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The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth by Jennie Brownscombe

Born in a log cabin in rural Pennsylvania to English immigrant farmers William Brownscombe and Elvira Kennedy, a direct descendant of an original Mayflower passenger, Jennie Augusta Brownscombe (1850–1936) was raised on a farm throughout her youth.  Upon her father’s death in 1868, she began selling illustrations to books and magazines as a means to support herself. 

Brownscombe attended the Cooper Institute School of Design for Women and the National Academy of Design in New York City. She traveled widely and held exhibitions in cities across Europe and America, and her work was widely reprinted for greeting and Christmas cards, calendars, and magazine illustrations. She became a popular artist known for depictions of rural life and images from her childhood, as evidenced in the painting The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth (1914). The log cabin pictured in the right background of the scene, for example, is not historically accurate, but rather incorporates elements of her own rustic upbringing into the work. Further creative liberties include the Native American headdresses in the scene, which are more characteristic of the Midwestern Sioux tribes than the coastal Wampanoag of Massachusetts. The painting, an oil on canvas, became nationally familiar after it was reprinted in a 1914 issue of Life.

Examining the painting in all its details, describe the scene before you, with special attention to the human community (communities) and their relation to the natural world (land, water, mountain, sky). To what places in the painting is your gaze directed, and how are they related? What idea or mood does this painting convey? How does it relate to your own idea of what Thanksgiving is all about?

Return to The Meaning of Thanksgiving Day.

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