Claudia Fennell ’24
In any given year, 15 to 80 people are executed via capital punishment in the United States. It has long been a tradition around the world that a prisoner is permitted to choose what they would like to eat for their last meal before execution, and artist Julie Green took it upon herself to create beauty out of inmates’ last suppers.
Green was born on Sept. 22, 1961 in Japan to father Frederick Green, an officer in the Navy, and mother Jane Green, a homemaker and insurance underwriter. Her parents divorced when she was seven years old and she moved to Iowa with her mother. She earned her B.F.A. in 1983 at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, KS. Thirteen years later, at the same college, she earned her M.F.A.
When Green was living in Oklahoma in the 1990s, she read the paper each morning and was fascinated by stories about the executions of prisoners on death row. Green was especially intrigued about what their chosen last meals were. She thought it was odd that this information was printed in the paper. When speaking to the Smithsonian Magazine, Green described how she felt that it was “really weird information…so specific. So personal.”
She called the prison publishing the details of prisoners’ last meals and asked why they were doing so. The answer she was given was simply, “The public wants to know.” Green became compelled to paint plates memorializing these special meals, seeing an opportunity to humanize the people that were being written about. According to The New York Times, she once expressed that the inmates’ final meal requests reminded her of the meals she made for her own family.
Green was an art professor at Oregon State University when she began creating her “last supper” art pieces. She worked on them for over 20 years, until her passing on Oct. 12. In July of 1999, she crafted her first “last supper” plate. Using deep blue paint on a white plate, she painted the last supper of a man who was executed in Oklahoma. His selected supper was six tacos, six glazed doughnuts, and a Cherry Coke. When Green started this artistic journey, she planned to continue to paint until capital punishment was abolished or she created 1,000 plates, whichever happened first. This past September, she painted her 1,000th plate, which detailed a simple, singular Coca Cola bottle requested by an inmate in 1997.
Green had been suffering from ovarian cancer that had been getting progressively worse as the years went on. After the completion of her 1000th plate, she ended her life at her house in Oregon by physician-assisted suicide at the age of 60. This was made possible by Oregon’s Death With Dignity Act.
Green worked hard in order to honor each lost life in a beautiful way.