Maine Artist Celebrates the Turkey in Vegan-friendly Way

(NECN: Amy Sinclair) - The majority of Americans will gather together around a roasted turkey this Thanksgiving, but for vegetarians and vegans -- and there are millions of them -- the focus on poultry is not so appetizing.

Now, a vegan artist from Maine has come up with a way to celebrate the turkey without putting a fork in it.

Cheryl Miller. an artist based in Augusta, says for her it was love at first sight.

"I was just so charmed by them, I didn't know turkeys had so much personality!" the artist recalled with a smile.

The long-time vegan started painting turkey portraits, one for each Thanksgiving, hoping to get meat eaters to appreciate the birds other than on a dinner plate paired with stuffing.

But she says her annual portraits didn't seem like enough.

She wanted to honor every turkey that's consumed at Thanksgiving -- roughly 46 million birds in all. She started using a hand punch to cut out turkey shapes quickly, and while she could generate 2,000 an hour, it would never get her to her goal.

"I realized when I started doing the math, there was no way I would complete them in my lifetime and I needed community involvement," she said.

Last February, Miller went public with her poultry plea online,, asking for turkeys of all shapes and sizes.

Those turkeys, along with her portraits are the focus of a new exhibit, 46 Million Turkeys, which is at the Harlow Gallery in Hallowell.

"The only criteria was to represent the animal with dignity and not as meat," she said.

She's received thousands of turkeys and it turns out they can fly -- from long distances.

"I've gotten turkeys from Berlin, Ireland, the U.K., places that don't ever celebrate Thanksgiving!" said Miller sorting through large piles of mail.

Vegans in particular are grateful for the project and a Thanksgiving celebration that shares their point of view.

"Everyone kind of thinks of them as food," said Rachel Curit, a University of Maine student who came to see the show. "Vegans see them as individuals."

Miller is keeping track of every bird.

"I have an Excel spread sheet. I write down their name, how many turkeys they've given, and it all adds up," she said.

She hopes to set a Guinness World Record for the most turkey themed art when she reaches her goal. So far she's amassed 1.4 million turkeys, which is why she keeps crayons and paper at the gallery, because every bird counts.

Artistic talent is not a prerequisite for participation. In this case, it truly is the thought that counts. The public is invited to meet the artist at a reception at the Harlow Gallery at 160 Water St. in Hallowell, Maine, Saturday Nov. 30, 5-8 p.m.

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