Courtroom Sketch Artists Draws On The Past

Bernard Madoff being handcuffed || Photography credits to Liz Williams

Bernard Madoff being handcuffed || Photography credits to Liz Williams


The Boston Marathon bombing, Bernard Madoff, and the Cosby trial are all brought to life once more in the “History Through Art — An Exhibition of 35 Years of Courtroom Art,” featuring 118 drawings from longtime courtroom artists: Liz Williams, Jane Rosenberg and Aggie Kenny.

Federal courthouses are one of the only places that do not allow photographers in the courtroom, but artistic renderings of world famous trials line the hallways of Daniel Patrick Moynihan U.S Courthouse in lower Manhattan, being the only visual stewards of federal court proceedings

Courtroom sketching dates back as early as the 19th century, primarily for newspapers, when photography was not a practical option for coverage. Although, in varying circumstances, all 50 states now allow photographic documentation, courtroom art is still favored. In June 2017, the White House began prohibiting camera access in press briefings and courtroom artists were revived, making this exhibit a timely one, by allowing everyone to relieve famous and memorable trials.

Sketch artists, like Liz Williams, believe that there is a certain benefit of creating the scene through illustration rather than capturing a photo of the scene.


“A photo is a snapshot, limited by both time and space,”

-Liz Williams


She believes that by drawing the scene, artists are able to capture wide swaths of the courtroom and photographers generally are limited in that sense. To Williams, a good courtroom drawing may give the viewer a better idea and concept of a courtroom.

Williams, like others, started off not as a courtroom artist but pursuing other artistic opportunities. While in Los Angeles as a fashion illustrator for designers in Hollywood, she realized she was not making ends meet with this career. Her teacher suggested she try courtroom art.

“It took a long time and lots of determination, but I finally got a break and started working for KNBC in LA,” Williams said.

Tension in the courtroom may come as no surprise, but courtroom sketch artists are often under high pressure.

Williams recalls one her most tense moments was during the handcuffing and jailing of Bernard Madoff, after he plead guilty to a $65 billion fraud. Much to William’s surprise, instead of being allowed to stay free on bail until sentence, the judge jailed him and the US Marshals descended upon Madoff and handcuffed him.

“I almost couldn’t believe what was happening before me. As they lead him into the lockup from the courtroom, I quickly grabbed a piece of paper and started drawing, I am not even sure I had time to even look down at the paper,” said Williams.  “Then a few seconds passed he was gone… but it was one of the most tense situations I have experienced drawing in a courtroom.”

Despite the high strain, the art on display still reminds onlookers of the beauty of artistic renditions than a photographic snapshot. This exhibit opens up to another world behind closed courtroom doors. The drawings are now on display during court hours, free for anyone to wander the halls and be completely immersed in a new kind of art.

Exhibit Name: History Through Art — An Exhibition of 35 Years of Courtroom Art

Address: Moynihan U.S. Courthouse, 500 Pearl St.

Hours: Monday-Friday 8:30 am-5:00 pm