Feast Your Eyes: Filling the Holiday Platter

Tomorrow many households in the U.S. will be celebrating the Thanksgiving holiday. Holidays–particularly food-centered ones–conjure up many personal associations. They also tend to inspire evocative pictures.

Turkey in many shapes and forms predominate in the array of images that turn up when you search the Prints & Photographs Online Catalog for “Thanksgiving.” But my family generally opts for a vegetarian riff on the “stuffed” theme (burritos being a popular choice), so I had my eye out for other foods that have appeared on platters past.

Although I’m not sure I can identify the comestibles featured on this poster, the entire swirling design had me drooling. It advertises the Thanksgiving issue of The Chap-Book (“A miscellany & review of belles lettres”) in 1895.

The Chap Book--Thanksgiving no. Poster by Will H Bradley, 1894.

The Chap Book–Thanksgiving no. Poster by Will H Bradley, 1895. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.05938

The previous year, a poster heralding the Harper’s Bazaar Thanksgiving issue took a similar approach, while also featuring advertisements for ingredients that might go into a feast and giving thanks for linens made “the old fashioned way, without chemicals.” It’s interesting to ponder how viewers at the time greeted these invitations to consumption, issued in years when the nation was wracked by economic depression.

Harper's Bazaar--Thanksgiving 1894. Poster by Louis J. Rhead, 1894.

Harper’s Bazaar–Thanksgiving 1894. Poster by Louis J. Rhead, 1894. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3f04117

This Edward Penfield drawing emphasizes the source of Thanksgiving plenty. It highlights the farmer bringing in the harvest, and it’s the oxen who are doing the feasting!

Farmer holding sheaves with two yoked oxen. Drawing by Edward Penfield, between 1884 and 1925

Farmer holding sheaves with two yoked oxen. Drawing by Edward Penfield, between 1884 and 1925. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3c00502

Clearly, there are many ways to communicate both plenty and thanks. We’re grateful to be surrounded by images that satisfy our aesthetic appetites and that spark new ideas and questions every day.

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