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Turkey Hood Ornament?

Thanksgiving time is upon us already! I know this because I spent tonight making a cake for the office potluck instead of writing about turkey virgin birth or whatever.  However, even if I got distracted, I haven’t forgotten these magnificent birds.  Here is a little gallery of turkey ornaments from around the internet (and throughout time) to help you get in the holiday mood.

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What could be more American than turkeys in a jeweled car made of corn?

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These are pretty, I wonder what they are for…

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These guys have a first generation Oldsmobile! What is it with turkeys and cars?

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Speaking of which, this looks like another hood ornament.

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Turkey lights?? Sign me up!

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What? That’s a kiwi! Stay in your lane, New Zealand!

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That’s more like it!

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this one is cute!

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Oh no! The poor bird! What have they done to you? [surreptitiously licks lips]

This last one seems like a Christmas ornament.  I guess we’ll be there before we know it (and out of the twenty-teens…which is a horrifying thought). I’ll be back to post something before Thanksgiving proper though!  Oh, before you go, you should check out my favorite turkey theme post about turkey breeds from the archives!

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The Edge of the Woods (Wayne Ferrebee, 2012, watercolor)

The Edge of the Woods (Wayne Ferrebee, 2012, watercolor)

Well, it’s already Thanksgiving…2015 will be here before you know it. This year I’m staying in Brooklyn instead of going home to the fields and hardwood forests of Appalachia, but I’ll definitely miss visiting family, going hunting, and seeing all of the goodly farm creatures.  I probably should have organized things better, but to be frank, organization is really not my métier.  How does everybody do so well with all of these infernal lists, and applications, and invoices, and calendars, and spreadsheets? Anyway, to celebrate the holiday, here is a summertime watercolor picture of the family farm.  The trees look a bit crooked and a bit too green…but they were crooked and extremely green in real world (plus I didn’t realize I was sitting on an anthill when I first chose the location—so I was painting faster and faster).   Of course there was no wild turkey running through the painting–at least not that I could see—however they are supremely canny at blending in when they want to be (and I did find some feathers at the entrance to the forest).  The snake, chipmunk, and skulking frog are likewise inventions, although they are definitely out there in the woods.  I should really have painted an anthill: those guys were very much present!

Yes, like that...but bitier.

Yes, like that…but bitier.

I’m sorry I don’t have a November painting which show the beautiful browns, russets, and grays of the woodland.  The wild turkey would look extremely good against such a backdrop!  But the ants were bad enough—I don’t even want to think about watercolor in snow, sleet, and freezing rain…

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Happy Thanksgiving to my American readers!  I hope you enjoy your turkeys and have a lot to be thankful for. All of you foreign folk will have to make do with my best wishes and imagine how succulent the turkey and mashed potatoes taste.  But wherever or whoever you are, you should know that I am most thankful for my readers!  You are all the best!

Turkey Sculpture (Jim Victor, butter)

Turkey Sculpture (Jim Victor, butter)

I really love turkeys!  Thanksgiving season is thus a happy time when the magnificent birds are celebrated in numerous forms throughout the American cultural landscape (although, admittedly, our national appreciation has a gastronomic thrust which can be somewhat inimical to individual turkeys).  Longtime visitors to this blog will recall turkey-themed posts from Novembers past–such as a long list of turkey mascots, a story concerning escapees from the family farm, a comprehensive overview of turkey breeds, and the shocking explanation of how turkeys are capable of virgin birth (!).  This year, we have already featured a discussion of the proud American tradition of turkey-themed characters in professional wrestling.  However since I am not a professional wrestler (yet) but rather a visual artist, I thought I would also present a gallery of turkey sculptures made from various miscellaneous materials.  The turkeys pictured here mostly come from a folk art tradition, so I could not always find the artist, date, and medium (although if you know such details regarding any of these works, I would love to hear about it), however I think you will agree that the sculptures are quite spectacular and diverse–just like America itself!  Look at the turkey at the top made entirely of butter!  Hopefully this little gallery will somewhat tide you over until Turkey Day next week, but, if not, don’t worry, Ferrebeekeeper will probably find material for another 2014 turkey post somewhere.  Additionally, you can click the turkey category link on the menu to the left to see a whole slew of turkey posts (at least this is true on the PC, who knows about you tablet people?). Gobble gobble!  Here is some weird art!

