DOINews: Interior Unveils New Ansel Adams Murals

Last edited 09/29/2021


Boulder Dam Power Units, Colorado River, Nevada / Arizona Border, National Archives no. 79-AAB-5 Ansel Adams

Visitors to 1849 C St. in Washington, DC, will now see a series of magnificent murals that highlight the legacy of two of the greatest figures in Department of the Interior history, Secretary Harold Ickes and renowned photographer Ansel Adams.

The murals, which we first unveiled in a recent celebration marking the Department's 161st anniversary, represent 26 of the photos Ickes commissioned Adams to produce as part of the Mural Project of 1941.

The stunning black-and-white photos, on display in the main hallways of the first and second floors of our main Interior building, convey the beauty Adams' saw in our Department's diverse mission, and include:

  • a pair of Native American children;
  • the eruption of Old Faithful; and
  • the intricate network of power lines at Boulder Dam.

Ickes and Adams first met in 1936, while attending a conference on the future of national and state parks. Ickes was secretary of the Interior under President Franklin Roosevelt; Adams, a renowned photographer and president of the Sierra Club. The two immediately found a common bond in a deep love for the beauty of our nation's land and a desire to see it conserve that land for future generations.

In fact, Adams used his photographic talent to lead a successful campaign to save the Kings River area of the Sierra Nevada from development and have Congress designate it as Kings Canyon National Park.

Ickes believed that the Interior building, which was completed in 1936, should be symbolic of the Department's mission to manage and conserve our nation's vast resources. So in 1941, he hired Adams to create a photographic mural for display in this building that reflected the department's mission: the beautiful land, the proper development of our resources, and the people we serve.

The attack on Pearl Harbor and our nation's entry into World War II brought Adams to a stop not long after his work began. Nonetheless, he was able to take more than 200 photographs, which were eventually sent to the National Archives.

Now, with our installation of the murals, we are able to share with visitors from across the nation Ickes and Adams' timeless vision for this department — and how we are in the business of fulfilling that vision today.

The U.S. Department of the Interior Museum exhibition Ansel Adams: The Mural Project 1941-1942 is open to the public by appointment only. Reservations for a guided tour should be made two weeks in advance [Due to overwhelming demand, appointments must now be made at least one month in advance] by calling the Museum at 202-208-4743. Adult visitors must present photo identification.

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