A Dover resident's portrait is featured in the Biggs Museum of American Art's new exhibit, “You're U.S.”

A Dover resident’s portrait is featured in the Biggs Museum of American Art’s new exhibit, “You’re U.S.”

While it’s common to find portraits on display at the Biggs, what’s not so typical is the story behind the painting of Charlotte McBride.

Her portrait, like the others in the exhibit, was created by nomadic artist Emile Klein after he met her in 2012. Klein’s process for creating artwork for “You’re U.S.” was to bike across 11 states, including a stop in Dover, and paint portraits of strangers who provided him with room and board during his travels.

Klein, who’s from California, is the director of the New York-based nonprofit arts organization named “You’re U.S.”

“You’re U.S.,” the art exhibt, is on display at the Biggs through Jan. 11.

Q How did the idea for the “You’re U.S.” exhibit come about?

A It was a late night five years ago, and my host was giving me a tour of Madrid and she suddenly stopped and, shaking her head, pointed across the street [and said] “Ugh... Americans.” I was lost. Why did my host think the accused, a middle-aged white couple with protruding love handles, were Americans? And why, for that matter, was I inclined to agree? Equally perplexing, why was the host so sure I was British or German or whatever? This all got me thinking, “Wait, what makes an American so recognizable?” And then a bunch of other things happened and things got really, really overly complicated.

Q How did you meet Charlotte McBride?

A In the spring of 2012, I had two interns researching potential subjects in Virginia, but having not found anyone in Delaware, I began cycling across the state to do a preliminary scan. Everywhere I’d go, I’d ask different people who they thought was particularly interesting or notable in a way that might be missed by the major news. A day’s cycling landed me in Dover and I ended up camping outside Dover’s fire station. In the morning, I began peeking around the city and discovered that Dover has an American art museum, which is pretty rare, although there is a great kitch one in the middle of Florida.

Anyhow, I got in contact with the folks at the Biggs and, soon after, asked if they knew anyone who might fit the bill. One of the people the Biggs staff suggested was Charlotte, who so happened to be a former docent at the Biggs.

Q What was your experience like meeting Charlotte?

A Charlotte won me over from the start. She has a golden voice and, like most everyone, is anything but average.

Q What were some of the most memorable people you met or stories you heard during your travels?

A There’s no shortage when you live like this. There was the Florida creeper who rescued me from a crack motel in a town of retired carnies; the Blue Ridge Mountain woman who, beer in one hand, crying baby in the back, asked if I’d like to get in her car with her and go for a ride; and the man who ran a hate group that functioned as a church. There are just so many people in this country and many of them are willing to talk when you put a microphone in front of them.

IF YOU GO

WHAT ‘You’re U.S.’

WHEN 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Tuesdays and Saturdays; 1:30 to 4:30 p.m., Sundays; exhibit ends Jan. 11

WHERE Biggs Museum of American Art, 406 Federal St., Dover

COST Free

INFO Visit biggsmuseum.org or call 674-2111