Panama Canal Murals
- Panama Canal Administration Building
- 07:30-16:15 Mon-Fri
Lonely Planet review for Panama Canal Murals
The story of the monumental effort to build the Panama Canal is powerfully depicted in murals mounted in the rotunda of the Panama Canal Administration Building.
The murals tell the story of the canal's construction through four main scenes: the digging of Gaillard Cut at Gold Hill, where the canal passes through the Continental Divide; the building of the spillway of the Gatún Dam, which dammed the Río Chagres and created Lago Gatún; the construction of one of the giant lock gates (the canal uses some 80 of these gates); and the construction of the Miraflores Locks near the Pacific entrance to the canal. A frieze located immediately below the murals presents a panorama of the excavation of Gaillard Cut.
The murals were created by William B Van Ingen of New York, an outstanding artist who had achieved considerable fame for his murals in the Library of Congress in Washington, DC, and those in the US Mint in Philadelphia. Van Ingen agreed to produce the murals for around US$25 per sq ft; the finished murals cover about 1000 sq ft.
According to a leaflet at the administration building, Van Ingen and two assistants first made charcoal sketches of canal construction activities during two visits to Panama in 1914. Van Ingen then painted the murals on separate panels in his New York studio. The panels were shipped to Panama and installed during a three-day period in January 1915 under the artist's personal supervision. The paintings have the distinction of being the largest group of murals by an American artist on display outside the USA.
The building is closed on weekends, but guards will usually let you in between 10:00 and 14:30 if you ask them politely.