itís not really that difficult to reproduce the correct
slope of the eyes, the idiosyncratic architecture of a nose, the
subtle topography of that crevice between the nose & the upper
lip or at the corners of the mouth. The challenge is not to accept
a likeness that coarsens the individual or caricatures her, that
merely is emblematic of the person the way the word "tree"
is emblematic of a real, living, particular oak. An artist wants
to capture something of the complex emotions and real character
of the subject. That "something" which conveys respect
for and honors her struggles, determination, and courage. Grief
and anger and love.
Click above for full-size version.
Cindy Sheehan © Copyright 2005 by Robert Shetterly.
All rights reserved.
Cindy left Maine, she drove to Rhode Island and back to Massachusetts
for speaking engagements, then headed for Dallas to speak at the
Veterans for Peace Conference. I was already at work on her portrait,
working from photos I had taken of her as she stood by a window
in our living room, the left side of her face lighted, the right
in shadow. From the road she emailed me when she heard the news
that 20 U.S. soldiers from Cleveland had been killed in two days
in Iraq. Her anguish was intense. Something had to be done. Something
to stop this war. Something to stop families from having to go through
what she was going through. It was at that point that she decided
to go to Crawford & demand that Bush talk with her. I already
had painted her sharp, blue eyes to the point that they were looking
back at me from the canvas, talking to me about the fierceness of
her quest, the eyelids red from weeping, grey-blue and ochre circles
underneath from exhaustion, and an inchoate knowledge taking shape
the knowledge that Cindy already had, but that I was learning
as I painted and tried to understand the look in those eyes: the
knowledge that she could not be intimidated or diverted, that the
spin doctors and hate-mongers could belittle and disparage her to
no avail. The eyes had no fear. They had a clarity of purpose that
was at once sad, defiant, and calm. It reminded me of the look in
Fannie Lou Hamerís eyes when she said, "But if I fall, Iíll
fall five feet, four inches forward in the fight for freedom. Iím
not backing off."
people in the media have tried to do to Cindy exactly what I wanted
to avoid coarsen or caricature. I heard a woman patronizingly
psychologize that Cindy was prolonging her grief process by this
public display as though what Cindy is trying to do is eradicate
her grief. People who say things like that are purposely refusing
to honor Cindyís anger. If Casey had died in a war necessary to
defend the United States, and a war presented to the people honestly,
none of us would have ever heard of Cindy Sheehan. Caseyís death
would have been a noble sacrifice, one which would have been terrible
to bear for the family, but full of meaning and justice. Casey died
for lies, so there is anger burning at the core of Cindyís grief.
Those who refuse to admit her anger, try to neuter her cause.
same woman on the radio went on to say that she was sure that Cindy
would one day regret the derogatory things she had said about her
country. That woman was purposely muddying Cindyís portrait. Cindy
is not defaming her country, she is attacking an administration
that has defamed it by abusing the ideals of this country, lying
to the people, betraying its soldiers, killing her son. The woman
on the radio wanted to paint a portrait of Cindy as a poor, misguided
mother who would eventually rue the day that she had spoken so harshly
from her grief. Cindy is telling the truth, and the people who have
told the lies donít want you to hear it. Only in truth is there
few nights ago Cindy called me from outside her tent in Crawford.
Again, the disarming, sweet voice. She was relaxed but ecstatic.
A miracle every day, she said, speaking of the people who have come
to her support, the momentum building around her, and the rainbow
after that eveningís rain. The criticism from the right was not
bothering her. A man whose son had also been killed in Iraq had
come to protest against her. Instead, he had found the cross with
his sonís name on it in the field of crosses set up there in Crawford
for all the American dead. He sat on the ground in front of that
cross and wept in the arms of Cindyís friend Ann Wright. Later he
had a beer with Cindy and told her he loved her. This is the power
of accepting what common ground we share.
This moment is hers, she is wearing it like a suit of clothes she
may have dreamed as a child that she was destined to wear. When
she was here in Maine she said that for the first time in her adult
life she is sleeping well, and she knows itís because sheís doing
the right thing. Her action is in harmony with her deepest belief.
Itís sadly ironic when oneís actions and deeds are brought into
accord by the death of oneís child. Cindy is doing what William
Sloane Coffin advises, "Improve the quality of your suffering."
And now, camped out in Crawford, demanding that the president answer
her questions about why her son was killed, she is holding a mirror
up to him and to the whole country. What do we see there? A just
cause? Or a bloody, oily smudge of deceit.
her talk at the VFP Conference before gong to Crawford she said,
"I donít want him [Bush] to exploit the honor of my son and
others to continue the killing. They sent these honorable people
to die, and they are so dishonorable themselves." Cindy said,
"You [Bush] tell me the truth. You tell me that my son died
for oil. You tell me that my son died to make your friends rich.
You tell me that my son died to spread the cancer of Pax Americana,
imperialism in the Middle East. You tell me that, you donít tell
me my son died for freedom and democracy."
in the same speech, Cindy said, "Another thing that Iím doing
my son was killed in 2004, so Iím not paying my taxes for 2004.
If I get a letter from the IRS, Iím gonna say, you know what, this
war is illegal; this is why this war is illegal. This war is immoral;
this is why this war is immoral. You killed my son for this. I donít
owe you anything. And if I live to be a million, I wonít owe you
I want them to come after me, because unlike what youíve been doing
with the war resistance, I want to put this frickiní war on trial.
And I want to say, ĎYou give me my son, and Iíll pay your taxes.í
up to us," she said, "the people, to break immoral laws
and resist. As soon as the leaders of a country lie to you, they
have no authority over you."
ended her speech by saying, "I got an email the other day and
it said, ĎCindy if you didnít use so much profanity Ö. thereís people
on the fence that get offended.í
you know what I said? ĎYou know what? You know what, god damn it?
How in the world is anybody still sitting on that fence?í
you fall on the side that is pro-George and pro-war, you get your
ass over to Iraq, and take the place of somebody who wants to come
home. And if you fall on the side that is against this war and against
George Bush, stand up and speak out."
words like those Cindy Sheehan has painted a very accurate portrait
of herself, her anger, her frustration, her determination to give
meaning to Caseyís death, her implicit belief that if the American
people know the truth, they will do the right thing. Many people
would now edit & censor her words, pull her teeth, make of her
a grief struck pawn of the left. The degree to which they attack
her is the degree to which the power of her truth terrifies them.
I have merely tried to paint the truth of who she is. This sad,
strong woman is offering America an opportunity to right itself.
Rosa Parks once made the same offer. We would be fools not to take
quote on her portrait says, "George, Ö your reckless
and wanton foreign policies killed my son, Spc. Casey Austin Sheehan,
in the illegal and unjust war on Iraq. Helping to bring about your
political downfall will be the most noble accomplishment of my life,
and it will bring justice for my son and the hundreds of other brave
Americans and tens of thousands of innocent Iraqis your lies have
- August 20, 2005
Shetterly [send him mail]
is a writer and artist who lives in Brooksville, Maine. He is the
author of Americans
Who Tell the Truth. See his
Copyright 2005 © LewRockwell.com