Ansel Adams Murals Commissioned but not Shown Until Now

Ansel Adams - Acoma Pueblo - Interior Department

A group of Ansel Adams prints, commissioned by the Department of the Interior, but never shown, is now on display on the building’s first- and second-floor hallways.

NPR has an article, Forgotten Ansel Adams Murals Brought Back To Light by Brian Naylor, and will post a podcast of a related broadcast on that page as well.

“There was actually a push during the McCarthy era to get this ripped down,” Kirk Deitz, the curator of the Interior Department’s collection says.

From the NPR piece: “The mural was controversial because of the two shirtless men — one black, one white — working side by side, their hands on the same tool handle. In addition, some saw the side panel, showing curved metal and a hammer poised just so, as a little too symbolic of a Soviet hammer and sickle for comfort.

“Adams was paid $22 a day for his work, but the project was shelved with the advent of World War II and forgotten — the prints stored at the National Archives.”

I’ve come to appreciate Adams’ work in ways I hadn’t earlier in my life. The work hasn’t changed, so it must be me. While I have a stronger understanding of the technical achievements he managed, that isn’t the real issue for me.

Ansel Adams Saguaro National Monument - National Archives

Nor is it my time in the southwest, in regions near where he created some of his strongest work.

I think that for me, when seeing his great photographic prints in person, not merely in a college bookstore monthly calendar, I am brought to a moment and place he photographed so vividly. I have the sense of the light, time of day, the very air in and around the scene.

Obviously, his technique was masterful in bringing this visceral experience to the viewer. There is the dramatic rendering of the artist, which points out through tonal control, the essential details of the scene which must be looked at. Like an accomplished stage actor, Adams placed the emphasis, by dodging highlights and burning down shadows, on the pivotal plot moment of the action.

As a viewer of this play of light, I have come to feel the performance more strongly over the time I’ve been seeing his prints.

Unfortunately I think, The Adams murals are currently rendered on canvas; they and other art in the Interior Department can be viewed by appointment only.

Author: P U

12 thoughts on “Ansel Adams Murals Commissioned but not Shown Until Now

  1. My name is Bernard Moses and I am a serious amateur photography. I am also a great admirer of Ansel Adams. Why is his work being kept in the Interior Department where it can only be seen by appointment? Why is it not at the, say, National Gallery or some of the other great museums here in the Washington area, where it can be seen by the general public without appointment? I resent having to make an appointment to see this great Photogarpher’s work.

    Thank you.

    Bernard Moses

    1. Hi Bernard,

      Not to justify it, but I expect a part of the ‘by appointment’ is due to building security issues.
      It is also possible that the work will travel to other federal buildings.

      There is a great show of Adams’ work right now at the Phoenix Art Museum.

  2. Sometimes we forget how truly great Adams is, due to his accessible status, (think posters in Pier One) and his popularity as being the only photographer most people can name…..yet his work is truly transcendent, it truly glows, it truly takes us to a place we didn’t realize existed……he’s so much more than we expected………

    1. “his popularity as being the only photographer most people can name”
      For Americans, for sure.

      “his work is truly transcendent, it truly glows, it truly takes us to a place we didn’t realize existed”
      Agreed. When he reached heights, they were lofty, and we can see the remaining artifacts of that transcendence.

  3. I can understand and appreciate the need for building security. That
    is why these works should be in a museum and not a Department of government. By the way, I live in Washington, D.C. and not Phoenix.
    THanks for the response.


    1. I forget who said it, but
      “We live in a democracy. We don’t get anything unless we ask”

      Maybe not exactly true, but there is a grain in there.

      Possibly no one in the National Gallery is aware of what Interior has. Wouldn’t be the first time bureaucracy missed something!

      And maybe they are just dying for a new idea.

  4. I just went to the exhibit of Ansel Adams in Phoenix. It is an exhibit every Ansel Adams fan should go see. I agree having it in a federal building is a little odd, but if it’s going to be traveling that’s a good thing. Plus it will be exposing more people to his work that then hopefully will want to see more.

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