Tag Archives: Thanksgiving

Praying Hands by Albrecht Durer

Albrecht_Dürer_-_Praying_Hands,_1508_-_Google_Art_ProjectI’m going to do something a little different for this post. There will still be information about the artist and the artwork but instead of a devotion, I’m going to show you a simple art project for children. It’s quick,and it’s fun. It will also help illustrate the meaning of the artwork, decorate your Thanksgiving table, and remind us all of our need for prayer, not just at Thanksgiving, but in all situations.

Durer, self-portrait

Durer, self-portrait

The Artist
Albrecht Durer (1471-1528) was born and lived in the German city of Nuremberg, which was an important center of trade, metalwork, and the new technology of printing. Durer’s father was an accomplished and prosperous goldsmith, but life was still hard. Germany was divided into lots of semi-independent states with many resulting wars. There were also military threats from outside, frequent famines from crop failures, and recurring outbreaks of the plague (2 in Durer’s lifetime). Durer was one of just 3 in his family of 18 children to reach adulthood.

Durer’s education was typical of sons of prosperous merchants or craftsmen. He had 3 years of school to learn to read and write, then was apprenticed to his father to learn the goldsmith’s trade. At 15 Durer switched his apprenticeship to a Nuremberg painter and designer of woodblocks for book illustration.

At 18 Durer traveled throughout Germany as a journeyman. He financed this by making and selling woodblock designs to book printers. Twice he traveled to Italy to study the art of men such as Raphael and da Vinci. Durer was one of the first northern artists to do this, and his work shows a mingling of the Northern artists’ careful observation of individual detail and the Italian artists’ concern with the rules of perspective and form.

Frederick the Wise

Frederick the Wise

Returning to Nuremberg, Durer became a famous and respected artist. He received many commissions, including from Frederick the Wise, who also supported Martin Luther.

Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

Although a great painter, Durer was one of the first to make the major part of his income from woodblock prints and engravings, which were affordable by all. In these Durer used fine lines to produce life-like details and shading. One project, 15 large woodblock prints from the last book of the Bible, instantly became a bestseller, making Durer famous throughout Europe. Some were later used in Luther’s German New Testament.

Albrecht_Dürer_108, sea crabDurer continued to travel. Wherever he traveled, he studied and painted ordinary places and creatures with the interest of a naturalist. He painted crabs he saw in the fish markets of Venice and in the Netherlands tried to see and draw a beached whale. It is believed that he contracted malaria from that excursion, and later died from it.

Albrecht_Dürer_-_Praying_Hands,_1508_-_Google_Art_ProjectThe Artwork
The Praying Hands have become an enduring symbol of faith. They were done as a study for a large painting that was part of an altarpiece for a church. In the lower half of the altarpiece painting, the twelve apostles are praying at Jesus’ empty tomb. We know this painting only from a copy, because the original was destroyed by fire in 1729.

Some of Durer’s original studies of hands, robes, and heads, including The Praying Hands, also remain. The Praying Hands study was drawn with a brush on a greenish blue paper. They show careful observation, yes, but goe far beyond mere recording, to illustrate humble faith and trust in God.

Self-portrait_at_13_by_Albrecht_DürerDurer seems to have been fascinated all his life by hands and their expressive ability. His first self-portrait done at the age of 13 shows that interest. Perhaps as an artist, he realized more than most how wonderfully made the hand is, and what amazing tasks God has designed it to be able to do.

A sentimental, but completely false, legend about these hands (I don’t know where or when it started) says that they are the hands of an artist friend of Durer who worked to pay for Durer’s art education. The story goes on to say that when it was the friend’s turn to get an education, his hands were too roughened by manual labor to be able to use brush and pen.

Portrait of Durer's father

Portrait of Durer’s father

The truth is always much better! The facts of Durer’s artistic education are as I stated above. As for his spiritual education, he seems to have come from a devout Christian family. In his writings, Durer describes his father as a gentle, patient man, friendly to all and thankful to God, who daily told his children to, “love God and deal truly with our neighbours.”

Durer also states that his father was pleased with his son’s hard work and desire to learn. He must have, in addition, loved his son very much to allow him to pursue a calling as an artist instead of insisting he follow his father in the goldsmith’s trade.

As an adult, Durer followed Luther’s writings closely, often requesting copies of new pamphlets from Frederick the Wise’s secretary. When Luther was “kidnapped” Durer was in the Netherlands. For some time he, along with most others, thought the kidnapping was real and that Luther might be dead.

This quote from Durer’s journal shows his worry as well as his desire to understand the ways of God. “Oh God, if Luther be dead, who will henceforth expound to us the holy Gospel with such clearness? What might he not have written for us in the next ten or twenty years?”

This is the well-educated, hard-working, spiritually-seeking artist who loved to investigate and depict the simplest things of God’s creation, and shows us in The Praying Hands a wonderful symbol of our need for prayer.

