J. C. Leyendecker (1874-1951)
Thanksgiving Number
Cover illustration for The Saturday Evening Post (November 21, 1908)


Artists may sometimes choose to revisit a particular theme they’ve worked on before. When they do it is interesting to see what they choose to keep the same in a composition and what they decide to change. Illustration art seems particularly prone to this sort of reuse in part because typically illustrators are faced with producing a new cover illustration every week or every month—and no matter how you look at it, the calendar holds the same events and holidays–(mostly) year in, year out.

When J. C. Leyendecker produced his 1908 Thanksgiving cover illustration of a young boy watching a grandmotherly type making a pie for The Saturday Evening Post, the character of the grandmother was well defined. Her white hair is held in a bun in part by the tines of a tall-headed hair comb. The comb’s decoratively marked top edge stands above the profile of the old woman’s head, causing it to have an almost crown-like presence. The old lady wears wire-rimmed glasses through which she stares intently at the pie she is constructing. The white high-necked ruffled collar of her black dress disguises the incipient chin and neck sags that come with age and living well. Similarly over her dress a body-covering (body-disguising) white apron helps to keep her clothing clean. Beside her, a fresh-faced boy watches her work. As far as we can tell he wears a white long-sleeved shirt. Leyendecker, a master of surface and texture, clearly shows us shinning hair, lustrous fabrics and a symphony of folded, gathered and draped fabrics. Delicious.








Guernsey Moore (1874-1925)
Thanksgiving number
Cover illustration for The Saturday Evening Post (November 19, 1905)

Leyendecker’s focus on a woman holding a pie pan in her left hand as her right hand wields a knife to trim the excess top crust dough had in fact already used by Guernsey Moore for The Saturday Evening Post Thanksgiving cover in 1905 (see above). But Moore’s baker is a younger Puritan woman, not an older grandmotherly type.

 Making Money 1925-11




J. C. Leyendecker (1874-1951)
Let the Joy of Plenty be Yours!
Cover illustration for Making Money (November 1925)

In 1925 J. C. Leyendecker produced a similarly themed (pie-making) cover illustration for the Thanksgiving issue of Making Money magazine. This grandmother also has the tall hair comb holding her bun together, but the decorative top edge is less elaborate than in the earlier illustration and the reminiscence to a crown is less obvious due to the placement of this figure seated further back in the picture plane so that we see her more fully as well as the rest of the provender that will be transformed in her family’s thanksgiving feast. Also instead of finishing the construction of a pie, here we see the cheerier-cheeked grandmother peeling the skin of an apple that will no doubt become part of an apple pie. The grandmother’s hair is more grey than white and the lack of a neckline ruffle reveals the cheerful granny’s double chin.





J. C. Leyendecker (1874-1951)
Cover illustration for The Saturday Evening Post (November 23, 1935)

In 1935, Leyendecker revisited the original grandmotherly figure making a pie while a young boy watches, but much has changed in the visual story he tells.  Each grandmother has been successively heavier and each is a bit more unkempt than the preceding one. Notice how disheveled this grandmother’s hair is and how obvious are her double chins and the sagging skin of her neck. Compared with the upright rather stern figure of his 1908 grandmother, this depression era version is a softer more indulged and perhaps even indulgent than the earlier image. But like the 1908 version there is none of the sense of abundance that marked his 1925 cover illustration.


Gertrude Alice Kay (1884-1939)
Preparing Pumpkin Pie
Cover illustration for American Girl magazine (November 1936)

Not surprising other illustrators also created their versions of the woman of the house preparing a pie for the upcoming Thanksgiving celebration. Above is Gertrude Alice Kay’s version of the same theme. Instead of a grandmother, Kay chose a young girl (not yet a woman) shown making the pie, in part because this illustration was for the American Girl magazine, a magazine created for its girl scout membership. Kay makes the youth of this girl apparent through the style of her sack dress and especially by the dress’s short, above the elbow, puffed sleeve.

While only Leyendecker’s November 1925 Making Money cover illustration actually shows apples being peeled for the pie, the other two SEP cover illustrations for 1908 and 1935 imply the creation of apple pies by the construction of a top crust to cover the juicy fruit. Gertrude Kay makes clear that the pie her young lady is constructing will be a traditional pumpkin pie by placing a large pumpkin at the left in the illustration and by showing the empty lower pie shell being constructed.

Whatever pies you enjoy this holiday, we hope they will all be delicious. Happy Thanksgiving.


November 28, 2013

By Joyce K. Schiller, Curator, Rockwell Center for American Visual Studies, Norman Rockwell Museum