Celebrate Art at Interior

Each year on April 15, we celebrate World Art Day to reinforce the links between artistic creations, society, and our mission. This year, we’re showcasing works from across our bureaus and offices that highlight both the diversity of our collections and our activities at the Department of the Interior.

Art plays a significant role in our science missions and perceptions of public lands. Whether virtually or in person, these museum collections are meant to be experienced. World Art Day reminds us of this. Art moves us to process new perspectives, flood the senses, and open our eyes. At Interior, we'll continue sharing these amazing works all year long.

Artwork at the Department of the Interior

Interior manages one of the world's largest museum collections. We have over 73 million cultural artifacts and natural history specimens, and an additional 86 thousand linear feet of archives housed in an estimated 2,000 federal facilities, nonfederal museums, and universities. Included in this are more than 101,000 works of art spanning hundreds of years and in every type of medium you can imagine! In this blog post, we share just a few of our museums and collections.

National Park Service

The majority of the fine art stewarded by the Department of the Interior is within the National Park Service’s museum collections. Stop at a park visitor center or historical site, and you are sure to spot works of art that lend insight into the lives and experiences preserved and interpreted there. Landscape art in particular played a major role in the establishment of the National Park Service and several of its national parks. The works of art featured here follow in that great tradition:  


Clockwise from top left: 

Braintree by Samuel Malcolm (1798). Watercolor on paper. H 30.5, W 43 cm. Adams National Historical Park, ADAM 182;

Desert Showers by Maynard Lafayette Dixon (1907). Oil on canvas. L 50.8, W 76.2 cm. Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site, HUTR 3510;

Mountains of the Sun by Howard Russell Butler (1926). Oil on canvas. W 165.1, H 139.7 cm. Zion National Park, ZION 14586

U.S. Geological Survey

The U.S. Geological Survey is the Department of the Interior’s premier science agency, but it also manages a wide-ranging museum collection of natural history specimens and cultural objects throughout the United States. Artwork includes portraiture and historical pieces, but the lithograph featured below is an outstanding example of how geological illustrations and maps have long been created in support of survey expeditions and scientific inquiry central to the USGS’s history and missions:

Panorama print showing the horizontal red layered rocks and broad, intricately sculptured chasm of the canyon.
Panorama from Point Sublime, Part II: Looking South by William Henry Holmes (1846-1933), 24” x 32”. USGS catalog number 575034

In 1880, William Henry Holmes joined geologist Clarence E. Dutton’s expedition to Arizona’s Grand Canyon. From Point Sublime on the North Rim he sketched three views, each printed as two-page spreads in Dutton’s 1882 Atlas to Accompany the Monograph on the Tertiary History of the Grand Cañon District. Pieced together, the trio forms a continuous panorama noted for its technical detail and use of scale.  

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s museum collections consist primarily of archaeological objects, natural history specimens, and historical materials. But it is no surprise that artwork is represented, too. Featured here is a sampling of works by Louis Agassiz Fuertes, one of America’s eminent ornithologists and artists at the turn of the century, In a style self-defined as “bird portraiture,” Fuertes managed to capture not only a bird’s form but also its personality. He left behind an extensive collection of artwork and a lasting impression on the next generation of wildlife artists.


Clockwise from top left:  Watercolors by Louis Agassiz Fuertes (1874-1927), circa 1900-1910; Blue Jay; Arkansas Kingbird; American Robin; Rose-breasted Grosbeak, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service collection.

To this day, ornithology and natural science illustration remain cornerstones for one of the Service’s most visible programs: the Federal Duck Stamp. Founded in 1934, the purchase of the Stamp counts as a permit to hunt waterfowl in the nation’s wildlife refuges. 98% of the money from each purchase goes towards the conservation and protection of the water, flora and fauna of U.S. wildlife refuges. Since 1949, the Duck Stamp’s artwork has been determined through an annual competition open to any artist.

