We are on the cusp of the holiday season, a quiet, delicious pause before the big rush — a time when we slow down to reflect and give thanks. In the spirit of A.A. Milne’s inimitable philosopher Piglet, we may recall our capacity for gratitude: “Piglet noticed that even though he had a Very Small Heart, it could hold a rather large amount of Gratitude.” In celebration of Thanksgiving, we are highlighting expressions of thanks through time and across the world.
A moment of grace bestills the bowed heads of three small Haitian girls captured by the photographer Bob Gore, while a swell of Ghanian women is moved by thankful joy during a Harvest Festival in a monumental painting by the African American artist John Biggers.
The element of water provokes elation and fear, thanks being rendered for both its ebb and its flow: after the biblical flood, a triumphant Noah reaches heavenward in thanks in a painting by John Martin; an 18th-century illumination from Jodhpur, India displays courtly ladies swinging and cheering during the Teej Festival that heralds the coming of the monsoons; a modern Mexican retablo, a private offering, expresses thanks for protection during the traverse of a treacherous river in Texas, presumably in a border crossing; and boisterous jubilation animates the worship of survivors of Katrina in Biloxi, Mississippi in a photograph by Larry Towell.
Gratitude on a grand scale underscores the creation of works and monuments: in a painting by Francesco Guardi where a newly elected doge appears as a tiny spec at the end of a palatial hall where he thanks the throngs who put him in office; it takes the form of Blenheim Palace — close to 200 rooms on 2,000 acres — signifying the appreciation of Queen Anne of England to her military leader John Churchill for his victory in battle; or a church — the Karlskirche, Vienna, erected in recognition of the end of a plague that ravaged Northern Europe from 1709 to 1713.
More intimate gifts represent thankfulness in countless forms: a bearer carries offerings for the soul of Meketre, a courtier from Ancient Egypt — a duck in hand and a basket on her head; a late 19th-century gift basket — delicate and diminutive — crafted by a Native American of unknown origin marked significant rights of passage; a Quaker gift drawing of a Tree of Light by Hannah Cohoon communicated a spiritual vision to its recipient; and a late medieval tapestry exalts the gift of love where a gentleman gingerly presents a tiny, delicate heart — poised like a large strawberry between thumb and forefinger — to his intended.
May the spirit of gratitude stir your soul — studies show it’s even good for your health!
– Nancy Minty, Collections Editor
Collections in JSTOR:
Bob Gore: Faith-based Communities
Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
Art Institute of Chicago
Cleveland Museum of Art
Jorge Durand and Douglas Massey: Mexican Retablos
Erich Lessing Culture and Fine Arts Archives
Metropolitan Museum of Art
Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco
American Folk Art Museum
Réunion des musées nationaux
From JSTOR Daily:
Stories about the history of Thanksgiving