The Thanksgiving turkey is America’s most iconic edible fowl, with a prominent role in countless cookbooks, novels, and printed ephemera. It even stars in the exhibition Art and Appetite: American Art, Culture, and Cuisine, now in the Art Institute’s Regenstein galleries. While Thanksgiving celebrates the unifying meal shared by Pilgrims and Native Americans, it wasn’t until 1864 that President Lincoln made it a national holiday. This dramatic Harper’s Weekly double-spread by Thomas Nast appeared the previous year, in the midst of the Civil War. As a result, the Pilgrims’ harvest festival became a plea for unity between the North and South.
Before the turkey became the mainstay of the Thanksgiving feast, like ducks and geese it was a staple of British holiday meals. George Cruikshank’s lottery ticket showing “The Grand Turk” from 1820 playfully confuses the fowl and the country, even giving the stately bird a turban. Cruikshank was not alone in making this glib connection, as an old chestnut of American culinary puns emphasizes the bird’s global significance: “What international catastrophe occurs when a waiter drops a platter on Thanksgiving? The downfall of Turkey, the overthrow of Greece, and the destruction of China.”
Although the bald eagle became the United States’ national bird, Benjamin Franklin preferred the turkey. John James Audubon agreed, and would eventually restore the wild turkey’s dignity by capturing it in two of his massive color plates in his important testament to local avian wildlife, The Birds of America (1826–1838). A smaller and more affordable edition appears here, but Audubon’s fascination remains the same: For its “great size and beauty, its value as a delicate and highly prized article of food . . . render it one of the most interesting of the birds indigenous to the United States of America.”
1. Thomas Nast and Harper and Brothers, Harper’s Weekly: A Journal of Civilization, Vol. VII, December 5, 1863. (Dorothy Braude Edinburg Art LLC).
2. George Cruikshank, "The Grand Turk," from Twenty-six lottery tickets, c. 1820. (Prints and Drawings, RX16354/0117).
3. John James Audubon, The birds of America: from drawings made in the United States and their territories. Vol. 5: New York, V.G. Audubon and C.S. Francis & Co., 1855. (Ryerson and Burnham Libraries)
1 day 10 hours ago The Art Institute of Chicago CLOSING SOON—Invisible Man: Gordon Parks and Ralph Ellison in Harlem
Two major figures in American art and literature aim to make the black experience visible in postwar America.
Closing August 28—http://bit.ly/2aQrnYd
1 day 14 hours ago The Art Institute of Chicago It is believed Van Dyck never intended for the early stages of his etchings to be circulated and was surprised by their immediate popularity in the art market. Finding success at a time when artists didn’t usually show works in progress, these “unfinished” prints helped set the stage for the more recent popularity of works that reveal the creative process. See the prints that altered conventions in Van Dyck, Rembrandt, and the Portrait Print—closing August 7.
2 days 9 hours ago The Art Institute of Chicago #TBT 1983: The museum held an exhibition for the collection of Jalane and Richard Davidson, Chicago collectors of contemporary American realist drawings. Acknowledged at the time for collecting against prevailing art world trends, they amassed a comprehensive collection of work spanning the careers of both well-known artists—like Jack Beal, pictured here with Jalane herself and a portrait he made of her—and lesser-known Midwestern artists. The entire Davidson collection was bequeathed to the museum and saw another exhibition devoted to it in 1999.