A metal turkey sculpture from Whidbey Island (via joyworks-shopgirl.blogspot.com)

A metal turkey sculpture from Whidbey Island (via joyworks-shopgirl.blogspot.com)

The same sculpture from a different angle

The same sculpture from a different angle

Turkey sculpture by Carlomagno Pedro Martinez

Turkey sculpture by Carlomagno Pedro Martinez

A turkey crafted from legos, chocolate, and silverware

A turkey crafted from legos, chocolate, and silverware

"Turkey" Artist unknown Photo by tim burlowski

“Turkey” Artist unknown Photo by tim burlowski

steampunk turkey watch by IckyDogCreations

steampunk turkey watch by IckyDogCreations

"Turkey Bot" Metal Assemblage Turkey Sculpture by Bruce Howard

“Turkey Bot” Metal Assemblage Turkey Sculpture by Bruce Howard

Turkey Hay Sculpture at Lookout Bar and Grill

Turkey Hay Sculpture at Lookout Bar and Grill

Thanksgiving Turkey Sculpture - Version 1 (design based on photo by Naomi Greenfield, Red Balloon Company) via globetwisting.blogspot.com

Thanksgiving Turkey Sculpture – Version 1
(design based on photo by Naomi Greenfield, Red Balloon Company) via globetwisting.blogspot.com

Turkey Sculpture (Philip Grausman, aluminum)

Turkey Sculpture (Philip Grausman, aluminum)

Thanksgiving Turkey Stuffed Soft Sculpture In Vintage Calico Prints Picture from Laurel Leaf Farm

Thanksgiving Turkey Stuffed Soft Sculpture In Vintage Calico Prints Picture from Laurel Leaf Farm

Jack (Philip Grausman, 2006)

Jack (Philip Grausman, 2006)

Folk Art Turkey Sculpture by Edith John (Navajo)

Folk Art Turkey Sculpture by Edith John (Navajo)

Sandstone Turkey (Ron Fedor)

Sandstone Turkey (Ron Fedor)

Pierced Turkey Sculpture Raymor Italy

Pierced Turkey Sculpture Raymor Italy

Big Turkey, Aneta, ND

Big Turkey, Aneta, ND

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Here is a gorgeous warm earth color for Thanksgiving week.  Gamboge is a deep yellow/pale orange color of tremendous antiquity.  By ancient tradition, Theravada monks dye their robes this distinctive color to show their devotion to the middle path.  The color is named after the Latin word for Cambodia, “Gambogia”, which was (and is) a center of Theravada spirituality as well as a major source of milky sap from Gamboge trees (genus Garcinia). Such sap is dried into a brown gum resin which is the main constituent of gamboge dye.

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Because the color plays such a large role in the religious life of South Asia, it is well known throughout the world. Gamboge is a lovely and vibrant color in its own right—a perfect medium between orange and yellow.  All sorts of animals, fruit, and flowers can be described as gamboge.  Although Thanksgiving has no color scheme per say, the fallen autumn leaves usually inspire decorations in some combination of gamboge, sienna, and russet.

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The First Thanksgiving?

When I was growing up, the Thanksgiving story was simpler.  It revolved around the pilgrims landing in Plymouth and nearly dying of famine and sickness.   They were saved when a helpful native named Squanto taught them how to fish and plant maize (and convinced the Wampanoag tribe to ally with the puritans instead of destroying them).  It never really occurred to me to ask how such a helpful Native-American happened to be on the scene–speaking English, no less.  Where did he learn that?  It turns out that Squanto’s travels to arrive at Plymouth (which was originally his birthplace of Patuxet) were far more epic and heart-rending than those undertaken by the pilgrims.

Squanto’s original name was Tisquantum and he was born in the Patuxet tribe, probably in the 1580’s or 1590’s (there are lots of approximate dates and words like “probably” in Squanto’s biography).   Many historians believe that Tisquantum was taken from North America to England in 1605 by George, Weymouth and then, after spending his youth being “kept” by Sir Ferdinando Gorges, returned with explorer John Smith in 1614.  It is possible that Squanto was separated from a wife and child when he was coerced to Europe, and it is also possible that he had an English wife and children. What is certain is that Tisquantum was one of a group of 27 Native Americans kidnapped by Captain Thomas Hunt in 1614. A devious and cruel slaver, Hunt intended to sell the North Americans for £20 apiece in Malaga, Spain.  Tisquantum escaped–possibly thanks to help from Spanish Friars with whom he lived until 1618.   The friars tried to convert Tisquantum during the time that he lived with them, but his heart yearned for home, and, when the opportunity to travel back to the New World came, he shipped back across the ocean to assist in setting up the Newfoundland colony at Cuper’s Cove (a fur-trading colony set up in 1610).

