Happy Thanksgiving from the Factory!

With the last days of November approaching, many American minds are turning to their Thanksgiving celebrations. Since becoming an official federal holiday in 1863, the last Thursday of the month has been reserved for visiting family and friends, watching the (American) football game, and sharing an enormous turkey dinner. Having spent weeks eagerly reviewing my recipe box, I was interested to see what further inspiration I could find within the Prints and Drawings Collection.

Poster for Lippincott’s, Will Carqueville, 1895. Museum Number E.1358-2004. © Victoria & Albert Museum.

Poster for Lippincott’s, Will Carqueville, 1895. Museum Number E.1358-2004. © Victoria & Albert Museum.

While those of us planning on hosting a Thanksgiving celebration were thrilled by the arrival of turkeys in our supermarkets, this woman in Will Carqueville’s poster is using the tip of her umbrella to keep as much distance between herself and the bird as possible. ‘Lippincott’s’ refers to Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine, which was published in Philadelphia from 1868 to 1915. With Carqueville’s poster presumably intended to advertise the November issue, perhaps the woman is attempting to keep the turkey away from her own copy, which she has dropped to the ground in fright.

‘The Arrival of the Turkey from Goa,’ from The Jahangirnama, Ustad Mansur, ca. 1612. © Victoria & Albert Museum.

‘The Arrival of the Turkey from Goa,’ from The Jahangirnama, Ustad Mansur, ca. 1612. © Victoria & Albert Museum.

Adopting a more reverent view toward the turkey is this panel by Ustad Mansur, from the Jahangirnama, or the memoirs of the Mughal Emperor Jahangir. Being an animal lover, Jahangir commissioned this panel to celebrate the arrival of his new exotic pet. As a gift from the Portugese viceroy, the turkey was valued for its rarity, and for its unusual appearance [1]. It would certainly not have been found on the dinner table!

Drawing of a maize plant, ca. 1825. Museum number IS.16-1963. © Victoria & Albert Museum.

Drawing of a maize plant, ca. 1825. Museum number IS.16-1963. © Victoria & Albert Museum.

In addition to the main course, a number of Thanksgiving side dishes were also represented in the Prints and Drawings Collection. This drawing depicts perhaps the most traditional of all. Although the origins of Thanksgiving are controversial, it is most commonly traced to a harvest celebration held by the Plymouth settlers in 1621. As one of the first crops they were able to grow successfully in the New World, corn has always had a place on the Thanksgiving table.

Other autumn vegetables that feature heavily in the traditional meal are potatoes (usually served mashed), carrots, and onions. Looking more like characters in a turkey-induced nightmare, you can find all of these vegetables represented in a series of 19th century costume designs by P. Croce.

Costume design, P. Croce, late 19th century. Museum no. S.235-2000. © Victoria & Albert Museum.

Costume design, P. Croce, late 19th century. Museum no. S.235-2000. © Victoria & Albert Museum.

Costume design, P. Croce, late 19th century. Museum no. S.231-2000. © Victoria & Albert Museum.

Costume design, P. Croce, late 19th century. Museum no. S.231-2000. © Victoria & Albert Museum.

Costume design, P. Croce, late 19th century. Museum no. S.236-2000. © Victoria & Albert Museum.

Costume design, P. Croce, late 19th century. Museum no. S.236-2000. © Victoria & Albert Museum.

These were designed for the Italian ballet Amor, with choreography by Luigi Manzotti. With a cast of 200 dancers, 250 extras, and various animals (including two elephants), Amor was Manzotti’s most ambitious ballet. Although the inclusion of vegetables in a ballet about personal and patriotic love may be puzzling to the contemporary eye, we can easily enjoy these drawings, and hope that we won’t find equally expressive vegetables on our plates.

‘Robin Hood and the Blackbird: a Tale of a Christmas Dinner,’ published by Marcus Ward & Co., 1850-1899. Museum no. 29324:5. © Victoria & Albert Museum.

Finally (although admittedly from a Christmas card), this scene helps us to remember the values of gratitude and generosity on which the celebration should ideally be based. A group of five children gather around a very humble cut of meat. Though their downcast eyes may look sombre, they are intended to evoke a reflective moment of giving thanks before the game is carved. Fittingly, the text in the yellow border reminds us of the ultimate goal for any Thanksgiving host or hostess: ‘What matter tho’ the feast be small – the heartier welcome give to all.’

 

[1] Benjamin Breen. ‘The Emperor’s Turkey.’ The Appendix. The Appendix, LLC. Web. 4 November 2014.

 

 

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