Despite advances made into the 21st century, some of the most striking posters promoting the national parks are those produced shortly before World War II by the Works Progress Administration. The artistry that went into these silk-screened promotions remains as striking today as it was 75 years ago. And if you find yourself in Washington, D.C., in the coming months, you can understand why with a visit to the Interior Department to see a collection of the posters.
From 1938 to 1941, the National Park Service commissioned the posters for national park sites. The artists worked out of a facility in Berkeley, California, and the 14 designs they created were well-received. With the onset of World War II, however, production ceased and the posters were lost to history until the early 1970s, when a seasonal park ranger named Doug Leen happened upon an original at Grand Teton National Park. Fascinated with the artwork and the story behind it, Doug Leen set out to learn more.
Just over 40 of these exceedingly rare national park posters have since resurfaced and are in National Park Service archives, the Library of Congress, and with private collectors. Through the course of two decades and extensive research, Doug Leen and his company, Ranger Dougâs Enterprises, have not only painstakingly reproduced the 14 original WPA designs but alsoâworking in collaboration with individual parksâcreated and screen-printed more than 25 new designs âin the style ofâ the WPA artists. The iconic prints sustain a rich artistic tradition and resonate with park and vintage graphics enthusiasts worldwide.
The U.S. Department of the Interior Museum has united for the first time six WPA originals and a full complement of Leenâs contemporary editions for this visually stunning retrospective. Featured are nearly 50 classic posters associated with 36 national parks, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and the Interior Museum.
The exhibit can be seen in the Interior Museum from 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Mondays-Fridays, except federal holidays, when it's closed. The Interior building is located at 1849 C Street NW in Washington, D.C.
If you can't make it to the D.C., check out Ranger Doug's website, where you'll find not only the retro posters, but also replicas of the window decals that once upon a time were handed out to park visitors. Those days are long gone -- of getting such a decal at a park entrance station -- but you can grace your windshields, or side windows, with replicas from Doug.