How it All Started: The Thanksgiving Annual Turkey Portraits

Artist Statement

I  met my first living turkey while working at Farm Sanctuary in Watkins Glen, N.Y. I was “charmed” by these magnificent, yet often maligned birds, as they waddled over to be stroked on the head and under their wings. The very first time a hen let me gently rub her naked, nubby head, I was surprised at the softness of her skin, and it wasn’t hard to recognize contentment when she sat down, closed her eyes, and basked in the pleasure of a gentle touch from a human. (continues below)

The 46 Million Turkeys project began with these annual Thanksgiving Day portraits. (Click on images to enlarge.)

While at Farm Sanctuary, I participated in the Farm’s Annual Thanksgiving Celebration Turkeys – an event where turkeys are the honored guests. A meal consisting of greens, cranberries, squash and pumpkin pie was laid out for the turkeys to enjoy and it has remained my most memorable Thanksgiving. It was an experience that inspired me to begin a new holiday tradition. For the past 19 years, I have painted an annual portrait of a turkey to celebrate Thanksgiving and pay tribute to these sweet and gentle animals.

In 2013,  I launched the 46 Million Turkeys community participatory art project to foster a change in the way we see turkeys. Most people “see” turkeys not as living individuals, but as meal and the number of birds raised and killed for this purpose is staggering. The National Turkey Federation estimates Americans eat 46 million turkeys on one single Thanksgiving holiday.

The vision for this project originated from that number—46 million. I was interested in developing a unique and creative way to visually demonstrate—beyond simply stating a number—what it means when we raise, kill, and consume 46 million animals.

Toward that objective, the 46 Million Turkeys project invites members of the community as guests to a virtual Thanksgiving table to help create 46 million mini turkey portraits as a reminder that every single one of those animals was unique individual.

Anyone can contribute and join in—participation is not restricted by age, artistic ability, or diet! Join us and help start a new and compassionate holiday tradition! Check out the Ideas, Possibilities & Suggestions page for inspiration on how you can join us at the table!

Because every turkey is an individual!
Cheryl L Miller

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