I recently unveiled a series of magnificent murals that highlights the legacy of two of the greatest figures in U.S. Department of the Interior’s history, Secretary Harold Ickes and renowned photographer Ansel Adams. The murals represent 26 of the photos Ickes commissioned Adams to produce as part of the Department’s Mural Project of 1941.
On display in the main hallways of the first and second floors of the main Interior building, these stunning black-and-white photos 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 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 stewardship of our resources, and the people we serve.
The attack on Pearl Harbor and our nation’s entry into World War II brought the project to a halt. The more than 200 photographs that Adams took have been stored in the National Archives, but never printed or hung as murals.
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.
Ken Salazar is the Secretary of the Interior