Most people’s experience with a turkey is the headless corpse on the Thanksgiving Day table. Through portraiture, I am changing the headless turkey carcass experience, to an experience of turkeys as individuals.
I met my first living turkey while working at Farm Sanctuary.* 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. 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. While at the Farm, I attended their Thanksgiving Celebration for the Turkeys. At this annual event, rescued turkeys are honored guests and a meal consisting of greens, cranberries, squash and pumpkin pie is laid out for them to enjoy. What a marked contrast to the millions of less fortunate turkeys who also are the focus of attention on Thanksgiving Day! Most people see turkeys not as living individuals, but as a meal and the number of birds raised and killed for this purpose is staggering. The National Turkey Federation estimates Americans consume 46 million turkeys on a single Thanksgiving Day holiday. †
As a long-time animal advocate, that day at the Farm has remained my most memorable Thanksgiving. Not only did it affirm what I profoundly understood to be true—that every individual’s life matters—it inspired me to start a new holiday tradition. Since that day and continuing for the past 19 years, I have painted a portrait of a turkey on Thanksgiving Day to celebrate and pay tribute to these sweet and gentle animals.
I then asked the question, “How can I visually represent all 46 million turkeys to better understand the magnitude of what it means when we say that 46 million animals are raised and killed, to be consumed on a single day?” To answer this question, I launched the 46 Million Turkeys Community Participatory Art Project in 2013. Members from the community are invited as guests to join me at a virtual Thanksgiving table to help create 46 million mini turkey portraits as a reminder that every single one of those animals was a unique individual.
The 46 Million Turkeys Project began with these annual portraits of turkeys. (Click on images to enlarge.)
*Farm Sanctuary is a nonprofit sanctuary for farm animals located in Watkins Glen, NY working toward changing the way society views and treats farm animals.
†46 million was the estimated number of turkeys eaten on Thanksgiving Day in 2013. The number has since dropped to 44 million.
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