Recognized by former associates, Tisquantum/Squanto was enlisted to map and explore the New England coast with Thomas Derner.  Finally, in 1619 Tisquantum made it back to his village at Patuxet.  But when he got there he was in for a horrific surprise.  The village had been wiped out by plague (either smallpox or viral hepatitis) and everyone he knew was dead.  Bleached skeletons lay among the fruit bushes and tumbled-down shelters.   Less than a tenth of the original inhabitants of the region survived and what was once a thriving society lay empty and desolate.

As the last of the Patuxets, Squanto moved in with the remnants of a neighboring tribe, the Wampanoags.  Tisquantum told them of the power and strength of the English. When the pilgrims showed up in 1620, he was under house arrest but he was quickly enlisted to translate the negotiations.  Thanks to his accounts of English power, the settlers came to a favorable arrangement with the Wampanoags (although it was obvious that the English were in ragged shape since many had died and the remainder had been reduced to grave robbing from the dead Patuxets).

Massasoit, Chief of the Wampanoags, and his warriors

Squanto was released by the Wampanoags and moved in with the pilgrims. He taught them to properly fertilize their grain so it would grow in New England’s sandy soil.  He showed them how to plant maize and fish for local fish and eels.  He helped them hunt and negotiate with the Wampanoags.  Yet he remained an outsider in the Pilgrim community.  Through abusive threats he earned the enmity of the Wampanoags who became convinced he was trying to usurp the chieftan’s place.  They demanded the pilgrims hand him over for execution but he was saved by the unexpected arrival of the ship Fortune, which provided the pilgrims with a pretext for ignoring the Wampanoag demands.    By the end of his life he was in an ambiguous position—considered an outsider by both groups dwelling in what had been his home.  During a treaty meeting with the Wampanoag he came down with “Indian fever” and began bleeding through his nose (some historians speculate that he was poisoned by the angry Wampanoags).   Squanto was buried in an unmarked grave—after crossing the ocean many times and moving back and forth between different cultures he was at last united with his tribe.

The cornucopia is an ancient symbol of harvest abundance.  It is commonly represented as a woven spiral basket overflowing with fruit, grains, vegetables, and other agricultural products.   In America it is one of the symbols of Thanksgiving time (second only to the magnificent turkey).  The wicker basket stuffed with fruits has become such a familiar image, that it is easy to overlook the Greco-Roman roots of the horn of plenty.

According to Greek legend, the cornucopia is the horn of Amalthea, the goat which served as foster mother to Zeus.   In the benign version of the myth, young Zeus, unaware of his own strength, accidentally broke the horn off of the goat while he was playing with her.   In the darker version, he slaughtered the goat when he reached manhood.  From her hide he fashioned his impenetrable aegis.  He gave her horn to the nymphs who had raised him, and this horn provided a magical eternal abundance of farm-raised food.  In memory of her generosity, he set her image in the stars as the constellation Capricorn.  There is yet another version of the cornucopia myth which Hercules broke the horn off of a river god and this became the original horn of plenty.

Infant Jupiter Fed by the Goat Amalthea (Jacob Jordaens, print)

Whatever its origin, the cornucopia remained a part of the classical pantheon.  It is most frequently seen in the hands of Ceres/Demeter, the goddess of agriculture and grains.  In Roman iconography the cornucopia was sometimes an attribute of Fortuna, the goddess of luck, and of the underworld god Pluto (who controlled the ground and thus was responsible for the gifts of the harvest).

Demeter holding a Cornucopia

I like the Hercules/river-god myth because it reflects on how important water is to agriculture, but I greatly prefer the myth of Zeus and his foster-mother which seems to embody the moral quandaries (and the promise of civilization) which are inherent in agriculture. The story—like that of Cain and Abel–hints at the replacement of hunting with herding and farming (indeed goats were the original domesticated animal).  Some cornucopias are now made of baked goods which makes the symbolic transition even more apparent.  The horn of plenty is an admirable symbol of humankind’s fundamental dependency on agriculture–which lies at the root of our civilization and our prosperity.  I am glad the cornucopia has kept its relevance for all of these thousands of years and has not been replaced by some tamer symbol.

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