Famed artist J. C. Leyenedecker always had a unique point of view. Who else would have dared paint a “butcher baby” for Thanksgiving? We’ve picked some of his most wonderful, winsome, and weird covers for your Thanksgiving enjoyment.
The U.S. had recently entered World War I. The Food Administration had just been established. Farmers were asked to increase food production and citizens tried to be mindful of their food consumption to support their soldiers in Europe. This doughboy is enjoying the efforts of the folks on the home front: a warm holiday meal, holly included.
Leyendecker was famous for his illustrations of cherubic toddlers. In fact, one was featured on every New Year’s cover of the Post between 1909 and 1943. They occasionally showed up at other times of the year, such as this malevolent moppet wielding a cleaver likely meant for the neck of some poor turkey.
Norman Rockwell considered Leyendecker his mentor, and had such admiration for him that he stopped painting Post covers when he reached 321, not wanting to break Leyendecker’s record of 322. In this Thanksgiving picture, one can see Leyendecker’s influence on Rockwell, who employed many of the same techniques: a single scene that tells a rich story interwoven with humor.
This painting features many of Leyendecker’s favorite themes: dogs, children, and a touch of humor. His mastery of these themes led him to many lucrative commercial commissions, including a series of advertisements featuring “Kellogg’s kids” — adorable tykes cheerfully eating their breakfast. The not-so-cheerful boy might have been a model for a Kellogg kid under happier circumstances.
Leyendecker was capable of mastering the most poignant of scenes as well. This old man dreams of happy childhood memories.
Leyendecker honors the 300th anniversary of Thanksgiving by painting our progress from pilgrims to pigskin.
The prolific artist wasn’t above depicting the occasional oddity in his paintings. Here we see two sweet children praying over a pie, while above them a not-exactly-stately half-plucked turkey wields knife and fork.
This homey scene shows a little boy watching his mother prepare the Thanksgiving turkey. This was one of the few Post covers from the early twentieth century that featured African-American subjects.
This cover juxtaposes the grand, feathered gobbler in the foreground with the preparations for his ultimate fate in the background. For its ungainly shape, turkeys can fly. Maybe this one escaped the axe.