Weston murals, GSA building - Washington DC
The General Services Administration’s former Regional National Capital Office in Washington DC is graced by a magnificent set of murals by Harold Weston commissioned under the New Deal. The building was originally the headquarters of the Treasury Department’s Procurement Division.
In 1936, Harold Weston was employed by the Treasury Relief Art Project (TRAP) to paint 22 murals inside the main lobby area at the 7th street entrance. The murals depict construction-related activities carried out by the Procurement Division and the private construction firms it contracted with. The 1942 WPA Guide to Washington DC says: “In the main lobby, 7th Street entrance, murals illustrate the work of this central Government purchasing agency, including the drawing of architectural plans, the buying of materials, and the supervising of Federal buildings under construction.”
The 3 walls are titled: Supply Branch of Procurement, Modern Construction, and Architecture Under Government, Old and New. The cycle includes 8 large wall paintings and 14 smaller wall paintings, done in oil on canvas adhered to the walls. The paintings were repaired by Cunningham-Adams restorers in 1993, as part of a renovation of the lobby. There are small plaques by each mural, which are hard to see and harder to read.
The Procurement Division building later became the General Services Administration (GSA) Regional National Capital Office Building. The GSA was created in 1949 to manage all federal, non-military properties, taking over the job that had historically belonged to the Treasury Department (an earlier government reorganization in 1939 had already transferred that function to the Federal Works Administration, which was dissolved after the Second World War). In December 2019, GSA staff relocated out of the building and its future is unclear.
Harold Weston (1894-1972) was a very active artist and social activist during most of his life. After the New Deal, from 1949 to 1952, he painted six scenes (very reminiscent of his Procurement Division work) showing the construction of the United Nations headquarters in New York City. Weston had planned to tour with the paintings and then have them installed at the United Nations. But even with Eleanor Roosevelt’s support, funding for his dream “was difficult to find, and the United Nations rejected the paintings. In the end, the series went from a hoped-for one-hundred-thousand-dollar touring show to a simple gift to the Smithsonian Institution [where they are still held today]. Weston had failed, and he was poor” (Foster and Welsh, 2005). Still, at the time of his death, on April 10, 1972, Weston’s lifework was “on display in museums and galleries across the country” (The Philadelphia Inquirer, 1972).
See the Living New Deal’s program summary for the U.S. Treasury’s Public Buildings Branch for more information on the Procurement Division and its related offices and agencies.
“Guide to New Deal Murals Published By GSA Office,” The Daily Herald (Provo, Utah), November 11, 1979, p. 38.
“Luce Center: Harold Weston's Building the United Nations Series,” Smithsonian American Art Museum, August 5, 2016 (accessed December 12, 2019).
Rebecca Foster and Caroline M. Welsh, Wild Exuberance: Harold Weston’s Adirondack Art, Syracuse University Press, 2005, pp. 46-47.
“Harold Weston, Artist, Author,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, April 13, 1972, p. 38.
“A Finding Aid to the Harold Weston Papers, 1894-1978, bulk 1912-1972, in the Archives of American Art,” Smithsonian Institution, Smithsonian Online Virtual Archives (accessed December 12, 2019).
“Will Paint Murals,” Evening Star (Washington, DC), June 13, 1936, p. C-7.
“Weston at Studio House,” Evening Star (Washington, DC), February 22, 1936, p. B-3.
Project originally submitted by Brent McKee on January 1, 2020.
Additional contributions by Maureen Budetti.
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