Solon Buck Portrait

In the National Archives Building in Washington, DC, hang portraits of the first nine Archivists of the United States, and Waldo Gifford Leland, who was instrumental in the agency’s creation.

Sharing a wall with Leland and the first U.S. Archivist Robert D.W. Connor is the portrait of our second Archivist, Solon J. Buck. Buck became Archivist on September 18, 1941—just a few months before the country entered World War II.

Archivist Portraits
Portrait of the second Archivist of the United States Solon Buck, painting 1960 based on a 1941 photograph. (Records of the National Archives)

Throughout the war, Buck led the National Archives in acquiring, storing, and preserving an unprecedented amount of records. He retired from the National Archives in 1948.

In the late 1950s, the Archives wanted to honor Buck’s service to the agency. They created a portrait committee to raise funds for the commission of a painting.

The committee commissioned Bjorn Egeli, a Norwegian-born painter who immigrated to the United States at age 15. Egeli was educated at the Corcoran School of Art in Washington, DC.

On April 8, 1960, the painting was unveiled in the National Archives Conference Room—what is now known as the Archivist’s Reception Room.

Participants in the unveiling ceremonies. Left to right: Theodore C. Blegen, Dean, University of Minnesota Graduate School; Waldo G. Leland, Director Emeritus, American Council of Learned Societies; Guy Stanton Ford, President Emeritus, University of Minnesota; Elizabeth E. Hamer, Assistant Librarian for Public Affairs, Library of Congress; Solon J. Buck, former Archivist of the United States; Ernst Posner, Dean Emeritus, American University Graduate School; and Wayne C. Grover, Archivist of the United States, April 8, 1960. (National Archives Identifier 12169807)

Elizabeth Hamer, a former National Archives staff member and chairperson of the Buck Portrait Committee, presented the painting to Archivist of the United States Wayne Grover. Buck and his family attended the ceremony, and his granddaughter had the honor of unveiling the portrait.

For many years Buck’s portrait hung with Connor’s and Leland’s portraits on the conference room’s east wall.

National Archives Conference Room, October 11, 1963. (National Archives Identifier 12170624)

In the 1970s, during the bicentennial celebration of the Declaration of Independence,  the Archives redesigned the room to its current Revolutionary-era decor, and the portraits were moved. With the exception of having to be adjusted when new portraits are added, the Buck portrait still hangs with Leland and Connor in the stairwell near the Pennsylvania Avenue entrance to the National Archives Building. 

Portraits of Waldo Gifford Leland, Robert D.W. Connor, and Solon Buck hang in the National Archives Building, Washington, DC, 2017. (National Archives History Office Collection)

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