Thanksgiving in Art: Five Great Works for Picture Study

This year we introduced Thanksgiving-themed artwork into our picture studies.  Though a true picture study is normally stretched out over a term, we discussed the following paintings during our American history time using a simple, modified approach.

If you are new to Charlotte Mason picture studies, check out this post from Dollie at Joy in the Home to find out how to do your own picture study with any work of art.

The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth


Title:  The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth

Artist: Jennie Augusta Brownscombe* (brief bio); you can read an extensive bio here.

Medium:  Oil on canvas

Date:  1914

Other artwork:  This bio features several of Brownscombe’s pieces.

Jennie Augusta Brownscombe was known for genre paintings and created her oil-on-canvas painting entitled The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth to pay tribute to the original 1621 celebration held by the Pilgrims and Native Americans. Also known by a shorter title, The First Thanksgiving, the popularity of the painting increased with its inclusion in a 1914 issue of Life magazine.

Fittingly, Brownscombe had a personal connection to the Pilgrims.  Her mother, Elvira Kennedy, was a direct descendant of a Mayflower passenger.

Even though she strove for accuracy in The First Thanksgiving by conducting research using portraits, documents and other records, Brownscombe depicted the event in an idealized fashion that was popular with the American public, but not completely factual.  Creative liberties were taken with the inclusion of the anachronistic log cabin and Sioux headdresses. Pilgrims would have lived in homesites that looked like this, and men and women of the Wampanoag tribe commonly wore a single feather in their hair as depicted in the Wampanoag headband featured here.

Despite some inaccuracies, the piece is stunning and full of rich details, as are all of Brownscombe’s paintings.  It offers plenty of avenues for discussion, and pointing out the inaccuracies opens the door to further the learning opportunities.

*The linked bio has a feature on The First Thanksgiving and states that the date of the painting is 1925; the correct date is 1914.

Freedom From Want


Title: Freedom From Want

Artist:  Norman Rockwell (somewhat brief bio); or read an extensive bio with an additional video option.

Medium:  Oil on canvas

Date:  1942 (and published in 1943)

Other artwork:  A proficient visual storyteller, Rockwell conveyed life through narrative art. Look at Rockwell’s other collections and learn their stories here.

Book Suggestions:  Normal Rockwell: Storyteller With a Brush or Getting to Know the World’s Great Artists: Norman Rockwell

Norman Rockwell created his famous Freedom From Want oil-on-canvas painting in November 1942.  Featured in the painting are Rockwell’s friends and family, who were photographed individually and painted into the scene. Rockwell painted himself into the picture, too.  Can you find him?

In 1943, Rockwell’s painting was published in The Saturday Evening Post.  Also known as The Thanksgiving Picture, the work was part of Rockwell’s Four Freedoms collection published in a series of Post issues the same year.  The collection was inspired by Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms speech.

There was such a positive response to Post’s publication of Rockwell’s paintings that the U.S. Treasury Department launched The Four Freedoms War Bond Show, an exhibition tour dedicated to the paintings.  The war bond campaign raised more than $132 million for the war effort.

Home to Thanksgiving


Title: Home to Thanksgiving (entitled Winter, New Haven, Connecticut when originally released as oil on canvas)

Artist:  George Henry Durrie

Medium: Hand-colored lithograph (the original was oil on canvas)

Date:  1867 (originally painted in 1866)

Other artwork: The Athenaeum has a huge collection to view.

One of Currier & Ives’ most recognized images, Home to Thanksgiving was created by George Henry Durrie, a largely self-taught artist.  Durrie was nicknamed “the snowman” because of the many New England snow scenes he painted.

If you have ever been out in the country when it was snowing, far from the bustle of cars and people, you’ll know the sound of this setting.  It is amazingly peaceful, a steady whisper from the wind in the background.  This beautiful work of art captures that setting with intensity.



Title: Thanksgiving

Artist: Doris Lee; a slightly more extensive bio can be found here.

Medium: Oil on canvas

Date: 1935

Other artwork: The Painted Prism blog has a great feature on Lee’s work along with biographical details.

Painted in a purposely down-to-earth manner by artist Doris Lee, Thanksgiving won the prestigious Logan Purchase Prize at the Art Institute of Chicago.  With its portayal of the elemental joys of family life in a nostalgic and whimsical style, the oil on canvas painting was appealing to an American public still consumed by the Depression.

Despite the award, Josephine Hancock Logan, museum trustee and the honor’s namesake, did not approve of the painting.  She referred to it as “atrocious” and “trash.” Logan could not understand why a work featuring plain farm people, with their unfashionable dresses and plain furniture, was suitable for an art museum. [1]

According the the Art Institute of Chicago, “Mrs. Logan summed up her sentiments in the Chicago Tribune (Nov 7, 1935; pg. 2): ‘I am incensed. After a visit to a museum one should have a glow, should be uplifted. But a sane person leaves this exhibit feeling the art world has the jitters or delirium tremens… I defy any one to find more than six or eight normal pictures in the whole show.'”

The controversy over the painting brought Lee fame, and her Thanksgiving painting has become one of the most popular nostalgic representations of our American tradition.

