When Robert left cloistered life after 18 years, he discovered that he’d missed a lot. The world had changed. As he set forth on his personal journey to catch up, the people he encountered encouraged him to paint an icon of Martin Luther King. The idea stretched him in various ways, first of all because King had been a Protestant. Catholics were a persecuted minority on the Colorado prairies when Robert was a child, and he remembered fistfights with Protestant kids in schoolyards to defend his religious beliefs. The icon was also a technical challenge, forcing him to translate the process he had learned for painting Mediterranean skin tones into something appropriate for an African American subject. When he finally designed the icon, he depicted King wearing his mug shot number from one of the times he was arrested for civil disobedience and holding a scroll with a quote that described his struggle for peace and justice. The icon has sometimes disturbed conservative groups but has comforted many thousands more who find inspiration in King’s life.
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