‘The First Thanksgiving–1621’

Falmouth artist Karen Rinaldo created the painting “The First Thanksgiving–1621” at the request of the National Association of Congregational Christian Churches. A lithographic reproduction of the original painting, which was on display for more than 20 years at Plimoth Plantation, will be on view at The Gallery on Main in Falmouth throughout November. This image is a detail from the painting.

The Gallery on Main in Falmouth is presenting an exhibit of “The First Thanksgiving–1621,” a lithographic reproduction of the original painting that was displayed at Plimoth Plantation from 1995 to 2017.

Commissioned by the National Association of Congregational Christian Churches (NACCC), Falmouth artist Karen Rinaldo created the painting, researching historic records and accounts of the Pilgrims who were present and the Wampanoag leaders who joined them in a communal recognition of their friendship.

Except for the 91 Native Americans who are nameless in history, every figure portrayed is identified by name in an addendum that Ms Rinaldo provided for authentication. Governor Bradford and Massasoit are comfortable at the table joined by English-speaking Squanto and other plantation leaders. Mrs. White holds her son, Peregrine, the first English child born in America.

This rendition has been used in numerous textbooks in the United States and internationally to depict the fortunate amity that developed between the Native Americans and the recent arrivals who enjoyed a mutual respect at the time of the first Thanksgiving. Ms. Rinaldo’s large canvas was displayed in the Pilgrim Museum, as part of a year-long historical exhibit that included paintings by Norman Rockwell and other noted artists. Following the display in the museum, the canvas remained at Plimoth Plantation for 20 years so that school children and families could better visualize the written accounts of the gathering. The image is currently used in the year 2020 calendar printed by the Society of Mayflower Descendants in Connecticut to honor the 400th anniversary of the voyage in 1620.

Ms. Rinaldo was specifically sought out by the NACCC to create “The First Thanksgiving–1621,” as the organization was aware of both Ms. Rinaldo’s talent as an artist, her love of history, and her attention to detail.

In 1976 during the nation’s Bicentennial, Ms. Rinaldo undertook a mission to identify landmarks in every town on Cape Cod and memorialize them in collages for each town. The paintings still hang in many libraries, town halls, and homes across the Cape.

The Thanksgiving canvas took the artist six months to create. Charged with being as historically accurate as could be determined, Ms. Rinaldo researched records in Pilgrim Hall and many associated libraries. In the depiction, Ms. Rinaldo captured not just the physical layout of the plantation, but even more importantly, she sought to convey a sense of mutual apprehension that mixed with the geniality of the meal. Faces are somber, the women and children stand apart; and the Native Americans remain somewhat aloof, while the leaders converse at the table.

This critically acclaimed painting will remain on display in the featured exhibit area at the Gallery on Main at 317 Main Street all of November.

Families and schoolchildren are welcome to visit the gallery throughout the month. Docent-led discussions are available by request or appointment. News articles and photographs of the painting being displayed in Plymouth are also on display. The works of 25 other Falmouth artists are exhibited in the main gallery area.

The gallery may also be visited at www.TheGalleryonMainFalmouth.com.

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