The Ideological Significance of Homer Dodge Martin’s The Iron Mine, Port Henry, New York

The Ideological Significance of Homer Dodge Martin’s The Iron Mine, Port Henry, New York

The iron-ore bed in Craig Harbor near Port Henry, New York, was one of the richest veins in the northeast. Painting by Homer Dodge Martin, “The Iron Mine,” Port Henry, New York, ca. 1862, oil, Smithsonian American Art Museum.

One visual impression from the mining era that has survived is Homer Dodge Martin’s painting The Iron Mine, Port Henry, New York (1862).  The scene is Craig Harbor, just north of Port Henry and adjacent to the Bay State Iron Company furnaces.  Rust colored streaks seep from the hillside along the cliffs of Lake Champlain.

An Albany native, Martin was influenced by the style and vision of the Hudson River School, having once been a pupil of William Hart.  Hart, along with fellow Hudson River School artists, painted wilderness scenes and landscapes of the Catskills, the Adirondacks, and the White Mountains in New Hampshire, which were influenced by elements of Romanticism. Thomas Cole is considered to be the founder of this school.  After Cole’s death, the scenes painted by this second generation of Hudson River School artists grew to include locations in New England, the Canadian Maritimes (New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island), the American West, and South America.

Martin completed the painting in 1862, at the beginning of the Civil War. There is no way of knowing what the artist intended, but the typical interpretation of this painting is that it conveys the strength of the northern states in the ideological conflict of the Civil War. While the states of the Confederacy seemed to hold on to their agricultural ways, the states of the Union literally oozed industry, foreshadowing the overwhelming wave of economic development that not only determined the outcome of the war, but also strongly influenced the development of the reunited country throughout the industrializing decades of the later 19th and early 20th centuries.

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