Rising to the Top: Paul Revere’s Elegant Creamer

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2015/08/02/rising-to-the-top-paul-reveres-elegant-creamer/

Most people know Paul Revere for his famous ride on April 18th, 1775, through the Middlesex countryside warning John Hancock, Samuel Adams, and the local residents about the British approach. But fewer know that this master of military intrigue was also a master of intriguing silver.

Paul Revere learned the silversmith trade from his father, Apollos Rivoire, and became the most prominent craftsman of his day. His style evolved with time in response to the changing tastes of his clientele. By the end of the 18th century, Revere produced elaborate pieces in repoussé (reverse hammering to create an exterior relief) and also pieces with finely detailed neoclassical engraving.


Paul Revere, Jr. Creampot at the MFA (c. 1755-60)

My favorite items are his creamers, or “creampots,” which I’ve spotted at the Peabody-Essex Museum in Salem, the Paul Revere House in Boston, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. One creamer in particular at the MFA (pictured right) captured my imagination and challenged my image of Revere the Revolutionary. I found it hard to reconcile this dainty little creampot on a dainty little table with the burly bombast on display in Revere’s exchange with his British captors. In his riveting deposition for the Massachusetts Provincial Congress after the Lexington engagement, Revere recounts how he faced down six British officers who seized him during his ride.

While they pointed their pistols to his chest and insulted him, Revere taunted them by suggesting “they would miss their aim” anyway. He went on to boast that he had “alarmed the country all the way up,” which left their commanding officer“stupefied.”

Later, when British Major Mitchel put his pistol to Revere’s head and threatened to blow his brains out, Revere retorted that he “was not afraid.” How could this man of verve and swagger – who uttered the “cry of defiance and not of fear” as Longfellow put it – also be the sensitive, artistic soul who produced delicately refined tea creamers?

Somehow, the two versions of Revere didn’t jibe. As I was reflecting on the paradox, I passed in front of John Singleton Copley’s 1768 portrait of Revere. It seemed to hold a clue that helped me solve the riddle of the contrasting sides of his temperament.

Copley’s portrait shows Revere holding a teapot surrounded by his engraving tools.

The museum caption suggests he might be wondering how to decorate the pot. True enough, but to me the salient feature is that Revere is shown as a thinker. Pondering and crafting are natural companions during the artistic process since rhythmic, concentrated mechanical movement often lends itself to deep and nuanced thought.

In Revere’s case, he could well have been thinking both about the item he was decorating and the troubles of the colonies. We know that in the period before the Revolution, Revere worked in his silversmith shop while also participating in the Sons of Liberty movement and acting as a courier for the Continental Congress in Philadelphia. Perhaps it was precisely because of his artistic side, which prized creative expression, that Paul Revere bristled at the outside force trying to control his personal freedom.

The same passion we see in the painstaking detail of his elegant tea creamers was also evident in his vehement rebellion against his English oppressors.

So instead of conflicting images of Revere, one the delicate lover of beauty and the other a fierce fighter, we can see how these two facets of Revere’s personality fused to make him the jaunty, tenacious character observed at the time of his capture. Exploring Revere’s philosophy through his craftsmanship is one way to get to know the complex man behind the legend.

Contact Mary McCleary at [email protected]