Construction of the Dam (study for mural, the Department of the Interior, Washington, D.C.)

William Gropper proposed this mural for the Department of the Interior building in Washington, D.C. He based the image on visits to the Grand Coulee Dam on the Columbia River and the Davis Dam on the Colorado River. Gropper organized the composition in three parts to accommodate a second-floor lobby wall divided by two marble pilasters. Each scene represents different phases of construction to show the drama, danger, and massive scale of the dam projects overseen by the government.

In the central panel a worker stands inside a section of conduit suspended above the canyon. He signals for his coworkers to direct the crane over the dam. Gropper emphasized the unity of workers who clearly rely on one another to get the job done. The men protect each other from injury as they shape the American landscape, invigorate the nation's economy, and provide electrification across the country. The stylized clouds and jagged mountains reflect the artist's effort to make the scene easily readable from a distance. In the finished mural, Gropper made subtle changes to his proposal, including a red handkerchief hanging from the back pocket of one of the workers. Gropper was a Communist, and this subtle statement of his sympathies was a subversive act for an artist whose government-commissioned work was supposed to reach broad audiences. The change generated no objections, and after Gropper installed the mural a Washington Post critic commended him, writing that his "design has unity and is appropriate in scale and color to the space for which it was planned." (Graeme, "Gropper Mural Graces Interior Building," The Washington Post, March 19, 1939

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