Painting a Turkey is Political

Happy Thanksgiving 2012

By Cheryl L Miller

What constitutes a political act—pardoning a turkey or painting a turkey?

Recently I was invited by a local TV station anchor to come on the early morning news show and paint a turkey portrait the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. However, that invitation came with a condition…

The show’s executive producer wanted to make it clear that I was “…on the show to paint, and that’s it.” It was explained to me that while they love the story about spending Thanksgiving at the sanctuary and feeding the turkeys and how it inspired me to paint the birds, they try not to push any kind of political agenda on the show and they were “not telling people not to eat turkey on the day before Thanksgiving.”

And so it seems—the way I celebrate Thanksgiving—painting an annual turkey portrait is a political act.

I ended up declining the offer to appear on the show.

I have been an advocate for animals for more than 35 years and as you can imagine I have encountered an awful lot of resistance over the years. But, I have developed an artful way of disarming folks to share my passion. Started in 1998, my annual turkeys portraits are intended to show the animals as individuals and asks the viewer to consider turkeys as sentient beings by featuring them as works of art. Does that really make my art political?

Soon the President of the United States will pardon a turkey for Thanksgiving and it will be covered widely in the press. The pardoned turkey will be “supplied” by the National Turkey Federation whose mission is : To conduct activities aimed at strengthening the turkey farmers’ ability to responsibly provide wholesome products, and to raise awareness about the many health benefits associated with eating turkey.”

From their website: ( For nearly 75 years, the National Turkey Federation (NTF) has served as the national advocate for the turkey farmer and processors—representing their point of view to Congress and federal agencies. NTF also tracks trends and identifies challenges unfolding in the public, legislative, regulatory, and news media that could potentially impact the entire industry. NTF’s professional staff helps members successfully bridge an understanding between the public and the producer.

The annual turkey pardon is not considered by most folks and most media sources to be a political act.

The goal of the 46millionturkeys project is to demonstrate through community participation the staggering number of animals eaten for a single holiday. When people ask me, “Why are you trying to create 46 million pieces of turkey art?” It starts the dialogue. It presents the opportunity to share why I care about turkeys. And I know I will not be alone this Thanksgiving as evident from the many emails and art I have received in support of the 46millionturkeys project. I want to take this opportunity to thank each and every one of you who helped spread the word, contributed art, and emailed me.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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