October 20, 2017
Mahonri M. Young, Thanksgiving Day, 1905- The Old Barn, 1905, watercolor and ink, 10 3/8 x 14 1/4 inches. Brigham Young University Museum of Art, purchase/gift of Mahonri M. Young Estate, 1959.
On this day in 1864, President Abraham Lincoln formally established Thanksgiving as a national holiday. Since then, the holiday has become rich with symbolic meaning as we think about the earliest days of the American colonies, and the coming together of the pilgrims and native Americans to celebrate a successful harvest in the autumn of 1621. Most importantly, Thanksgiving has become a celebration of families, as we gather together with those we love most for a communal expression of gratitude.
To a casual viewer there may be little of Thanksgiving in this small landscape, with its ramshackle shed and lone figure, though the white foreground, blank sky, and scrubby weeds may suggest a cold, snowy day. But the artist, Mahonri Young, identified the woman in the painting as his maternal grandmother Ellen Nightingale, or “Gammie” as she was known by the family. In addition, the shack is the barn that once stood behind the family house on 174 “C” Street, in Salt Lake City. This simple watercolor and ink landscape is, in fact, an homage to home and family.