Grant Wood: Parson Weems’ Fable (1939)

Oil on canvas – Amon Carter Museum of American Art

American Gothic painter Grant Wood created this work in celebration of historian Parson Weems and first President George Washington.  Weems’ 1800 work Life of Washington first told the anecdote of the six-year-old future President hatcheting down his father’s favorite cherry tree and then owning up to it.  Weems reported the story “too valuable to be lost, and too true to be doubted,” was told to him by a relative of Washington, allegedly present when the event took place.

Through Wood’s regionalism style, the work foretells of the revolutionary spirit coming to colonial America.  The contrast of colors evokes urgency of impending change, particularly in the storm clouds gathering on the horizon.  Washington’s father Augustine is portrayed as a red coat holding the fallen cherry tree with an outreached hand, while the rebellious youth, painted with the iconic $1 bill visage, points at his hatchet.  In the foreground, Weems pulls a drape to reveal the encounter.  As he points to Washington, shadows on the ground point to two slaves picking cherries from another tree, perhaps symbolizing another revolutionary struggle.

The painting emphasizes the storytellers of history; those whose stories become more relevant than the actual happening.  However, like Washington in the fable, those who strive for accuracy tell the best stories of history and contemporary events.  Truth is stronger; more so even than other tools available in a revolution.

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2 thoughts on “Grant Wood: Parson Weems’ Fable (1939)

  1. Pingback: Before They Were Presidents | OH THE ART PLACES WE CAN GO

  2. Pingback: George Washington and the cherry tree – 1939 Southern California

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