About the Artist Grant Wood was born February 13, 1891, near Anamosa, Iowa, and spent much of his lifetime working and teaching in his home state. During his years there, he taught in the Cedar Rapids, Iowa, public schools and, later, was a Professor of Fine Arts at the University of Iowa. He painted the familiar surroundings and everyday life of his nativestate and was one of the Regionalist group of painters of the American Scene. He once said that all the really good ideas he ever had came to him while he was milking a cow.
In 1930, the Art Institute of Chicago purchased one of his most famous paintings, American Gothic, for $300. 00, and he immediately received national attention. At the time, the painting aroused much controversy because some felt it insulted plain country people. However, it gradually grew in popularity and is now one of Wood’s best known works. Parson Weems’ Fable was painted nine years later and was to be the first in a series of paintings portraying American historical myths. The second painting was to have been about the story of Pocahontas and Capttain John Smith.
About the art Grant Wood wanted to preserve the traditional American folklore represented in Parson Weems’ Fable when, during a period following the Depression, some intellectuals wanted to do away with many of our American myths and folktales. In this painting, Wood wanted to help reawaken interest in the cherry tree and other bits of American folklore that are too good to lose. This painting presents Parson Mason Locke Weems pulling back the curtain to show us the legendary George Washington cherry tree story.
The position of Weems’ hand directs the viewer’s eye to young George and his father. The gathering storm clouds seem to reinforce the tension between the father and son. The boy’s head is borrowed from the Gilbert Stuart portrait with which we are all familiar because it also appears on our onedollar bills. In Parson Weems’ Fable, the viewer sees a young George looking not noble or dignified, but a bit worried, as he faces his father who is demanding that he hand over the hatchet. rguably the most famous (or infamous) of the exaggerated or invented anecdotes is that of the cherry tree, attributed by Weems to “… an aged lady, who was a distant relative, and, when a girl, spent much of her time in the family… ,” who referred to young George as “cousin”. “The following anecdote is a case in point. It is too valuable to be lost, and too true to be doubted; for it was communicated to me by the same excellent lady to whom I am indebted for the last. When George,” said she, ” was about six years old, he was made the wealthy master of a hatchet! of which, like most little boys, he was immoderately fond, and was constantly going about chopping everything that came in his way. One day, in the garden, where he often amused himself hacking his mother’s pea-sticks, he unluckily tried the edge of his hatchet on the body of a beautiful young English cherry-tree, which he barked so terribly, that I don’t believe the tree ever got the better of it.
The next morning the old gentleman, finding out what had befallen his tree, which, by the by, was a great favourite, came into the house; and with much warmth asked for the mischievous author, declaring at the same time, that he would not have taken five guineas for his tree. Nobody could tell him anything about it. Presently George and his hatchet made their appearance. “George,” said his father, ” do you know who killed that beautiful little cherry tree yonder in the garden? This was a tough question; and George staggered under it for a moment; but quickly recovered himself: and looking at his father, with the sweet face of youth brightened with the inexpressible charm of all- conquering truth, he bravely cried out, “I can’t tell a lie, Pa; you know I can’t tell a lie. I did cut it with my hatchet. ” “Run to my arms, you dearest boy,” cried his father in transports, “run to my arms; glad am I, George, that you killed my tree; for you have paid me for it a thousand fold. Such an act of heroism in my son is more worth than a thousand trees, though blossomed with silver, and their fruits of purest gold. “