Thanksgiving Themed Art from Other Difficult Years

November 24, 2020
By Beth Herrild

For many of us, this Thanksgiving will be unlike any before. 2020 has been a challenging year, to say the least. It has also brought us some silver linings, like more family time and a renewed sense of what’s really important–including art. As a country, we seem to have a renewed sense of why art is important. In this time of restricted physical movement, television, film, books, music, and visual art offer us a way to give our imaginations the freedom our bodies don’t have.

They also provide fodder for making sense of our current situation and imagining better ways to move forward. Although it has been very difficult to lose many of the activities we associate with normal life, many of us also acknowledge that less busyness has resulted in more time for reflection and imagination. Interestingly enough, hard times make for great art!

In preparation for Thanksgiving, let’s look at some of the interesting Thanksgiving-themed art from difficult years past:


Thanksgiving by Doris Le

Doris Lee’s painting Thanksgiving was the subject of news headlines when it was exhibited at the Chicago Art Institute in 1935 and then awarded the Logan Purchase Prize. The painting of the busy, energetic scene in the kitchen of a rural home on Thanksgiving was painted as only a woman could! Look at all of the details in this painting that is only a little over 28” x 40”. You can tell so much about life at that time by studying it: what clothing people wore, and the conspicuous absence of men in the kitchen! Americans were weary from the Great Depression and this spoke to them of domestic happiness and normalcy. Doris Lee was one of the most successful female artists of the Depression era, despite the fact that it was really difficult at that time to get noticed as a female artist. Her folksy style, not formal or highbrow, appealed to people in rural areas, and made her art accessible for everyone.

Freedom From Want by Norman Rockwell

Norman Rockwell’s Freedom from Want, first exhibited in 1943, was a light in the darkness as the United States emerged from the great depression and joined World War II. It showed Americans the ideals they were fighting for, and gave them an image of a time when they wouldn’t have empty seats at the table. If you have empty seats at your table this year, you know how painful that is! No other image has been more synonymous with Thanksgiving than this painting. Watch a short video about it here. What do you think the painting would look like if it were painted today?

pop art turkey.jpeg__PID:94cf5aeb-f4c0-413f-9fdb-a7225751f4f8

Turkey by Roy Lichtenstein

Then comes 1964, a momentous year for art and the nation. In sharp contrast to Norman Rockwell, Roy Lichtenstein created a piece titled Turkey, believed to have been inspired by a newspaper advertisement for Thanksgiving turkeys. Lichtenstein and other pop artists like Andy Warhol, pushed the boundaries of what was considered art. Pop art was inspired by popular and commercial culture, rebelling against the notion that art had to be high culture and part of a societal hierarchy. Lichtenstein’s Turkey and Andy Warhol’s iconic Campbell’s Soup Cans were part of an exhibition in New York in Oct/Nov that year called The American Supermarket. In the United States, Turkey was screen-printed onto shopping bags and mass produced.

Also in 1964:

• President Johnson escalated the United States’ involvement in the Vietnam War
• Race riots were erupting all over the country in large cities
• The Civil Rights Act was signed into law
• Beatlemania hit the US, and astronauts were training to journey outside the Earth’s orbit for the first time!

By the way, our January 2021 Box is about Pop Art and Roy Lichtenstein!