Photo Set


Online Murals Tour


February 23, 2011

The murals located in the Stewart Lee Udall Department of the Interior Building represent a period in American history when art flourished under government sponsorship. Created during the Great Depression, the Department of the Interior’s murals are the product of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal. The artists who created the murals represent some of the finest American painters of the 1930s.


The Murals Tour is offered Tuesdays and Thursdays at 2:00 p.m. Tour groups are limited to 20 visitors and a reservation is required. For groups over six, custom tours can be scheduled from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Monday to Friday. Please call the Museum at least two weeks in advance of your visit at 202.208.4743 to make a reservation.


  • Mitchell Jamieson
    An Incident in Contemporary American Life
    Tempera on canvas, 1942

    When prominent African-American vocalist Marian Anderson was banned from performing at the Daughters of the American Revolution’s Constitution Hall because of her race, Eleanor Roosevelt, a friend of Anderson’s, resigned from the DAR in protest and was determined to find an alternate venue for the concert.

    Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes invited Anderson to hold a free concert on Easter Sunday, April 9, 1939 at the Lincoln Memorial. Anderson performed for seventy-five thousand people, including many political leaders.

    Anderson, surrounded by tiny government officials, is just a small speck on the steps of the Memorial, a symbol of the abolishment of slavery. Jamieson concentrates on the diverse crowd and the emotions apparent on their faces to emphasize the importance of the concert.

    Unlike most of the artists with works in the Interior Building, Mitchell Jamieson was selected out of 171 entries of a scored contest. Only 25 years old at the time, Jamieson depicts a monumental Civil Rights event that has a particular connection to the U.S. Department of the Interior. Fine Arts Program
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    An Incident in Contemporary American Life
  • James Auchiah
    Harvest Dance
    Oil on plaster, 1939

    Kiowa dancers and women preparing food around a fire frame the traditional harvest feast and traditional Kiowa homes in the center of the lunette. This expression of narrative includes both ceremonial and social scenes of Kiowa life.

    James Auchiah, also known as Tse Koy Ate (Big Bow), was born in Meers, Oklahoma in 1906, and attended St. Patrick’s Mission School in Anadarko, Oklahoma before studying art at the University of Oklahoma. He was one of the Kiowa Five, a group of actually six Kiowa artists including Spencer Asah, Jack Hokeah, Stephen Mopope, Monroe Tsatoke, and Lois Smoky, who created a new painting style influenced by Plains hide painting and Ledger art and inspired by social and ceremonial scenes of Kiowa life and their oral histories.

    The minimal background, flat perspective, and use of solid color fields apparent in Harvest Dance are characteristics of the Kiowa Five painting style. (Detail of Harvest Dance)
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    Harvest Dance
  • Stephen Mopope
    Ceremonial Dance (Indian Theme)
    Oil on plaster, 1939

    Ceremonial Dance is a celebration of the hunt. The central figure is seated with a buffalo painted on his back while others dance around him creating a composition resembling a frieze.

    Stephen Mopope, also known as Qued Koi (Painted Robe), was born near Medicine Park, Oklahoma in 1900 and attended St. Patrick’s Mission School in Anadarko, Oklahoma. A number of the Kiowa Five artists attended the school where they were taught art by Choctaw nun, Sister Mary Olivia Taylor. Mrs. Willie Baze Lane, an artist from Chickasha, Oklahoma, also provided lessons.

    The six artists eventually studied art at the University of Oklahoma under the instruction of Dr. Oscar Jacobson and Dr. Edith Mahier. Though the students were not officially enrolled at the University, Jacobson coordinated an exhibition for the artists at the First International Art Exposition in Prague, Czechoslovakia in 1928 and the publishing of a portfolio of their paintings in France in 1929. Fine Arts Program
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    Ceremonial Dance (Indian Theme)
  • Stephen Mopope
    Ceremonial Dance (Indian Theme)
    Oil on plaster, 1939

    (Detail of Ceremonial Dance) Fine Arts Program
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    Ceremonial Dance (Indian Theme)
  • Millard Sheets
    The Negro’s Contribution in the Social and Cultural Development of America: Religion
    Oil on canvas, 1948

    Millard Sheets, born in Pomona, California in 1907, was originally commissioned to depict the four elements—earth, air, fire, and water. A series of disagreements over the content and style of his sketches resulted in a change of topic.

