Saturday Studio: Hand Turkeys

Alyssa Dumire, Director of Education

What images come to mind when you think of Thanksgiving? Perhaps a cornucopia or pumpkin pie; but, when it comes to holiday craft projects, there may be none so iconic as the hand turkey. Hand turkeys are of mysterious origins, although the use of stenciled hands in artworks dates back to cave paintings. Fast forward a few millennia and traced hands transformed into turkeys can likely be found in almost any elementary school this time of year. Who first made the jump from hand to turkey? It’s not clear, but they have somehow become as ubiquitous and mysterious as that “S” that still appears on our Learning Center drawing wall from time to time.

For the uninitiated, hand turkeys are made by tracing an outline of your hand or painting and stamping it, then transforming the fingers into fanned feathers and adding an eye, beak, and gobble to the thumb, often in autumnal hues. Voila! It’s an easy formula to follow (your template is attached to your arm!) and the results tend to be nice, even if the finished products all look quite similar. 

But a hand turkey can be much more than a cookie-cutter craft project! Having a formula or template to follow provides for experimentation and creativity no matter your skill level, and many have used the humble hand turkey as just that, even creating challenges and competitions. Try doing an image search for “hand turkey” and marvel at the variety and quality of creations!

Rather than a how-to, today’s project is a challenge: make the most imaginative hand turkey!

Start by tracing or stamping your hand, then get creative to transform it. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Emulate the style of your favorite artist, or look to previous Saturday Studio techniques and artists for more inspiration. Will you cover your turkey in brilliant, dotted patterns like Liz Quizgard? Use a printmaking technique or Op art-inspired stripes? Cover it in glitter and French curves like Frank Stella’s birds?
  • Try tracing your hand multiple times to add more feathers!
  • Mix media or even work in three dimensions–what materials could you use to sculpt a hand turkey?
  • Give your turkey a persona or transform it into a favorite character.

Here’s mine–can you guess which Saturday Studio-featured artist inspired it?

As you gather with friends and family in the coming week, rather than a nap after the big meal, consider hosting your own friendly hand turkey competition! Gather the art supplies, spend some time creating, then vote on the most original design. Be sure to share them with us, too!

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