GAYLORD — The hit-and-run trial of Amy Senser abounded with high-tech media coverage delivering every new wrinkle at warp speed.
Then there was Waterville native Cedric Hohnstadt, each day chronicling proceedings in a manner as old as the 17th century Salem witch trials, where his craft began.
Hohnstadt is a courtroom sketch artist, a job that continues to occupy a niche in an era of instant, real time, 24/7 everything.
It’s a position that still exists because of some state laws that also are beholden to the past.
Only 14 states, including Minnesota, still ban cameras from courtrooms, a prohibition that is problematic for media, especially TV, that crave visual images of high profile trials.
Enter Hohnstadt and his huge drawing pad, a slab of paper sheets measuring 18-by-24 inches.
He’s been doing this for nine years. A Twin Cities television station hired him for the Senser trial, and his sketches received daily newscast play. A couple of them appeared on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”
To be sure, courtroom sketch artists aren’t out to paint the Mona Lisa because time is definitely not on their side.
“You really have to draw fast. I mean, really fast,” the 1991 Waterville-Elysian-Morristown High grad said. “You don’t know if someone’s going to be on the witness stand for five minutes or five hours.”
A courtroom artist also learns to scope out a good seat, a vantage point allowing him to capture facial expressions.
Hohnstadt said he got burned last year at the Tom Petters investment fraud trial when he sat directly behind the con man and was reduced to drawing the guy’s back.
During the seven-day Senser trial, Hohnstadt sketched non-stop. He uses a drawing pencil but said he continues to experiment to find the fastest and least noisy sketching instrument.
He’d deliver his first drawings to the TV station’s mobile news truck around mid-morning for airing on the noon newscast. He’d bring another batch after lunch and a third set in the afternoon for use on the evening news.
Hohnstadt got into the courtroom sketch artist game upon earning an art degree from Minnesota State University-Moorhead. He sold his work to TV stations in the area. He opened an art studio in the Twin Cities in 2003.
Hohnstadt said in addition to rendering apt likenesses of his subjects is the challenge of capturing people’s visible emotions, which can be as rare as they are fleeting.
Unlike movie trials, in which actors dramatically play to the camera, Hohnstadt said real-life trials are usually static and staid affairs with those involved displaying little more animation than bowls of fruit.
Brian Ojanpa is a Free Press staff writer. Call him at 344-6316 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.