Thanks to the popularity of hour-long television dramas, courtrooms can seem like familiar places. But most people have never actually stepped inside the hallowed halls of the judicial system. You’ve probably also never seen a photo from one, because until recently, photography in U.S. federal courts was forbidden (and it’s still a rare occurrence). Instead of the click of a camera, images from trials come to the public through courtroom artists, who illustrate the players of a trial in an art form unto itself.
The Library of Congress has just acquired 96 pieces of such art, Hyperallergic reports. Spanning four decades, the drawings offer a glimpse into some of the most historic cases of the last century, including the Charles Manson trial in 1970 and the criminal case against French politician Dominique Strauss-Kahn that ended in 2015.
“These courtroom illustrations play a role in documenting the United States,” Sara W. Duke, curator of popular and applied graphic art in the prints and photographs division of the Library of Congress, told The New York Times. “They are important not just for the celebrities that are covered, but for the law behind it and how people are represented.”
The sketches are by three artists—Elizabeth Williams, Bill Robles, and Aggie Kenny—and will comprise the Thomas V. Girardi Collection of Courtroom Illustration Drawings, named after the patron who is a well-known Los Angeles lawyer. The drawings join the larger LOC collection of courtroom artwork, which is self-described as the “most comprehensive in any American institution.”
To see more of the drawings in the collection, check out the slideshow on NYTimes.com.
Banner image by Elizabeth Williams, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0.