Bureau of Reclamation

The Bureau of Reclamation’s overall museum collection includes more than 200 works of art illustrative of Reclamation facilities, activities and landscapes. These representations by some of the most renowned artists of the 20th century offer a new way of seeing and interpreting water resource development in the American West:  

Collage of three paintings: two featuring birds in flight and one featuring the red, rocky landscape surrounding Lake Powell.
Clockwise from top left:

Birds at Topock Marsh by Chen Chi (1912-2005). Watercolor, 36" x 26"; this Arizona marsh resulted from the construction of the Parker Dam, and Bureau of Reclamation features part of the Colorado River Front Work and Levee System maintain the water level.

[Birds at] Tule Lake Refuge by John W. McCoy (1910-1989). Watercolor on paper, 19" x 30"; Bureau of Reclamation's Klamath Project supplies the regulated water supply for California’s Tule Lake, site of the largest annual concentration of waterfowl in North America.

Campsite at Dawn - Lake Powell by Dean Fausett (1913-1998). Oil on panel, 48" x 96"; Lake Powell is the reservoir formed by the Glen Canyon Dam, a key feature of the Colorado River Storage Project. Bureau of Reclamation collection.

Explore this artistic legacy and view more via the Bureau of Reclamation’s art portal.

Bureau of Indian Affairs

The Bureau of Indian Affairs is steward to a collection of nearly eight million objects, which reflect the history of the government-to-government relationship between federally recognized American Indian and Alaska Native Tribal governments and the United States. Included are archeological artifacts from Indian and Federal lands, ethnographic objects, historic items, archives and artwork.

Giving a sense of the geographic scope of the art are these two pieces depicting dance traditions—from far north in Alaska to far south in Florida:


Left:  Male Alaskan Dancer Doll gifted to former Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs Neal A. McCaleb from the Alaska Federation of Natives, October 27, 2001; Pehri, 2000. Wood, fabric, fur, feathers. 12" x 5” x 6”.

Right:  Seminole Stomp Dance by Fred Beaver (Muscogee/Seminole, 1911-1980), 1955. Bureau of Indian Affairs collection.

You can find additional works by influential artists such as Edna Massey, Allan Houser, and Fritz Scholder in the Bureau’s extensive online exhibitions.

The Indian Arts and Crafts Board

The Indian Arts and Crafts Board promotes the economic development of American Indians and Alaska Natives of federally recognized tribes through the expansion of the Indian arts and crafts market.

One of the IACB’s top priorities is the Indian Arts and Crafts Act, which is a truth-in-advertising law that prohibits misrepresentation in the marketing of Indian art and craft products within the United States. Know how to shop wisely by consulting IACB’s Consumer Tips and Source Directory.

But did you know that IACB also operates three regional museums in Oklahoma, Montana and South Dakota? Here they display historical collections, as well as changing exhibitions featuring the work of contemporary artists and craftspersons like these:

Three examples from the Indian Arts and Crafts Board: a Navajo rug, a capelet, and a Hopi buckle.
Left to right: Victoria Keoni, Navajo, Burntwater Rug, ©1986; Christy Ruby, Tlingit, Capelet, Taa Daa, ©2020; Art Batala, Hopi, Buckle ©2020; Indian Arts and Crafts Board Museum collection

View even more highlights of the Indian Arts and Crafts Board’s collections on Google Arts & Culture.

Interior Museum

Did you know that there is a museum in the Stewart Lee Udall Department of Interior Building in Washington, D.C.? Within the Interior Museum's collection are more than 1,450 works of art providing inspiration and insight into the Department of the Interior’s missions.

Examples include official secretarial portraits; captivating paintings from artist-in-residence initiatives on public lands; the highly stylized wildlife art of American modernist Charley Harper; landscape photography by Ansel Adams and George Alexander Grant; and intricate dioramas and murals original to the museum when it opened in the newly-built Department of the Interior headquarters building in 1938. But the Interior Museum is perhaps best known for this iconic masterpiece:


The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone by Thomas Moran (1837-1926), 1872. Oil on canvas, mounted on aluminum, 84” x 144.25.” U.S. Department of the Interior Museum, INTR 03001

Artist Thomas Moran painted this majestic view of the Yellowstone River based upon various perspectives he compiled while accompanying Ferdinand Vandeveer Hayden's 1871 survey of Wyoming’s Yellowstone region. Moran’s captivating depictions of Yellowstone’s natural wonders are credited with influencing lawmakers to preserve Yellowstone in 1872 as the country’s first national park