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 17 hours ago The Art Institute of Chicago TOMORROW at 4:00—See the world premiere of “The Electric Stage” by performance collective Manual Cinema.
Manual Cinema uses vintage overhead projectors, multiple screens, puppets, actors, live camera feeds, sound design, and a live music ensemble to create immersive visual stories on stage and screen.
1 day 19 hours ago The Art Institute of Chicago A Sunday on La Grande Jatte has been among the museum’s most beloved paintings since it first entered the collection in 1926. ARTicle celebrates the birthday of Georges Seurat, with some fun facts about this pointillist masterpiece.
2 days 12 hours ago The Art Institute of Chicago #TBT Ladies strike a pose in Blackstone Hall, 1909.
Demolished in 1958, the enormous two-story gallery once spanned the area between where the Asian art and Prints and Drawings galleries are today and housed over 150 plaster cast sculptures, many replicas of Greek and Roman art received as gifts from the French government.