(Editor’s note: The following story appears courtesy of Gaylord News, a reporting project of the Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication.)
The artist who sculpted “Olivia” in Norman’s Lions Park completed restoration of the statue Sunday, almost two weeks after the child’s head had been vandalized with spray-paint and neo-Nazi hate speech.
“I won’t let her win,” said Richard McKown, referring to 45-year-old Allison Christine Johnson who surrendered to police in connection with five acts of racist vandalism in Norman and Oklahoma City.
Johnson turned herself in following spray-painting vandalism at Norman’s Firehouse Art Center, McKinley Elementary School and the Cleveland County Democratic Party headquarters. Three weeks ago, similar graffiti messages were found at the Oklahoma Democratic Party and Chickasaw Nation buildings in Oklahoma City.
Swastikas had been painted over both eyes of McKown’s statue, and the word “JEWESS” was scrawled across its forehead. Red paint simulating blood poured from the forehead to sculpture’s base, where four more swastikas were painted.
A note found at the Cleveland County Democratic Party office said, “White men have built this civilization. White men have been and still are the backbone.”
McKown, who modeled “Olivia” after his daughter when she was 7, said it was important to restore the sculpture to refute the messages that had been painted on it.
“Why restore it? What’s the alternative? Throw it away and she wins. I’ll have none of that,” he said.
Anna Love, a former artist at Firehouse Art Center, said she hopes the book gets thrown at the woman who damaged the statue.
“I can’t imagine how he must feel having his art defaced with hate like that,” Love said.
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McKown said he restored the statue because hate does not identify Oklahoma.
“We need to stop letting a tiny minority define what Oklahoma is,” McKown said.
The sculptor said diversity is Oklahoma’s greatest resource and that’s why he won’t allow the hate speech to remain.
“Images are powerful,” McKown said. “We navigate the world through images.”
McKown said that’s why he focuses on the human face to help understand the world.
“Artists make art with the intention of it staying,” McKown said. “I will not allow her to take it away like that.”
Still, McKown hopes that art education can help those with discriminatory ideologies learn tolerance and acceptance.
“To the kids: stop reading the angry tweets or angry reactionary words,” said McKown. “Come get art therapy and feed the right brain.”