Cover Collection: J.C. Leyendecker’s Thanksgiving

Famed artist J. C. Leyenedecker always had a unique point of view. Who else would have dared paint a “butcher baby” for Thanksgiving?

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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.

Soldier’s Thanksgiving
J.C. Leyendecker
December 8, 1917

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.


Baby Butcher
J.C. Leyendecker
November 26, 1921

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.


Trading for a Turkey
December 1, 1923

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.


Barking up the Wrong Turkey
November 27, 1926

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.


Childhood Thanksgiving
November 26, 1927

Leyendecker was capable of mastering the most poignant of scenes as well. This old man dreams of happy childhood memories.


Thanksgiving 1628/1928
November 24, 1928

Leyendecker honors the 300th anniversary of Thanksgiving by painting our progress from pilgrims to pigskin.


Thanksgiving Crest
November 26, 1932

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.


Basting the Turkey
November 28, 1936

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.


Turkey in the Tree
November 25, 1939

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.

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  1. The “Indian and the Pilgrim” cover ticks so many boxes in the myths of America. “Primitive” gaunt stone age man faces prosperous Anglo, the unwitting simpleton faces the beads and baubles that “buy Manhattan”from his possession… We struggle with these images as contemporary Native people and work so hard to unravel and straighten out the truths of the past. The media and imagery that Americans have consumed effects so greatly the perceptions of the country as the great and mighty state with it’s sword of righteousness – when from a slight change of perspective the story is not so glossy and bright…

  2. These are all fascinating and varied scenes by Leyendecker for Thanksgiving. ‘Baby Butcher’ is a not-so-innocent take on his New Year’s Baby that probably took a lot of people by surprise back in 1921.

    ‘Trading For a Turkey’ is humorous, but I’m impressed at the authenticity of the Native American in this illustration. ‘Barking Up the Wrong Turkey’ shows a boy sent out on an assignment he clearly shouldn’t have been, and is in a real jam!

    ‘Childhood Thanksgiving’ shows Leyendecker’s ability to conjure up and depict a memory of (probably) the 1840’s with his mother. I really love this one.

    ‘Basting the Turkey’ is really unique and beautiful. It’s like looking through an oval window into this kitchen and catching this wonderful slice of life of a mother and son preparing the Thanksgiving turkey . The details of the stove and kettle are wonderful too.


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