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An Evening of High Drama: Jane Rosenberg Courtroom Artist: The Making of a Program


Sammy The Bull Gravano being questioned by John Gotti's attorney (1991). Jane RosenbergSammy The Bull Gravano being questioned by John Gotti's attorney (1991). Jane RosenbergIt started with a raw idea based on a photograph of a drawing I saw in the paper. It was the work of courtroom artist Jane Rosenberg. And I had been noticing her pastel drawings for many years. I had been paying attention to her more than usual because at the time Jane was covering the trial of Anthony Marshall who was being tried for stealing millions from his mother, the great philanthropist Brooke Astor, while she lay in a diminished mental state, shortly before her death.

The trial appeared daily in the tabloids, the New York Times and on TV and radio. Vanity Fair had an exclusive with Jane showing all her drawings from the Astor trial on their website. While looking at her work in the papers and reading the coverage of the story, I thought what an interesting job this woman has. I wondered what it must be like to take part in this trial and the many hundreds of other trials she has been a part of. More than any attorney, Jane Rosenberg has witnessed every important trial, covering a span of 30 years: from the mob trials of John Gotti Sr and Jr, to blue blood family disputes like the Astor Trial, to trials that debate issues like self defense as in the trial of Bernard Goetz and finally to the first terrorist trials in the original World Trade Center bombing. Jane Rosenberg silently sat through all these trails and more. Unlike most journalists who use words to tell the story, courtroom artists like Jane use line, color and a deft hand to depict events. I decided that if the work of a courtroom artist was of interest to me, it would probably be interesting to others as well and I decided to pursue Jane Rosenberg as a program speaker at the Mid Manhattan Library.

Bernard Goetz listening to videotaped confession (1987). Jane RosenbergBernard Goetz listening to videotaped confession (1987). Jane Rosenberg Initially I did a Google search on Jane and my investigation led me to a gallery in Cape Cod. Not knowing if this was a going to be a dead end. I emailed the gallery, stating who I was and sharing my thoughts about my desire to do a program with Jane about her work. Luck was with me, because they emailed me back with contact information. My email to Jane began in my usual way to possible speakers, "My name is Cynthia Chaldekas and I am a librarian with New York Public Library, would you be interested in doing a program at the Mid Manhattan Library....." Shortly there was a response back and then a phone call. "I might be interested. I have never done anything like this before, but I am often asked about my work. I have never given a presentation but if you help me, sure I will do it." Jane said. And that is how it began.

This was a going to be a new experience for Jane and me. We were going to create an illustrated discussion of the work she does as a courtroom artist. That meant, creating a slide presentation to go along with the discussion. Jane was adamant about not being a solo speaker. I said we would do it as a question and answer format. I would be her Charlie Rose. Essentially she was doing all the talking, I was simply going to organize the sequence of the discussion. I set up some meetings, knowing I needed to become familiar with her work. I was hoping that out of these initial meetings something would strike me, so I could then begin to organize the talk. Our first visit was very exciting. Jane lives in a spacious light filled apartment. Once inside her home she showed me where she kept her drawings. Jane had carved out a space in her apartment where she keeps the thousands of drawings of all the trials she has been a part of. I was wide-eyed; the drawings were beautiful, dramatic and very interesting. She had a history of modern jurisprudence on big sheets of brownish French paper “with a nice tooth.”

Brooke Astor's doctor being questioned during the Anthony Marshall trial (2009). Jane RosenbergBrooke Astor's doctor being questioned during the Anthony Marshall trial (2009). Jane Rosenberg In the beginning of our project I was overwhelmed because there was so much information. Jane covered subjects like history, trials, as well as technique, strategy and the media industry. There was great deal of information to sort through. Next came the images. There were hundreds I had to work with. I spoke with my co-worker Thomas Knowlton about organizing the presentation. He had more experience in creating presentations than I. Out of the hundreds of images, he said I should have about 40 images for an hour talk. Thomas was an invaluable source of help on this project.

In a later meeting Jane and I discussed the images, choosing a group from the many that would be best in the presentation. Once I had the images, I then was able to develop a sequence for the discussion. I organized questions based on the order of the images. At one of our final meetings I had a tentative final presentation. We met at Jane’s apartment working through the presentation. I sensed Jane was not comfortable with the sequence of the talk. We discussed the matter and we decided one more meeting was necessary. I then went home that night and reorganized the sequence based on what Jane had said during the meeting. She had good points and I used them to help refine the presentation. We met one final time and discovered that the changes improved the presentation. We were happy at the conclusion of this final meeting and we both looked forward to Monday’s program.

Abner Louima testifying against John Volpe (1999). Jane RosenbergAbner Louima testifying against John Volpe (1999). Jane Rosenberg On Monday January 25th at 6:00, Jane came to the 6th floor. The program would begin in 30 minutes. We were both excited. People were filling the room. I left her to talk with friends and I stood out at the entrance, greeting people as they entered the room. Jane and I went through the presentation smoothly. The audience made audible sounds of surprise as the images of historic trials appeared on the screen. John Gotti’s brought sounds of laughter from the audience as Jane told of her experience for this trial. During the question and answer period hands shot up. One comment was very telling about Jane’s work. Someone pointed out how each trial captured an emotional intensity or psychological flavor unique to that particular trial. In a question on the Gotti Sr. trial, Jane pointed out that the mafia trials were the most enjoyable and fun for her as an artist. Her drawings of these trials are full of color and verve, depicting the circus like atmosphere that occurred during this trial. Energy and emotion jumps right off the page. In the end, 78 attended what turned out to be a really spectacular program. It was interesting, informative and entertaining, three important qualities that always make for a successful event.


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very interesting presentation...

a stroke of genius on your part to reclute ms. rosenberg for this exposition.

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