The Art Project, Praying Hands
This project can be done very simply with crayons and in about 15 minutes while everyone is waiting for dinner to be ready. At the end I will show and explain an extra step that you can do if you wish. It’s a little messier, but fun if you’re game!
Materials: basics–brown, white, or Thanksgiving-motif paper lunch bags, scissors, pencils, a little glue, and crayons or markers. Add poster-type paint and a largish brush, if you want to do the extra step. And some paper towels!!

20151124_1442261. Place a folded paper bag flat on the table with the folded bottom of the bag facing up. Have the child place his or her hand flat on the bag with finger tips pointed toward the top of the bag and their wrist at the upper edge of the folded bag bottom.

2. With a pencil, trace around the child’s hand.

3. Keeping the bag folded, cut in from the sides of the bag (just above the folded bag bottom) to the child’s wrist. Then cut up and around the traced hand (through both thicknesses of the bag) and out to the bag’s other edge on the other side of the hand.20151124_152726

The child may then decorate or color the hands.


20151124_144928The extra step: before opening the bag, fold the two hands away from each other and the bag bottom. Spread a thin layer of paint on the child’s hands (too much paint just smears and doesn’t show the lines of the hand. If you’re not sure how much to use, have some scrap paper handy and do a couple trial prints)

20151124_145709Then help the child to make hand prints on what will be the inside or palm of their praying hands.

20151124_145718They need to hold their hand still and just press down gently.

They will also need to do each hand separately so thumbs and fingers match. (To cut down on the mess, as you finish printing with each of the child’s hands, fold a paper towel around and into it so they have the towel to hold until you get them to wherever you’ll wash up)

20151124_152705I like to do this additional step if possible because when children see their hand print, it’s a great time to talk to them about how wonderfully made they are and that they are so special to God that their finger prints are different from anyone else’s.

Last step: Whether you do the printing part or just the coloring, now open the bag. To form the praying hands, glue the tips of the fingers together. (just a little glue so you can still put things into the bottom of the bag)20151124_153112

Whichever way you do these, it’s fun and a great reminder of what Thanksgiving is all about!! At the Thanksgiving table guests may write prayer requests or things they are thankful for on slips of paper and put these in the bag.

May you have a wonderful Thanksgiving with time to relax and remember the Lord’s love for you and His many blessings!

Don’t miss the next Picture Lady post. Sign up to receive it by email.

The images in this blog are used for educational purposes only


Saying Grace by Norman Rockwell

By now many of you are well into your Thanksgiving preparations. Everything has to be just right, saying_grace_rockwellso you clean, get out Great Grandma’s blue delft gravy boat, and check to see if you have enough silverware and napkins. When Norman Rockwell had an idea for a painting, he was just as careful to get all the details just right. In this painting of a grandmother and her grandson in a train station diner, every detail of the setting, the models, and the props has been carefully worked out to tell a story.


Rockwell-at-work2-300Norman Rockwell was born in New York City in 1894. He was a skinny, unathletic kid with glasses, but he could draw. In junior high his teachers encouraged him to draw pictures to go with his reports, and at the end of his sophomore year, Rockwell quit high school to go to art school. At a time when many artists were turning to abstract art, he was determined to become an illustrator and looked back to artists like Winslow Homer and N. C. Wyeth for inspiration.
little womenRockwell’s instructors recognized his talent and helped him get illustration assignments for children’s books and Boys’ Life, the new magazine of the Boy Scouts. In 1913 he became its art director and continued illustrating their calendars for the next 50 years. In 1916 a very nervous Rockwell sold his first cover to the Saturday Evening Post, and over the next 47 years did more than 300 Post covers. During his career Rockwell painted portraits of world leaders and illustrated classics such as Tom Sawyer and Little Women, but he’s best known and loved for his Post covers.

For the Post, and later for Look magazine, Rockwell thought up his own ideas, and wasn’t so much an illustrator as an observer and commentator on life in America in the 20th century. With humor and poignant moments such as in Saying Grace, he helped us notice and appreciate the ordinary as well as big events of our lives. Through the Depression and both World Warsrosie the riveter Rockwell’s paintings encouraged people and sold bonds. From a family road tripfamily going on vacation to MansTracksMoonAmericans landing on the moon, Rockwell helped tell us about us.

In Storm on the Sea of Galilee, we’re watching a movie; in Country School, we’re standing in the doorway looking into the room. But in Saying Grace we are in the room sitting at that table in the foreground having a cup of coffee!saying_grace_rockwell

It’s a dingy diner with cigarette butts littering the floor. We hear quiet talking and clinking silverware, and beyond the window we see a railroad yard through the gray fog. It’s the kind of place we’ve all stopped at one time or another, and usually we eat quickly and leave, but here something has caught everyone’s attention. Conversation has stopped and we look up to see why. Everyone is staring at a grandmother and her grandson bowing their heads in prayer before eating. As usual in these situations we also look around to see how people react, and we see curiosity and interest, but no one is jeering.

