Texas, home to cattle ranches and more death-row executions than any other state, doesn’t allow steak for a final meal. If you order steak in Texas, you get hamburger. I have always been focused on food. 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.
The Last Supper is a series of ceramic plates illustrating final meal requests in the United States. Starting in Norma, Oklahoma in 1999, I have painted 420 plates to date. I plan to continue adding fifty more each year until capital punishment is abolished.
When looking at the inmates’ humble choices, it is important to note that while rituals and traditions vary, most states limit final-meal allowances to twenty dollars. Maryland is the only state that does not allow any meal selection. A last cigarette is permitted in some prisons. Alcohol is prohibited in all. Texas denies bubble gum. Sometimes requests provide clues about personality, race, and region. An Oregon inmate’s final meal request closed with “I would appreciate the eggs hot.” And who wouldn’t?
The Last Supper plates have travelled to nine states and the UK. The project has been included in the book Confrontational Ceramics by Judith Schwartz, on the radio program The Splendid Table and on Southern California Public Radio.