If you google “Thanksgiving art” you will get mostly cartoony images of turkeys and, of course, the Norman Rockwell’s Freedom From Want painting. If you google Thanksgiving fine art” you will get Freedom From Want again plus all kinds of stuff including the photograph Thanksgiving by Michael Beals, featuring a naked woman dressed as a turkey and lying in a pan, as well as a painting, also entitled Thanksgiving by Malcah Zeldis. It’s a primitive style painting of a family in a kitchen eating Thanksgiving dinner around the table. You’ll also be treated to my favorite work, Thanksgiving Barbie by photographer Nicole Houff.
I think her work is especially appealing to me this Thanksgiving because it is a strange one. I am finding that many of my family and friends are struggling with trying to make the best of new situations as they forge through the holidays without parents, spouses or children who are usually at the table. Sadly, some of these family members are permanently missing and others just choose not to be with kinfolk. I live far from my extended family and often make the trek to see them at Thanksgiving but not this year. I am choosing to delay all of that angst until Christmas.
At first glance, the scene in Houff’s photograph appears to be a picture perfect 1950s tableau with a perfect bird, perfect hostess and clean kitchen. But there are two wineglasses at the table and only one drinker. The scene is reminiscent of the 2002 movie Far From Heaven, about a 1950s housewife whose perfect life begins to fall apart. This need to totally experience the dysfunctional family experience has caused me to purchase tickets to see Stephen Karam’s The Humans, at The American Theater next week. It is highly acclaimed and is about the stress of the family holidays, centered on the family dinner. Why am I looking at Thanksgiving art? Being that I basically eat, drink and sleep art, I like to have an artistic bent to my holiday meal. This year it will be in two parts, the setting and a little surprise on the actual food.
As we all know and probably experience ourselves, holidays are fraught with anticipation, anxiety and tension. Family dynamics often force us to replay the same script year after year as we aspire to create that Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving scene in our own homes. My childhood memories of Thanksgiving are more like Rockwell’s or Zeldis’ works although I’ve had a few holidays where I felt like the lady in the roasting pan. This year I am going to aspire to be like the Thanksgiving Barbie. I have gotten my hair done, the house cleaned, the dogs groomed, sewed a Thanksgiving apron, baked pies, prepared all of the food ahead of time and purchased the ingredients for my signature cocktail. I’ve assigned my daughter the task of photographing the big event. I’m kind of excited for my Stepford Wife Thanksgiving…
Creating a performance out of a holiday meal is the only way I can do the meal aspect of said holiday with any joy. While I love being with my family, I don’t like to cook. Because I abhor turkey, I especially don’t like to cook Thanksgiving dinner. This all started last year when we were short one at our celebration so I needed some extra motivation to get the dinner on the table. For some reason I am able to produce theme-based meals, so my sister-in-law, Martha, suggested that since I love miniatures, why don’t I do a mini-Thanksgiving dinner. I did. I spent days baking mini-pies, including a Ritz Mock Apple Pie, which I’ve been wanting to make since the 70s. I stuffed little hens and purchased tiny bottles of champagne, little plates, forks and glasses. I sewed teeny napkins and placemats. Each place setting had a little bouquet of flowers. It was beautiful. At least I thought so…
My family has forbidden me to do a mini dinner this year. They said it tasted awful, which is not my memory. So, I considered going maxi but it just seemed gross and impossible and not very tasty. We thought of doing a non-traditional meal or just going out for Chinese food. My friend, Joanne, was trying to help me find inspiration. She sent me a link to photos of various artists’ Thanksgiving plates would look based on their art. Another friend, Amy, recommended doing something along the lines of the work of Christopher Boffoli. He places little people into food scenes and photographs them. Bingo! I popped over to the well-stocked Berwyn Hobby Shop and picked up some little people.
My family thinks that after all of their squawking that I’ve caved and am making a traditional thanksgiving dinner but I am getting my mini dinner after all!
Kathleen Thometz is an artist, writer and co-founder of and teacher with Doodle Art & Design. She lives with her husband, kids and three doodle dogs: Rainbow, Sunshine and Thunderstorm. You can experience more about her at www.kathleenthometz.com