Given the Intrepid Pup and Team Tavish‘s affinity for national parks, it should come as no surprise that making a stop at the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) has been on the “to do” list for awhile now. The Department’s 70,000+ employees are scattered far and wide—all throughout the United States, U.S. territories, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, and Palau. DOI’s main headquarters building located just north of the National Mall in Washington, DC, contains offices for some 2,000 of them.
Simply put, DOI is a huge agency with huge responsibilities concomitant with being the steward of approximately 20% of U.S. lands. The National Park Service? DOI. Bureau of Land Management? Also DOI. Indian Affairs, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, U.S. Geological Survey, Reclamation, Surface Mining, Ocean Energy Management: all DOI.
If you imagine a federal building encompassing two full city blocks to be pretty imposing, you’d be right. Portions of DOI are open to the general public, however, including an extensive research library, a cafeteria, the Indian Craft Shop and the Interior Museum (Note: while the museum’s galleries have been closed since late 2010 as part of building-wide renovations, public programs and work with the collections continue).
As you might have guessed, the “general public” gaining admittance to DOI doesn’t include the canine variety, so Tavish the Intrepid Pup had to be content with seeing the exterior of Interior. But just because dogs can’t enter the building doesn’t mean dogs aren’t well represented within its halls and walls. Case in point: the U. S. Fish & Wildlife Service has expanded upon an initiative first piloted in the 1990s by newly training four retrievers—Butter, Lancer, Locket, and Viper—as “wildlife detector dogs” stationed at various ports throughout the country. The dogs can sniff out protected species as well as smuggled wildlife products like ivory, canvassing as many containers in a few minutes as a person working unassisted can inspect in a single workday.
Within the National Park Service, Denali National Park & Preserve is the only national park in America with historic, working kennels. A corps of approximately 30 sled dogs performs an integral role in the ongoing management of the park, especially during Alaska’s winter months. You can even track new litters of pups on the park’s puppy cam. And clear across the country, the National Mall and Memorial Parks has integrated dog-friendly, ranger-led walks into its roster of interpretive programming. What a fun, healthy way for people and their pets to get out and enjoy the parks!
Finally, there are the DOI building’s murals. With more than 50 of them embedded throughout the 1.3 million square-foot structure, there is more Public Works Administration artwork here than in any other U.S. government building. And the icing on the cake? Four of these murals feature dogs. Let’s take a closer look…
Dogging the Details
38°53′36.86″ N, 77°02′33.21″ W
Stewart Lee Udall Department of the Interior Building, Washington, DC
Murals tours at the U.S. Department of the Interior are offered to the public free of charge. Check here for times and reservation information. Tours last approximately one hour.
When the current DOI headquarters started being built in 1935, 1% of the construction budget was expressly earmarked for art. Interestingly enough, that concept continues to this day via the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) Art in Architecture Program, through which GSA “reserves one-half of one percent of the estimated construction cost of each new federal building” for commissioning artwork.
DOI’s murals thus technically belong to GSA, but staff of the U.S. Department of the Interior Museum are the ones who provide murals tours to the public. There’s not enough time to visit every mural in the building, but the guided tour takes you past dozens and gives you a good workout to boot; there are nearly three miles of corridors!
Some of the most illustrious artists of the 1930s were commissioned to paint these murals. You’ll find that some are oils on canvas while others are frescoes (painted onto wet plaster) or seccos (painted onto dry plaster). The murals portray the work and salient themes of DOI’s bureaus contemporary to 1935, making them both artistically and historically significant for today’s viewers.
So, it’s a particular delight to discover the dogs in four of the murals. It’s akin to Forrest Gump showing up at seminal moments in American history, except here it’s dogs at the Oklahoma Land Rush, homesteading, and the opening of Alaska.
The Alaska fresco by James Michael Newell is up on the 6th floor. There are three huskies in a panorama which also contains narrative elements about Eskimos, fishing, and prospecting for gold. The remaining three dog murals are on the 5th floor. Gifford Beal’s North Country is also set in Alaska, with a team of seven sled dogs in the foreground as the focal point. Finally, both of John Steuart Curry’s massive 19-foot murals (see below) include canines. In Rush for the Oklahoma Land – 1894, a black whippet races along, caught up in the melee of people, horses, wagons, and even a train all streaming westward. Curry’s other painting across the corridor, The Homesteading and the Building of Barbed Wire Fences, shows a far more tranquil scene. A shepherd-like dog in the background keenly follows along behind two men pounding fence posts into their newly claimed land.
If these works have inspired you to take the murals tour at DOI, tell them the Intrepid Pup sent you! This excursion earns a “1″ on the Intrepid Pup wag-a-meter for packing art and exercise into the same visit.