Turkey with Fast Food (Wayne Ferrebee, 2013, watercolor on paper)

Turkey with Fast Food (Wayne Ferrebee, 2013, watercolor on paper)

We are quickly coming up to Thanksgiving and it is time to celebrate those magnificent birds, the turkeys.  Native only to the New World, turkeys are large fowl of the hugely important order Galliformes (which includes chickens, pheasants, quail, partridges, grouse, peacocks, and guineafowl).  Although there were once many taxonomic varieties of turkeys, today there are only two species remaining in the wild: the ocellated turkeys (Meleagris ocellata), and the wild turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo).

Turkeys were originally domesticated by the great civilizations of Mesoamerica and they became an important part of the agricultural base of Mayan and Aztec society.  When the Spanish conquered the great Central American civilizations with smallpox and war, the conquistadors also conquered the domesticated turkeys, which they took back to Spain in chains (probably).  Spanish farmers then further domesticated the birds, which were then reimported back to the Americas.  Today’s turkeys are descendants of Spanish turkeys (with some wild turkey genes mixed in by 18th, 19th, and 20th century farmers).

To celebrate this heritage, I have painted a small watercolor artwork of a domesticated Bronze Turkey visiting a Mesoamerican step pyramid.  The turkey’s splendid plumage fits in quite well with the vibrant colors of Central America, but peril looms! Will the Tom turkey learn in time that our Western continents are lands of unrestrained appetite?  To help him understand, I have scattered the ground with some of humankind’s favorite contemporary treats (which also prove appealing to an obstreperous little shrew).  There is probably some sort of parable here for hungry modern humans, but I will leave it to the viewers to tease it out (hopefully over a delicious holiday dinner).