Ansel Adams: Mural Project 1941-1942

Office of the Secretary
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Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes met photographer Ansel Adams in 1936 when Adams was in Washington DC for a conference on the future of national and state parks. Adams showed the Secretary his prints of Kings Canyon which Ickes would later use to persuade Congress into making Kings Canyon a national park in 1940. In 1941 Secretary Ickes commissioned Adams for a special project.

The goal was to produce large format photographs, as Ansel Adams would say, “enlargements with a vengeance,” to convey not only the beauty and grandeur of the natural scene, but to show Interior managed resources, conservation, sound direction and stewardship of those resources.

Adams made more than 200 images during a trek that began in Yosemite National Park. He photographed more than just nature, portraying Boulder Dam, at the time the world's largest. A special part of Adams' assignment was to show Natives American life and culture.

In the two photographic murals that we have that show Native American children, both of them you can see there's an emphasis on traditional jewelry and also a traditional lifestyle on the reservation. One is at a pueblo in San Ildefonso Pueblo, the other image is of a Navajo girl coming out of a Hogan and she's dressed in traditional top and also traditional jewelry as well.

The mural project was halted in 1942 because of World War II. But today, under the 50th Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, the mural vision of Secretary Ickes, the 32nd Secretary of the Interior and Ansel Adams has come to life on the walls of the main interior building in a dramatic way with the help of some modern technology.

Ansel Adams produced signed exhibition copies that he turned over to Secretary Ickes for consideration for murals within the Interior building. These were typically eight by ten and what would happen is if you were to take that image now and scan it digitally that eight by ten, scan it in a high resolution and you're going to take that image and blow it up something that's this big, when you zoom in on that to look at the details what you have are scratches, dust damage and the like. With the technology we have today we can actually go in and actually do a conservative cleaning where you can see the damaged spots and you can actually touch them up.

Ansel Adams: The Mural Project 1941 – 1942 features 26 giclee canvas murals of some of the most iconic sites of the American West including Grand Teton, Grand Canyon and Glacier National Parks. Public viewing is available by appointment only, for more information go to

Last edited 4/25/2016