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Mote, Marcus The Hoosier’s Nest, 1890


Marcus Mote was born in West Milton, Ohio, and proved resourceful at an early age: paints were not easily obtained, so he made colors from plants, organic matter, and indigo from his mother’s laundry supplies. Mote was self-trained. He began painting stagecoaches in Ohio and then moved on to portrait painting. By the time he arrived in Richmond, Indiana, in 1863, he was a successful painter and teacher, highly regarded for his portrait painting. According to the art historian Wilbur Peat, Mote also produced pictorial commentaries or cartoons about theological controversies within the Quaker church.

Mote’s painting depicts one stanza of the 10-stanza poem by Finley:

I’m told, in riding somewhere West,
A stranger found a Hoosier’s nest—
In other words, a buckeye cabin,
Just big enough to hold Queen Mab in;
Its situation, low, but airy,
Was on the borders of a prairie;
And fearing he might be benighted,
He hailed the house, and then alighted.
The Hoosier met him at the door—
Their salutations soon were o’er.
He took the stranger’s horse aside,
And to a sturdy sapling tied;
Then having stripped the saddle off,
He fed him in a sugar-trough.

(From The Hoosier’s Nest, and Other Poems, Cincinnati, 1866)

  • The Hoosier’s Nest, 1890
  • 19″ x 29″
  • Courtesy of Indiana State Museum and Historic Sites
  • Keywords: paintings, narrative, oil on canvas
  • Subjects: outdoors, trees, cabins, people, men, women, children, hats, domestic animals, vessels, gourds

Just how the word Hoosier came about has been the subject of much debate, and there is still no definitive answer. It must have been generally familiar or John Finley would not have memorialized it in his poem “The Hoosier’s Nest,” published in the Indianapolis Journal on January 1, 1833, as a New Year’s greeting. It has been an accepted part of Indiana history since, but it is still considered derogatory by many who look back to original connotations of “backwoods” and “backward.”

This painting is colorful and cartoonish, presented with much detail. Notice such things as the fireplace construction, the animal skin being tanned, the gourds for drinking vessels, and the many other elements of the poem. On the right, the sky and land become one, adding to a sense of the vastness of the prairie.

Some Points To Consider

  • Ask students if they think this painting is characteristic of a Hoosier dwelling in 1890. Ask them to describe what is cartoonish about it. (Art 4.1.2, 4.3.1)
  • Ask: What does the scene tell us about the people who live there, and how does it improve our knowledge of early Indiana? (Art 4.1.1, 4.3.2)

Suggested Activities for Classroom Follow-Up

  • Have students write short poems about an event in their lives. Have them take turns reading their poems to the whole class. They should be prepared to describe how they felt because of the event in the poem.
  • Read a familiar short poem and display it on the board or flip chart where students can refer to it. Ask them to create illustrations to go along with the content of the poem or with the mood that the poem conveys.