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Art So Good It’s Criminal: Shirley Henderson’s Courtroom Illustrations

Henderson is a painter, courtroom illustrator, and arts educator who has exhibited both her paintings and courtroom drawings widely nationally and internationally. Two new exhibits show the depth and richness of her work and the purpose is to tell the untold stories that have shaped South Florida.

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Ever wanted to have a drink, how about a Bloody Mary, with Ted Bundy? Knock back a Mojito with Noriega or a Dark and Stormy with Yahweh ben Yahweh? Now you can at Miami Beach’s infamous Mac’s Club Deuce Bar with Shirley Henderson’s courtroom illustrations.

When cameras are not allowed in courtrooms, they hire an illustrator, and artist Henderson had a front-row seat to some of the most heinous, high profile criminal cases in the world for 28 years in Miami.

Her richly drawn scenes are a who’s who of dictators, thugs, serial killers, kidnapped children, and cult leaders. The pressure to catch the drama is intense, as sometimes witnesses are only on the stand for a short time.

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Henderson is a painter, courtroom illustrator, and arts educator recently relocated from Miami, and currently living and working near Savannah, Georgia. She has exhibited both her paintings and courtroom drawings widely nationally and internationally.

Shirley Henderson’s Courtroom Illustrations
Shirley Henderson (Courtesy photo)

“I’ve been doing court drawing a long time,” Henderson says. “I even went to Bundy’s execution and people were wearing tinfoil hats outside. I drew him at a court hearing in Miami although his crimes were committed in Gainesville.”

“I charged for my courtroom drawing work and sold them an image but I keep all the original art. It was a lot of pressure to capture the scene as sometimes it happened quickly and I had to get the dramatic moments.”

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Two new exhibits show the depth and richness of her work. Down in Miami Beach, Mac’s Club Deuce is the oldest bar in Miami, opened in 1926, and has been featured in Miami Vice, Playboy Magazine, and Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations TV series.

Longtime bar owner Mary Klein commissioned Henderson to draw some tabletops of the thug mugs in the late 80s and early 90s, as she had recently opened the Picadilly restaurant in the Design District. The only one she especially wanted was Noriega because “he looked human in her drawing.” Henderson says he looked that way because at the moment she drew him he was “looking at his daughter in the courtroom.”

Art So Good It’s Criminal: Shirley Henderson’s Courtroom Illustrations
Criminal tabletops at Macs Club Deuce depicting the late former Panamanian politician and military officer, Manuel Noriega, Elián González Brotons, a Cuban citizen who became embroiled in a heated international custody and immigration controversy in 2000 involving the governments of Cuba and the United States, and American serial killer, Ted Bundy. (Photo Sandra Schulman)

“The tabletops commissioned by Mary Klein, she only asked for one in particular,” Henderson says. “The rest I picked, I focused on the faces rather than the whole courtroom scene. I redrew the faces for the tabletops, then had them resined over for durability.”

The tabletops have had their bases removed and are affixed to the side of the bar and the walls.

“I loved her work, wanted to support, and give more exposure to her,” Klein says. “I was going to wait until Art Basel but we are all getting long in the tooth so I went ahead and put them up at the bar to surprise Shirley. These had been in storage for 15 years. At Picadilly some lawyers came in, saw the tabletop criminals, called their friends and we got loads of reservations and became popular with the legal crowd.”

Shirley Henderson’s Courtroom Illustrations
Wall of crime trial drawings at Crime Museum (Photo Sandra Schulman)

“Over at the Deuce (bestselling crime noir novelist) Elmore Leonard used to sit at the bar writing, and he always stiffed the bartender. When he sold a story for $1 million I called him and said pay up! I had commissioned a nude girl painting on the wall, then Miami Vice came in they added neon to it and it has become world famous.”

Up in Hollywood, the new Crime Tours Museum has entire walls of Henderson’s original courtroom work, with a series of rotating exhibits focusing on one major trial. The current one is on Judge Alcee Hastings, who was impeached as a federal judge by the U.S. House of bribery and perjury and the U.S. Senate convicted him, tossing him from the bench.

A back hallway has dozens of her originals of Bundy, Noriega, Yahweh, a sad-looking Elian Gonzalez, and more on trial for the fight of their life.

Shirley Henderson’s Courtroom Illustrations
Elian Gonzalez drawing at Crime Tours Museum by Shirley Henderson (Photo Sandra Schulman)

The Crime Museum also has objects including weapons, evidence, vintage badges, and the popular Old Sparky electric chair.

“Our purpose is to tell the untold stories that have shaped South Florida,” owner Chris Mancini says behind his mask in the Museums lobby. “From celebrity homes, historical destinations, gangsters, to mysteries, we have it all. In the fall we’ll resume our tours that tell the truly twisted history of South Florida. From shady business deals to gun-slinging mob bosses, corrupt politicians, and rogue drug dealers, South Florida has had its share of dubious deadbeats.”

Mancini knows his beat as he was a public defender for decades.

“We have the Broward County Sheriff’s office archives as they did not want to pay for the storage of it all,” he says. “They saw no reason to fund history. We also get things from the Historical Society. It’s a lot of work to catalog and archive it all.”

The Museum also produces short videos on high profile and under the radar cases. The gallery’s purpose is to be an educational resource on South Florida’s law enforcement, crime, forensic history, and support education-related exhibits and programming. In the Crime Gallery, you can learn about South Florida’s history starting from the murder of Native American tribes by Spanish Conquistadors up to the gun violence of present day including Cuban bombers, the Cocaine Cowboys, Pirates and ship wreckers galore, the bank robbing and moonshine making Ashley Gang, the Era of Prohibition Rum Runners, Al Capone, Meyer Lansky’s gambling empire, the Italian Mafia, and cocaine smuggling.

Henderson is happy to be included, she will have a retrospective in Deland, FL in Jan 2021 of her work, and is included in the permanent collections of the University of Miami School of Law in Coral Gables; The Polk Museum of Art in Lakeland, Florida, and the Museum of Art of Fort Lauderdale, in Florida among many other institutions and private collections.

Sometimes crime really does pay, at least as entertainment.

For information on the museum and tours, check www.crimetoursmuseum.com

Shirley Henderson’s Courtroom Illustrations

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