NEW YORK – Marilyn Church didn't even have to ask Bernard Madoff, Martha Stewart, Woody Allen and John Gotti to sit for their portraits. She simply found a good seat in court and pulled out her pad — then got paid.
Soon, the New York courtroom artist's 3,500 sketches could be heading to the Library of Congress, which said Wednesday that it planned to acquire them and is finalizing agreements with Church.
"It's a great spectrum of all the things that were going on in our culture and having a front row seat on that," Church, in her 60s, said in a telephone interview Wednesday with The Associated Press.
Church has done sketches for various news organizations over the years, beginning as a freelancer for WABC-TV in 1973 and later including the AP and The New York Times.
The list of the famous — and the infamous — in her repertoire is long, including David Berkowitz, the "Son of Sam" killer who terrorized New York in the 1970s; Amy Fisher, known as the "Long Island Lolita"; and the blind Islamic militant leader Omar Abdel Rahman.
Celebrities are among the hardest to sketch because their faces are widely familiar, Church said. She found Stewart, the domestic doyenne convicted in 2004 of lying about a stock sale just before it plunged, among the most challenging to draw because of her beauty.
"It's more difficult to read character there, more difficult than drawing Madoff, because all the features are so perfect," she said.
She also found Allen, who was accused by Mia Farrow of molesting their 7-year-old daughter, hard to draw.
"In that case, there were two famous people," she said. "You have to draw with a dead-on likeness. If you miss, it's pretty bad."
What made it easier was that it was a non-jury trial, meaning she could sit up close, in the jury box.
"There are no provisions for artists to sit," she said.
She often overcame such obstacles because of her photographic memory, she said, capturing in her mind's eye the defendants' features the minute they walked into the courtroom.
At the trial of a paroled burglar convicted last week of terrorizing and killing a woman and her two daughters in Connecticut, Church sat eight rows from defendant Steven Hayes, drawing "through all these heads leaning together," all the while trying to balance a sketch pad, crayons and colored pencils.
Church recalled how one of the defendants in the 1989 sexual attack on a jogger in Central Park "would plant himself so ... I couldn't see him at all" and placed a hand before his face, "looking through his fingers."
Church made her offer of a "combined purchase and gift" to the Library of Congress, said Sara Duke, curator of popular and applied graphic art. All her drawings will come out of copyright upon her death, at which time her work will be accessible via computer, Duke said.
The news of the offer was first reported Thursday in the Times.
Church said she was thrilled to be giving her works to the library.
"I can't imagine a better home for my work," she said. "It's a challenge to keep them all and keep them well-preserved."
Church noted the wide range of trials she has covered, from politicians and celebrities to mobsters and "lovers who shot each other."
John Chambers, the so-called "Preppy Killer," was one of the few defendants Church illustrated using watercolors.
He was handsome, but "his eyes were vacant, dead," she said of Chambers, who pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the death of 18-year-old Jennifer Levin in Central Park in 1986. "There was such a wishy-washy look to his face that I decided to use watercolor."
She considers being able to sketch Madoff, convicted of swindling investors out of billions of dollars, "almost a privilege, to look into this face, this man who was capable of deceiving all his friends and everyone.
"It was amazing to be able ... to get so close."
Library of Congress: http://www.loc.gov