"Last Supper" exhibition at UO museum focuses on final meals of condemned

Julie Green's "Last Supper" installation
Julie Green's "Last Supper" installation

Corvallis artist Julie Green’s “The Last Supper” – a selection of some 500 painted porcelain plates that illustrate the final meal requests of U.S. death row inmates – is on display through April 7 in the Artist Project Space Gallery at the University of Oregon's Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art.

The exhibition is in conjunction with a series of citywide events including the Eugene Opera’s production of “Dead Man Walking.”

“I have always been focused on food,” Green says. “As a kid, I won eating contests; these days I grow organic produce. The years I spent in Oklahoma, which has the highest per capita rate of executions, turned my interest in food toward final meals.”

To create “The Last Supper” Green paints images and words relating to inmates’ last meals on second-hand ceramic plates, using a blue mineral paint. The plates are then kiln-fired by Green’s technical advisor, Toni Acock.

The subject matter varies greatly as the final meal requests reflect the particular state’s regulations and the heritage of the inmates. Green discovered that many states, Texas included, limit inmates to what is available in the prison cafeteria.

Jolly Ranchers, birthday cake and regional favorites such as fried crappie from Arkansas or crab cakes from Delaware are featured in the series. Lobster and steak are exceptions; more familiar comfort foods including hamburgers, biscuits and milkshakes are more popular requests.

Green doesn't include the names of the executed death row inmates, but identifies the plates by the execution date and last meal.

Green says that when she paints the plates, she thinks about "the death penalty, the victims, the heinous crimes committed, the individuals executed, the large number of minorities on death row and the margin for error in judicial process."

She notes that America is one of the few countries with capital punishment and that there have been a total of 1,320 U.S. state-sanctioned executions since 1976.  Green plans to add 50 plates a year to “The Last Supper” until capital punishment is abolished.

Green was born in Japan in 1961. She is a recipient of the Joan Mitchell Painter and Sculptors Award. Her work was featured in OSU’s “Terra Magazine,” and the Last Supper project has received national media attention in outlets including the New York Times, National Public Radio and magazines “Ceramic Monthly” and “Gastronomica.”

Her work has been included in 25 solo exhibitions in this country and abroad. She is an associate professor at Oregon State University and lives in the Willamette Valley with her husband, artist Clay Lohmann, and their one-eyed cat.

Prisons, compassion and peace are the themes encompassing a series of citywide events this spring, centered on the Eugene Opera’s Northwest premier of “Dead Man Walking.” The Eugene Public Library will host a community reading of Sister Helen Prejean’s novel, “Dead Man Walking;” Prisons and Peace is the focus of the UNESCO/UO Conference; and The Downtown Initiative for the Visual Arts will host the exhibition “Visions from Within.”

A full listing of programs is available online.

- from UO's Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art