How did Rockwell make all that happen? Not easily. This painting took months, and Rockwell even threw it outside one night before he finally got it to come together. But he was a great storyteller, using paint instead of words, and he was a painstaking artist who persevered until it was right.

Once he had his idea he chose its setting, models, and props. The setting for this painting was a train station in Troy, NY. Next came models, chosen not just for their appearance but for their ability to portray the characters in Rockwell’s story. Did they need to be young or old, hopeful or worried? Rockwell didn’t use the same models too many times, and he didn’t want to just come up with a person from his own head. He said, “All the artist’s creativeness cannot equal God’s creativeness.”

Props had to be just right, too. For Saying Grace Rockwell had a diner in NYC deliver dishes, tables and chairs to his studio for a few days, He once said that anything that didn’t help tell the story should not be in the picture. Find 3 still lifes that contribute to the atmosphere of a diner.

  • dishes and newspaper in the foreground
    knitting bag, purse, umbrella, and hat on the floor
    condiments grouped together on the central table

Coffee cups certainly belong in a diner. How many are there? How many have a spoon?   Can you find the two umbrellas?

Once all these things were decided Rockwell directed the taking of 100s of photos so that he had many poses and expressions to choose from, and also so his models, who weren’t professionals, wouldn’t have to hold a pose for too long. The little boy in Saying Grace was a third grader who had trouble sitting still even for the photographs. Many drawings and paintings from different angles followed the photo sessions.

rockwell-photo-painting-saying-grace2And it all works. Notice how, in addition to the stares of the other diners, the silverware on the front table points to the lady and boy, and how her dark clothing stands out against the light window. In an earlier study the curtain was much higher, and above it you can see the heads of people walking by. Rockwell must have decided that this gray scene without distinct detail was much better at allowing us to focus on the quiet story unfolding within the diner.

Look also at how two bent elbows, one on each side of the central group, keep our attention focused there. Of course, there is red here, too–on the seat cushions, on the little boy’s hat, the knitting bag, and in the flowers on the grandmother’s hat. Not many artists can resist using red to attract our attention!

sayingGrace up closeRockwell continues to narrow our attention on the two who are praying. He has put their heads close together and used the lady’s white scarf and the boy’s white shirt to draw your eye to their bowed heads. Artists also often use repeating shapes to lead your eye around. The white coffee cup on the table in the foreground is repeated in the cups on the central table, which, together with the condiment jars, march across to the bowed heads.

saying grace, detailHands are very prominent in this painting—holding trays and umbrellas, curled around cigars, cigarettes, and coffee cups. Rockwell contrasts these with the grandmother’s hands that are clasped in prayer. He believed that next to faces, hands were the most expressive part of us and once said that Albrecht Durer’s painting of two hands in prayer was “one of the most moving pictures ever made.”

The Saying Grace cover was timed to come out just before Thanksgiving in 1951. In 1955 it was voted people’s favorite Post cover, and last year the original painting (Rockwell’s covers came from original paintings that were often quite large) sold for $46 million to an unknown buyer. Why is this painting still so popular?

Times have changed, and today this scene might be set in a smoke free airport food court, but people don’t change. Huge numbers of us still visit friends and family for Thanksgiving and can relate to the difficulties of holiday travel. In our minds, we can easily continue this story to Thanksgiving Day when the grandmother and her grandson will have finished their train trip and be with family or friends. And that’s what it’s all about, right?

Rockwell_1943_Four-Freedoms_From-Want1They will again bow their heads, although at that special time, it will be over a table groaning under a turkey and all its trimmings. Rockwell painted that scene once, but in Saying Grace he’s helping us see and appreciate the everyday moments. In this dingy diner along the way to Thanksgiving, the grandmother and her grandson acknowledge before the world that even this simple meal has come from God.

In this country we have been blessed with great freedom and wealth, and at Thanksgiving many of us participate in the custom of telling what we are thankful for, but what about those daily moments such as the one in Saying Grace, when we can be a witness to others that all we have has come from God?

When the Israelites were about to enter the promised land and receive fruitful lands and orchards, God warned them not to think that their hands and their power had gained all those good things. In Deuteronomy 8 He says, “But remember the Lord your God, for it is He who gives you the ability to produce wealth….”

And in James 1:17 we are told that, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”saying_grace_rockwell

Rockwell wanted this painting to emphasize that Americans are tolerant of the faith of others, and this is a wonderful blessing we should never take for granted, but it also shows how ordinary people can be witnesses to faith in God in the ordinary moments of their lives.



Don’t miss Kathy The Picture Lady’s next post. Kells, chi rho The Book of Kells’ Chi Rho page. Sign up now to receive it by email.


The paintings in this blog are used solely for educational purposes.