Wednesday, July 16, 2008

American Artist and Water Reclamation

In the late 1960s, the Bureau of Reclamation embarked on a program to present its accomplishments to the public through the medium of art. Under the direction of John DeWitt of the Commissioner's Office in Washington D.C., and Dr. Lloyd Goodrich, advisory director of the Whitney Museum of Modern Art in New York City, 40 of America's most prominent artists were commissioned to visit Reclamation's water resource development sites throughout the Western United States and record their impressions on canvas. The artists were given a free hand to depict what ever they choose so long as the subject matter pertained to Reclamation's program - the development of the West's water resources for irrigation, hydro power generation, recreation, water conservation, and fish and wildlife enhancement. The artists were welcome to use whatever medium and style they wished, with spectacular results ranging from the abstract depiction of irrigated fields along the lower Colorado River as seen by Richard Diebenkorn, to Norman Rockwell's portrait of a Native American family overlooking Glen Canyon Dam, to Anton Refregier's scenes of construction activities at Grand Coulee Dam.

When the project was completed, more than 375 pieces of art had been created. In the early 1970s, many of the pieces were displayed to the public in a traveling exhibit circulated by the Smithsonian Institution entitled "The American Artist and Water Reclamation." Although many of the pieces were returned to the artists, Reclamation maintains a collection of about 200 pieces. Many of the pieces in Reclamation's collection can be viewed in a number of places including the Interior Building in Washington D.C., and the visitor centers at Hoover Dam and Glen Canyon Dam.

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