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No photography was allowed in the Knoedler Gallery art forgery trial that ended earlier this month, so the pivotal scenes, fake Rothko and all, were illustrated by courtroom artists Elizabeth Williams and Victor Juhasz. With some exceptions, courtrooms remain one of the few places where photography is forbidden, so sketching is a vital way of capturing the moods, emotions, and actions of what’s going on.
Today, the Library of Congress (LOC) announced its acquisition of 96 high-profile courtroom sketches, including work by Elizabeth Williams, Bill Robles, and Aggie Kenny. Their sketches cover four decades of trials in the United States. The acquisition will be called the Thomas V. Girardi Collection of Courtroom Illustration Drawings after its benefactor, a founding partner of the Los Angeles firm Girardi Keese.
“The Thomas V. Girardi Collection of Courtroom Illustration Drawings at the Library of Congress enhances our existing holding by increasing the number of artists represented, especially female courtroom illustrators,” Sara W. Duke, curator of popular and applied graphic art in the LOC Prints and Photographs Division, told Hyperallergic.
The art joins a 2010 LOC acquisition of over 3,500 sketches by Marilyn Church, who drew such infamous cases as those of David Berkowitz, aka “Son of Sam,” and Amy Fisher, the “Long Island Lolita.” The LOC has collected courtroom artwork since 1965, including illustrations by Howard Brodie of the Jack Ruby trial and the Senate’s 1964 Civil Rights Act hearings, Daniel Rose of the Pentagon Papers trial, Arnold Mesches of the USS Pueblo hearings, Pat Lopez of the Abu Ghraib trials, Gary Myrick of the Waco and Oklahoma City bombing trials, and Jules Feiffer of the Chicago Seven trial. According to the press release, the Girardi acquisition affirms the LOC as having the most comprehensive American collection of courtroom art.
Among the newest works are Robles’s illustrations of Charles Manson sitting pensive on the stand in 1970, with an X visibly carved in his head. Kenny vividly sketched the crowded scene of Hustler magazine’s case before the Supreme Court in 1987, with the gold plating visible on Larry Flynt’s wheelchair in the foreground. And Williams caught the moment when Bernie Madoff exited the courtroom on March 12, 2009 after his plea; according to Duke, the artist “lingered in the courtroom and looked up in time to see Madoff being led out in handcuffs.” The hand-drawn moments take us inside some of the most famous trials of recent decades, to scenes only made visible by the ongoing work of courtroom artists.