In The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere, the Midwestern painter Grant Wood casts a magical spell on a familiar American story. As a child, Wood had been captivated by the tale of Revere’s journey through the night from Boston to Lexington (the site of the opening skirmish of the Revolutionary War) to warn the patriots of the British advance.
The precise details of this historical event would have been indistinct, or perhaps unknown, to Wood since, like most Americans of his day, he had learned the legend from a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, published in 1863:
Listen, my children, and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the eighteenth of April in Seventy-five;
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year.
Wood was enchanted by the notion of a local hero bearing urgent news, raising the alarm, and consequently attaining immortality. He liked to imagine himself on just such a mission in his home state of Iowa, galloping from farm to farm to warn his neighbors of an impending tornado—“and being handsomely praised when the storm was over and everyone had been saved.” Wood never had the opportunity to become that sort of hero, but he did become immortal through his famous work American Gothic (1930)—painted just a year before he completed The Midnight Ride—which dignifies a homely country
couple on an ordinary Iowa farm.
Although he had trained as an artist, Wood was a self-consciously “primitive” painter who emulated the unpretentious, unschooled manner of American folk artists. This straightforward approach rejects any detail or artifice that might divert attention from the principal subject. The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere goes one step further to capture a child’s point of view.
To complete this evocation of a childhood dream, Wood whimsically portrays Paul Revere’s trusty steed—“flying fearless and fleet,” in Longfellow’s words—as a rocking horse!
Wood’s aim, like Longfellow’s was to save those “bits of American folklore that
are too good to lose.” This preservationist tendency was part of his greater scheme to forge a national identity, which he believed could be created through art as well as history. Wood’s conviction is supported by the longevity of the legend preserved in Longfellow’s lines:
Through all our history, to the last,
In the hour of darkness and peril and need,
The people will waken and listen to hear
The hurrying hoof-beats of that steed,
And the midnight message of Paul Revere.
Grant Wood, was committed to his dream of producing a truly American art that
would link the present to the past and preserve all the stories that made up the American heritage.
September 20, 2011, Class 5 Grant Wood Midnight Ride of Paul Revere PowerPoint
Finish reading “Common Sense” by Thomas Paine. When you have finished the book go to http://www.sparknotes.com and review/print out the commentary. This will help you to better understand Paine’s message as we discuss it in class.
Have a good week! -Mrs. S
“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” Romans 12: 1-2