    Interior Secretary Harold Ickes suggested that the four mural panels represent the cultural development of African-Americans, focusing on figures in specifically non-labor roles. (Detail of "The Negro’s Contribution in the Social and Cultural Development of America: Religion") Fine Arts Program
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    The Negro’s Contribution in the Social and Cultural Development of America Religion
  • Millard Sheets
    The Negro’s Contribution in the Social and Cultural Development of America: Science
    Oil on canvas, 1948

    (Detail of "The Negro’s Contribution in the Social and Cultural Development of America: Science") Fine Arts Program
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    The Negro’s Contribution in the Social and Cultural Development of America Science
  • Millard Sheets
    "The Negro’s Contribution in the Social and Cultural Development of America: The Arts"
    Oil on canvas, 1948

    (Detail of "The Negro’s Contribution in the Social and Cultural Development of America: The Arts") Fine Arts Program
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    The Negro’s Contribution in the Social and Cultural Development of America The Arts
  • William Gropper
    "Construction of a Dam"
    Oil on canvas, 1939

    "Construction of a Dam" not only focuses on the technological achievements of the Bureau of Reclamation, but is a celebration of the strength and dignity of the citizen-worker.

    Social realist painter, lithographer, and cartoonist, William Gropper based this mural on the Grand Coulee Dam on the Columbia River and Davis Dam on the Colorado River.

    Born in New York City in 1897, Gropper is well known for his cartoons and illustrations published in the New York Tribune, Vogue, Vanity Fair, and New York World, as well as more liberal publications like the Yiddish Communist Daily, The Masses, The Revolutionary Age, The Rebel Worker, and the Communist Daily Worker. 

    Gropper detested capitalism and though he was never a member of the Communist Party USA, his inclusion of communist imagery suggests his political affiliation. The insertion of red bandanas throughout the piece and impressions of a hammer and sickle in the far-right panel are just some indications of Gropper’s communist values. Fine Arts Program
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    Construction of a Dam
  • William Gropper
    "Construction of a Dam"
    Oil on canvas, 1939

    (Detail of "Construction of a Dam") Fine Arts Program
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    Construction of a Dam 2
  • William Gropper
    "Construction of a Dam"
    Oil on canvas, 1939

    (Detail of "Construction of a Dam") Fine Arts Program
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    Construction of a Dam
  • Ernest Fiene
    "Fighting Forest Fire"
    Oil on canvas, 1938

    The figures in "Fighting Forest Fire" demonstrate many of the techniques used by the Civilian Conservation Corps. Workers cut a breach through the forest and dig trenches to prevent advancement of the fire.

    Ernest Fiene combines many technical processes and issues relevant to public lands and the U.S. Department of the Interior in each of his four murals surrounding the grand staircase. Fine Arts Program
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    Fighting Forest Fire
  • Ernest Fiene
    "Placer Mining"
    Oil on canvas, 1938

    "Placer Mining" is a composite mural that depicts many hydraulic mining methods that would have occurred in separate areas on a mining site. These methods are all depicted adjacently to provide insight into the mining industry. Fine Arts Program
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    Placer Mining
  • David McCosh
    "Themes of the National Parks"
    Oil on Canvas, 1940

    "Themes of the National Parks" highlights prominent features of national parks in the West.

    Painter and lithographer David McCosh studied at Coe College, Cedar Rapids, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Art Students’ League in New York City. He taught art for much of his career and was commissioned to create murals for the Chicago World’s Fair for the Century of Progress, Illinois; the U.S. Post Office, Kelso, Washington; the U.S. Post office, Beresford, South Dakota; and several paintings for the U.S. National Bank, Eugene, Oregon. Fine Arts Program
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    Themes of the National Parks
  • David McCosh
    "Themes of the National Parks"
    Oil on Canvas, 1940 Fine Arts Program
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    Themes of the National Parks
  • Maynard Dixon
    "Themes of the Bureau of Indian Affairs: Indian and Soldier"
    Oil on canvas, 1939

    Born in Fresno, California in 1875, Maynard Dixon had a deep appreciation of and attraction to the West. A noted illustrator, painter, and muralist, Dixon focused his work on portraying the people and scenes of the West honestly and without embellishment. He often painted the arid landscapes of the Southwest, early settlers, cowboys, and Native Americans.

