Northern Minnesota Mine

E. Dewey Albinson, Northern Minnesota Mine, 1934, oil on canvas, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Transfer from the U.S. Department of Labor, 1964.1.49
Copied E. Dewey Albinson, Northern Minnesota Mine, 1934, oil on canvas, 4050 18 in. (101.6127.2 cm.), Smithsonian American Art Museum, Transfer from the U.S. Department of Labor, 1964.1.49

Artwork Details

Northern Minnesota Mine
Not on view
4050 18 in. (101.6127.2 cm.)
Credit Line
Transfer from the U.S. Department of Labor
Mediums Description
oil on canvas
  • Figure group
  • Landscape — Minnesota
  • Architecture — industry — mine
  • Occupation — industry — mining
  • New Deal — Public Works of Art Project — Minnesota
Object Number
Research Notes

Artwork Description

A vast open-pit iron mine dominates this painting as iron mining dominated northern Minnesota. As steam shovels dug out the ore and trains carried it away, the oval excavations hungrily ate away the land. Artist Dewey Albinson showed houses and gardens suspended precariously above the edge of a widening pit. The wearily stooping miners in the foreground have finished their shift and wait for a train home while a new shift works the mine. Albinson shows the mine in operation, but work was not always steady during the early days of the Great Depression. One Minnesota iron miner recalled his week’s workdays declining from six to four or less; then in 1932 he had no work at all for six months.

Albinson, a native of Minnesota, knew the iron mines of northern Minnesota's Mesabi Range well; in 1932 one of the big mining companies had hired him to paint local scenes, including the Spruce and Mesabi Mountain mines. In his PWAP painting, Albinson took evident delight in the characteristic rusty orange of the iron-laden soil, playing it against a pale blue sky, green bushes, and a vivid turquoise shed.

1934: A New Deal for Artists exhibition label

Luce Center Label

Dewey Albinson created this painting for the Public Works of Art Project in 1934. He loved the "life, color and drama" of Minnesota and painted many images of small towns and industrial sites (Swanson, "A Study of Dewey Albinson," n.d., unpublished ms., American Art curatorial file). The rich, warm tones of pinks, oranges, and reds evoke the iron-tinted landscape around the mine, and emphasize the sweeping curves of the excavation in the background. The workers, colorful buildings, and smoking trains create an image of productivity and hope for midwesterners battered by the Depression.

Related Books

1934: A New Deal for Artists
During the Great Depression, president Franklin Delano Roosevelt promised a “new deal for the American people,” initiating government programs to foster economic recovery. Roosevelt’s pledge to help “the forgotten man” also embraced America’s artists. The Public Works of Art Project (PWAP) enlisted artists to capture “the American Scene” in works of art that would embellish public buildings across the country. Although it lasted less than one year, from December 1933 to June 1934, the PWAP provided employment for thousands of artists, giving them an important role in the country’s recovery. Their legacy, captured in more than fifteen thousand artworks, helped “the American Scene” become America seen.