Skip to content
The courtroom sketch: a piece of history and art


Sitting in a Manhattan courtroom in 1993, Marilyn Church unwrapped her pencils and paper and patiently waited for the right moment to illustrate. As a courtroom designer, she used to jockey to get a good point of view. This time, she was fortunate enough to be seated in an empty gallery, which allowed her to clearly see Mia Farrow and Woody Allen at a hearing in their custody dispute.

Working at a rapid pace, Ms Church said she faced pressure from the news media outside the courtroom awaiting her drawings, as well as pressure to capture the likeness of the two celebrities.

“It’s a great anxiety,” she said. “You also have to be careful not to get carried away by the very disturbing things you hear.”

Credit…Marilyn Church

Although some jurisdictions in the United States allow electronic media coverage of criminal proceedings, it has been banned in federal courts since 1946. As such, the Library of Congress has long recognized the value of images produced by cartoonists. ‘hearing.

In February, the library announced that it had acquired 269 sketches from the trials of Los Angeles police officers involved in the beating of Rodney G. King in 1991. The sketches, by artist Mary Chaney, add to the library collection. around 12,500 drawings, the first of which date from the 1924 trial in Germany following the alleged Beer Hall putsch, when Hitler and members of the New Nazi Party attempted a coup.

“The opportunity to acquire Rodney King is really important to me because it’s such an important moment in American history,” said Sara Duke, curator at the Library of Congress. “It was the first time that brutal law enforcement had been captured on video. It really shocked the nation.

The library’s holdings also include over 4,500 sketches by Ms Church, who, over a career spanning nearly 50 years, has illustrated dozens of high-profile cases, including the trials of Martha Stewart, rapper Tupac Shakur. and serial killer David Berkowitz, known as Son of Sam.

Her work has also been bought by companies such as IBM and Disney, as well as legal professionals, she said.

While the Library of Congress and organizations like the Smithsonian Institution collect courtroom sketches for their historical value, some art enthusiasts view these pieces as an investment.

Marc H. Miller, art historian, curator and owner of Gallery 98, made what he called a “very calculated choice” by purchasing a group of sketches of hearings and trials linked to the Watergate scandal . The designs, by artist Freda Reiter, include sketches of key figures in President Richard M. Nixon’s administration and now sell for up to $ 3,200 each, far more than Mr. Miller said he paid for. them in the late 1980s.

Credit…Freda Reiter, via gallery 98

“It’s not something that will decorate most people’s homes,” Miller said, noting that there was a “natural market” for such works in the legal profession. Sometimes law firms inquire about a particular sketch because it represents a lawyer who has a connection to the firm, he said.

The celebrity essay sketches also attract collectors, said Steven Grossfeld, an art dealer at Gremlin Fine Arts in Vermont.

He said illustrations from Charles Manson’s 1970-71 murder trial were among his most sought after, and one of those sketches sold for $ 14,500.

Mr Grossfeld said that the notoriety of an essay – and the artists who cover it – helps spark the interest of buyers: “Some artists are just more popular than others.”

He also explained the appeal of the courtroom sketches: “These are historical things that no longer exist,” he said. “After these trials are finished, you can’t get these images anywhere else. That’s it.”

Ms Church, who said courtroom sketches occupied a space between fine art and commercial art, said she was furious that it had not gained popularity. “We are drawing history in the making,” she said. “People like the idea that you were there and you drew this.”

Mr. Miller raised another point: “The more you get involved in art, the more you realize that these are not necessarily timeless masterpieces,” he said. “But there are a lot of different functions that art plays, and there are a lot of different reasons people buy art or want art. It’s a niche. “



Source link