79-AA: Ansel Adams Photographs of National Parks and Monuments, 1941 – 1942

In the mid-1930’s, Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes conceived the idea of commissioning painted murals for the department’s headquarters building in Washington, DC. However, impressed by Ansel Adams’ work, Ickes later broadened the scope of the project to include mural-size photographs and recommended Adams. According to Ansel Adams autobiography, he was “appointed at the maximum annual salary then allowed for any position not subject to congressional approval: twenty-two dollars and twenty-two cents a day for no more than 180 days’ work a year, plus five dollars per diem expense…”

Record Group 146: Records of the U.S. Civil Service Commission. Personnel Folder of Ansel Adams. Appointment form. National Archives Identifier 7582643. Please note that this record is held in the Textual Unit at College Park.

Adams began his travels to the parks in October 1941 and a year later submitted the prints to the Department of the Interior. Unfortunately the mural project was halted during World War II and never resumed. However, in 2010, the Department of the Interior finally installed 26 murals in an exhibit titled Ansel Adams: The Mural Project 1941-1942.

Original Caption: “Navajo Woman and Infant, Canyon de Chelle, Arizona” [Canyon de Chelly National Monument]. Local ID: 79-AAK-1
Original Caption: Lighter Shadows, “Grand Canyon National Park,” Arizona. Local ID: 79-AAF-9

While earlier correspondence between Ansel Adams and E.K. Burlew indicated that “no problem will arise about Government Ownership of the negatives,” ultimately the original negatives were retained by Adams. Today the original negatives are housed at the Center for Creative Photography at the University of Arizona. However, the National Archives Still Picture Branch does hold the original prints that were submitted by Adams to the Department of the Interior. Further, in a correspondence dated August 18, 1942, from Adams to E. K. Burlew, First Assistant Secretary, Department of the Interior, Adams states that the photographs are the property of the U.S. Government.

Record Group 146: Records of the U.S. Civil Service Commission. Personnel Folder of Ansel Adams. In this letter, Ansel Adams discusses the Mural Project in terms of ownership of film negatives, cooperation with private companies, and the subject the Mural Project will cover. National Archives Identifier 7582653. Please note that this record is held in the Textual Unit at College Park.
Original Caption: “The large stalagmite formations and the onyx drapes above it, ‘in the Kings Palace,’ Carlsbad Caverns National Park,” New Mexico. Local ID: 79-AAW-11

The prints that were submitted by Adams can be found within Record Group 79, Series AA (79-AA): Ansel Adams Photographs of National Parks and Monuments, 1941 – 1942. The series is organized as follows:

  • 79-AAA: Acoma Pueblo National Historic Landmark, New Mexico
  • 79-AAB: Boulder Dam, Colorado
  • 79-AAC: Canyon de Chelly National Monument, Arizona
  • 79-AAD: Death Valley National Monument, California
  • 79-AAE: Glacier National Park, Montana
  • 79-AAF: Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
  • 79-AAG: Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
  • 79-AAH: Kings River Canyon National Park, California
  • 79-AAJ: Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado
  • 79-AAK: Navajo People, Canyon De Chelly National Monument, Arizona
  • 79-AAL: Owens Valley, California
  • 79-AAM: Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
  • 79-AAN: Saguaro National Monument, Arizona
  • 79-AAP: San Ildefonso Pueblo, New Mexico
  • 79-AAQ: Taos Pueblo National Historic Landmark, New Mexico
  • 79-AAR: Tuba City, Arizona
  • 79-AAS: Walpi, Arizona
  • 79-AAT: Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
  • 79-AAU: Yosemite National Park, California
  • 79-AAV: Zion National Park, Utah
  • 79-AAW: Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico
Original Caption: Jackson Lake in Foreground, with Teton Range in Background, View Looking Southwest from North End of the Lake, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming. Local ID: 79-AAG-6
Original Caption: Cliff Palace, Mesa Verde National Park,” Colorado. Local ID: 79-AAJ-3
Original Caption: Mountain Tops, Low Horizon, Dramatic Clouded Sky, “In Rocky Mountain National Park,” Colorado. Local ID: 79-AAM-4
Original Caption: “Yellowstone Falls,” Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming. Local ID: 79-AAT-3

79-AA has been fully digitized and made available in the National Archives Catalog here. Higher resolution JPG and TIF files are available via Wikimedia Commons. Instructions on how to find higher resolution copies are outlined in the blog post titled Using Wikimedia Commons to Locate Higher Resolution Scans. Textual records related to the mural project, including correspondence between Adams, Ickes and Burlew, have also been digitized and made available in the National Archives Catalog here.

Original Caption: Visit to the National Archives by the famous American photographer, Ansel Adams, to look at some of his work in the Still Picture Branch. September 10, 1979. Local Identifier: 64-MISC-1-5

Photographs within 79-AA do not have any copyright restrictions and may be used without permission. Examples of preferred credit lines are as follows:

  • National Archives photo no. 80-G-32500
  • Credit National Archives (photo no. 79-AAA-1)
  • Courtesy National Archives, photo no. 64-MISC-1-5
  • National Archives (111-SC-202199)

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