For additional games and activities based on Lee’s painting, check out these Art Institute of Chicago resources here and here.

Thanksgiving Day


Title: Thanksgiving Day

Artist:  Will Moses; an extensive bio can be found here.

Medium: Serigraph (Because Moses’ lithographs are printed from his original oil paintings, I’m assuming oil is the original medium for his serigraphs as well; however, I cannot confirm this.)

Date:  I could not find a date for this piece.

Other artwork: The Will Moses site features the most extensive collection of his artwork. Or, check out some of the picture books featuring his work:  Mary and Her Little Lamb, Johnny Appleseed: The Story of a Legend, and Silent Night are easy to find and offer a good look at Moses’ work.

Moses is the fourth-generation member of the well-known Moses family and is the great-grandson of Anna Mary Robertson Moses, recognizable to most by her nickname, Grandma Moses.  You can see the resemblance of talent and style through the generations by comparing Moses’ artwork with that of this great-grandmother.

We have a variety of picture books featuring the artwork of Moses, and we adore his talent! The busy folk-art illustrations provide endless opportunities for discussion and storytelling.

Art Mediums Featured in This Post


The lithographic process uses stones or metal plates for printing and was originally called chemical printing because it was based on the repulsion of oil and water.   It was a process frequently used for illustrations in children’s books in the Soviet Union during Stalin’s rule and had a direct influence on the development of children’s books in Britain.

If you are accustomed to nature study, especially if using vintage resources, you might be familiar with the work of Karl Brodtmann, one of the most accomplished lithographers of the early 19th century.

Learn more about lithography and see a variety of examples.

See how lithography is done.

There were quite a few videos available about how to do kitchen lithography, but after watching a few I felt the methods might be frustrating for my younger learners.  If you choose to try kitchen lithography, you supposedly can use a pie roller in place of the press featured in instructional videos.

We will be doing a simple printmaking activity with mono-prints.

Oil Painting

Made popular by early Netherlandish artists in the fifteenth century and adopted as a major medium in Europe in the sixteenth century, oil painting has had an immense impact on the development of painting as visual art form.  Artists love its versatility and the rich, luminous effects that fuse remarkable realism with brilliant color.

With younger children in our home, attempting oil painting is not for us at this stage.  Thankfully, oil pastels provide a safe alternative, and we can mimic oil painting by combining oil pastels and cooking oil! We are getting our feet wet with basic (and non-toxic) oil pastels.

If you are new to working with oil pastels, this post offers some helpful tips, and it features a large selection of photos. For our first venture, we will be making a pumpkin (for Thanksgiving) using the method featured in this project.

Alternative subjects can be found at the Super Coloring web site.  You can use the above method with construction paper by making an impression outline of your printable. Just place the printable on top of the construction paper and trace hard enough to make an impression. Then trace the impression with glue!  Start with a simple pumpkin or a Pilgrim hat if you’re using a Thanksgiving theme.

The Artful Parent has a terrific video about using oil pastels with kids if you prefer to watch a video!

Watch an artist paint a horse with oils.


Another form of printmaking, serigraphy is also known as silk-screening.  It is the oldest form of printing and can be traced back to the woodcuts and block prints of the Song Dynasty.

Serigraphy is a time-consuming process where each color is individually laid down on the paper or canvas just as it was done when the original was created by the artist.  This process may require over 100 colors to complete, and each color is individually squeezed through a silk screen template onto the paper.  The resulting hand-made image contains many of the qualities of the original artwork.

If you want to try an at-home version of serigraphy, this blog post features a project using easy-to-find materials.

Watch a video to learn more about the art of serigraphy.

Library Book Suggestions


These book suggestions have been chosen for their charming and engaging illustrations (the great stories are a bonus)! 🙂

N.C. Wyeth’s Pilgrims – This is one of my favorites and is deserving of further explanation!  I love the artwork featured in this book!  (The above photo is an excerpt.)  Wyeth was an illustrator and muralist, and the artwork featured in this book was originally displayed on the walls of the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company in New York City.  Each of the 14 works measured approximately 8 1/2 by 13 feet.

Wyeth’s ambition was to capture the delightful side of the early colonists rather than the bleak Victorian stereotype typically portrayed in art featuring the Pilgrims.

The mural collection was Wyeth’s last major commissioned work.  He had almost finished the work when he was killed in an accident, and the work had to be completed by his son and son-in-law.

Other wonderful options:

Sharing the Bread:  An Old-Fashioned Thanksgiving Story

In November

The Thanksgiving Story

Cranberry Thanksgiving

Squanto’s Journey

The First Thanksgiving

Over the River and Through the Wood

  1. Barter, Judith A., et al. “Page 41.” Art and Appetite: American Painting, Culture, and Cuisine, Art Institute of Chicago, 2013.
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2 thoughts on “Thanksgiving in Art: Five Great Works for Picture Study

  1. I absolutely love this! Thank you for the great ideas to incorporate into our homeschooling for the upcoming holidays.

  2. Hi Patti! Thank you so much for your comment! I’m so glad to know you’ll be able to use this for your studies. Have a great Thanksgiving!

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