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Where Art and Law Intersect

When I first read about the Library of Congress acquisition of Marilyn Church courtroom drawings in the Library’s Information Bulletin, I was immediately intrigued. The intersection of two of my interests and degrees – an art history major in college and a J.D. – fascinated me. Artist Marilyn Church captured some of the most dramatic moments in high-profile courtroom trials during the past 36 years with colored pencil and crayon.

Trial of Amy Fisher. Photograph of drawing used with permission of Marilyn Church.

As the Library’s press release states,

Church’s drawings are an important part of American history, because she portrayed events unfolding in courtrooms where cameras were not allowed. She provided insight into the people who influenced the major issues of the late 20th century, including race and race relations, gender, women’s reproduction, political and corporate corruption, religion, international relations and celebrities.

Luckily, I was on the reference desk one day when a Junior Fellow assigned to Prints & Photographs to work on the project came in to ask for research assistance. The Fellows were assigned to find background information about the famous trials and other types of trials Church drew that the Library received as part of the acquisition. I met with them to discuss their research strategy and how they could best find this information.

Detail of court officer. Photograph of drawing used with permission of Marilyn Church.

Judicial decisions are reported in books known as reporters. However, not all judicial decisions are reported (or published), especially those at the trial court level. (Meg ran into this in her most recent blog post.) Instead, most case reporters consist of decisions at the appellate level.

Good resources for more information on this subject include Legal Research in a Nutshell by Morris Cohen and American Courts by Daniel John Meador.

Once we determined that most of Marilyn Church’s drawings were of trials and would probably not be published in case reporters (and, therefore, not searchable in commercial databases), it meant we needed to focus on where we could find the information. The Junior Fellows ended up doing a lot of their research in databases containing news articles, especially the New York Times, since New York City was where Marilyn Church did a lot of her work.

If you search the Prints & Photographs online catalog, you can see some of the Marilyn Church drawings that have been digitized by the Library. The Junior Fellows completed their project and the Marilyn Church collection will be accessible online in the next few months as the staff of the Prints & Photographs Division completes the finding aid and catalog records.

If you would like to read more about Marilyn Church, please visit her website. Suggested readings on her include her book The Art of Justice and Contemporary Courtroom Artists by Susanne Owens.

Update: Picture This, the Library’s Prints & Photographs blog, has also written a post on the acquisition.

One Comment

  1. Ashley McMahan
    August 31, 2011 at 9:50 am

    Here are some photos of Pete Logan next to a drawing of him testifying at the trial of Susan Smith. (For those that don’t remember, she was the one who drowned her children in John D. Long Lake in Union, SC back in the mid-nineties.)

    Pete Logan was the person who took Smith’s confession. The artist is Jerry McJunkins from Charlotte, NC.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/24544989@N02/with/6100074458/

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