I’ve always had a thing for history.
It started when I was pretty young, reading stories about Johnny Appleseed, Lewis & Clark, and Paul Revere. If there was a horse involved or some sense of adventure heading out west, I was all over it.
Somewhere around the 4th grade, while learning about Revere, I remember seeing the famous portrait of him, holding a teapot, painted by John SIngleton Copley in 1768. I think every textbook, poster, or grade-school workbook I ever saw used this image to illustrate what he looked like.
This didn’t make sense to me, though. I distinctly remember thinking something like, “What’s a teapot got to do with a guy riding a horse through the countryside in the middle of the night?” I had a lot to learn, but what are you gonna do? I was six.
For whatever reason, this portrait stuck with me through the years. To this day, I couldn’t tell you why. In the 7th grade, I think I doodled a version of it on a Pee-Chee. In the 10th grade, I know it was part of a collage taped up in my locker. Paul was wearing sunglasses. In my twenties, when pottery first captured my attention, I couldn’t help but think of this famous image again. That was a teapot in his hand, right?
Historians will tell you there are two reasons for the teapot in the painting. For one, it was a political statement. Revere was an active revolutionist and the Colonial boycott of English tea was just a year old when he sat for this painting. Secondarily, Revere was advertising his own craftsmanship. He was an accomplished silversmith. Teapots represented his craft in its highest form. This is still true today. It’s also true for potters. Clearly, this means Paul Revere and I are brothers in craft and Copley’s been trying to tell me this all along. I guess it just took me awhile to catch up.
Fun fact #1: Revere fathered 16 children—eight with his first wife, Sarah Orne, and eight with his second wife, Rachel Walker.
Fun fact #2: Revere’s own records indicate he only made nine teapots from 1762 to 1773. Apparently, he was busy making babies, not teapots. ∆