PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Tenisha Anderson, Philando Castile, Elijah McClain – those are just some of the people artist Anne Witherspoon had painted portraits of and hung on her fence in Yamhill County.
After the 2020 social justice movement, Witherspoon spent a year learning about people who had been victims of police violence and victims of violence by other people in power. She then painted 25 portraits of them – all people of color – on 2-by-2-foot sheets of plywood and put them on display.
They stayed there for two years, but then, on December 30, they disappeared. Someone had stolen them.
“They had been screwed in. There were at least two screws in each painting, screwing it to the fence,” Witherspoon said. “It was very intentional. Instead of just defacing them, they meticulously took them down.”
She said the murder of George Floyd, a Black man, by a Minneapolis police officer in 2020 opened her eyes to racial violence in recent decades.
She grieved the lives that had been lost and felt she had kept her head buried in the sand and neglected it. One thing she did to deal with the grief was to paint.
“I would paint and try to draw out the image of the person that had died and I would cry and I’d pray and I would imagine what it’s like for the families. You know, they all had brothers and sisters and wives and husbands,” she said.
The 69-year-old, who considers herself “an aspiring artist,” had no intention of putting the portraits on display. However, when she ran out of space in her studio, her children encouraged her to hang them on the fence of her property outside of Yamhill.
They hung there for two years. Witherspoon said she and her husband live along the bicycle path from Portland to Yamhill County and cyclists would stop by to thank her for her artwork and for putting the portraits on display.
In two years, she said she received nothing but positive input.
Witherspoon said she discovered the portraits were missing on December 31 but believes they were taken on December 30.
“They don’t have street value at this point, having been on the fence for two years. They did [have value] to me because they were like my personal meditations,” she said.
She imagines someone or a group of people took them down because they don’t like what the portraits represent. She’s afraid whoever took them might want to destroy them and hopes to get them back before they have the chance.
She’s offering a monetary reward for anyone who comes forward with information. She asks anyone who knows anything about the stolen portraits to email her at Anniespoon@gmail.com.
“I’m just curious as to who would commit a crime in order to stop a story that was not threatening to anybody,” Witherspoon said.
If the opportunity presents itself, Witherspoon said she’d like to have a conversation with the person who stole her paintings. She’d like to tell them more about the stories of each person she painted and ask them why they felt the need to take her paintings down.
Witherspoon said the painted pieces of plywood aren’t what’s important. What’s important, she said, are the stories of the people she painted. Although her paintings might be lost forever, she hopes the people who passed by them and enjoyed them the last two years will help keep their stories alive.