    The panels depict how life has changed for Native Americans. The stampeding buffalo show movement west and encroachment upon the Native Americans’ land. According to Dixon, the Chief’s gesture states, “This is our land. You shall drive us no further.” Fine Arts Program
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    Themes of the Bureau of Indian Affairs Indian and Soldier
  • Maynard Dixon
    "Themes of the Bureau of Indian Affairs: Indian and Teacher"
    Oil on canvas, 1939

    Together, the two mural panels depict how life has changed for Native Americans. This mural represents the generational loss of cultural identity and conflicting ideologies. Dixon wrote, “The White Man says, ‘The ground belongs to us.’ The Indian says: ‘We belong to the ground.’”

    To claim ownership of the land, fences are built. The fence symbolizes the “divided lands and the end of freedom.”

    The large ear of corn, a symbol of fertility, held like a baby, gives a sense of hope to the scene. Dixon wrote, “I had always felt something far more tragic in all this, but perhaps there is now also something of hope.” Fine Arts Program
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    Themes of the Bureau of Indian Affairs Indian and Teacher
  • Gifford Beal
    "Tropical Country"
    Oil on canvas, 1941

    Gifford Beal was a successful painter, watercolorist, printmaker, and muralist who was especially influenced by 19th-century French Impressionism. He was well known for his depiction fisherman, holiday crowds, circus and hunting scenes, and romantic landscapes.

    Beal's two panels focus on the diversity of the American landscape, specifically the territories in the North and the South. Beal contrasts the scene of a dog sled being driven through the mountains of Alaska with pineapple planting in the tropics. Fine Arts Program
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    Tropical Country
  • Gifford Beal
    "North Country"
    Oil on canvas, 1941

    (Detail of "North Country") Fine Arts Program
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    North Country
  • John Steuart Curry
    "The Homesteading and the Building of Barbed Wire Fences"
    Oil on canvas, 1939

    Born in Dunavant, Kansas in 1987, regionalist painter John Steuart Curry chose to focus his work on familiar American landscapes.

    "The Homesteading and the Building of Barbed Wire Fences" focuses on the privatization of western lands. The industrious and self-sufficient farmer protects his land with barbed wire, taming the land by removing sod and planting crops. The ominous clouds represent the catastrophic times to come. Extensive farming, severe draught, and high winds would eventually cause the Dust Bowl. Fine Arts Program
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    The Homesteading and the Building of Barbed Wire Fences
  • John Steuart Curry
    "Rush for the Oklahoma Land—1894"
    Oil on canvas, 1939

    "Rush for the Oklahoma Land—1894" glorifies the anticipation of the settlers about to establish their new lives in the Oklahoma Territory. Men spur their horse-drawn wagons as a train passes in the background, emphasizing the contrast between tradition and innovation. (Detail of "Rush for the Oklahoma Land—1894") Fine Arts Program
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    Rush for Oklahoma Land 1894
  • John Steuart Curry
    "Rush for the Oklahoma Land—1894"
    Oil on canvas, 1939

    (Detail of "Rush for the Oklahoma Land—1894") Fine Arts Program
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    Rush for Oklahoma Land 1894
  • An Incident in Contemporary American Life
  • Harvest Dance
  • Ceremonial Dance (Indian Theme)
  • Ceremonial Dance (Indian Theme)
  • The Negro’s Contribution in the Social and Cultural Development of America Religion
  • The Negro’s Contribution in the Social and Cultural Development of America Science
  • The Negro’s Contribution in the Social and Cultural Development of America The Arts
  • Construction of a Dam
  • Construction of a Dam 2
  • Construction of a Dam
  • Fighting Forest Fire
  • Placer Mining
  • Themes of the National Parks
  • Themes of the National Parks
  • Themes of the Bureau of Indian Affairs Indian and Soldier
  • Themes of the Bureau of Indian Affairs Indian and Teacher
  • Tropical Country
  • North Country
  • The Homesteading and the Building of Barbed Wire Fences
  • Rush for Oklahoma Land 1894
  • Rush for Oklahoma Land 1894