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Thanksgiving in Fine Art

The feast of Thanksgiving has much in common with harvest celebrations found in many cultures. The Spanish in North America and Europeans in Newfoundland had a type of thanksgiving as early as the 16th century. Most Americans, however, look to the Pilgrim feast in 1621 as the model for today's holiday. It was after the Union victory at Gettysburg that President Lincoln proclaimed Thanksgiving a national holiday to be observed every November. Artists have found the themes of the holiday appealing for many years since then. Although the titles of their works are often similar, their styles can convey different feelings. Sometimes this happens because the artists lived in different eras, and art styles change with the times. Sometimes, however, the images are quite different because the artists have a different message about the holiday.

Destination Title:

Thanksgiving Greetings
by James Daugherty
A color-relief print on paper
No date given; the artist painted many works during the 1940s

by Salvatore Lascari
oil on canvas mounted on wood
No date given; the artist an Italian immigrant, lived from 1884-1967

by Doris Lee (1942)
Lithograph on paper

Thanksgiving Dinner
by Louis Lozowick (1938)
Lithograph on paper

The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth
by Jennie A. Brownscombe (1914)
Oil on canvas

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Directions Look at these examples of Thanksgiving represented in fine art. Take notes on each painting, and then answer the following questions.

1.  What are the elements common to all the paintings?

2.  Look at James Daugherty's Thanksgiving Greetings. Is this a formal or informal scene? Does the seating position of Pilgrims and Native Americans suggest any difference in their status? Do the Pilgrims look like they usually do in textbook illustrations?

3.  Examine Doris Lee's Thanksgiving and then Louis Lozowich's Thanksgiving Dinner. The two works were created at about the same time—1938 and 1942— but their messages are different. How would you describe the differences? What was happening in society when the artists worked and do the two artists reflect this fact or not? What aspect of Lozowich's style make the men seem important, even though they are unemployed?

4.  Examine Salvatore Lascari's Thanksgiving and Jennie Brownscombe's The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth. According to these images, what is the main component of the Thanksgiving holiday? Is there anything in the Christian tradition that Lascari's kneeling woman makes you think of? If you did not know the dates of the works, what might make you think Lascari's was created at a later time?

5.  Create a table listing all four works, with the following information in different columns:
  • The artist and the date of the work, or the approximate era when it was created.
  • A second column in which you describe: a) what you see in the work; b) what you think the artist's message was.
  • Your immediate reaction or feeling about the work should be in a third column
  • In the fourth column, tell why you think a work is successful or not. To support your judgment, suggest at least one factor that made is a success or failure. Is it the artist's message, the work's style, or both?


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