#ArchivesPets on the National Archives Building

On Friday, June 7, 2024, the National Archives is raising the woof with our next #ArchivesHashtagParty—#ArchivesPets! Join us on social media to see some paw-some images and artifacts of pets in our collection and collections in repositories around the world. 

Designed by renowned architect John Russell Pope, the National Archives Building is the most elaborately decorated building in Washington, DC’s Federal Triangle. With its neoclassical design, it is full of allegory and symbolism. In addition to sculptures of men and women symbolizing the past, future, guardianship, and heritage, there are numerous animals portrayed in and around the building. 

Most of these animals are symbolic as well, like the eagles, which represent freedom, strength, and courage, or the lions that represent strength, power, and vigilance. However, there is an animal on the building that wasn’t included because of its symbolism but because it was the artists’ pet. 

If you look carefully at the south pediment on Constitution Avenue, the Recorder of the Archives, at each end you’ll see three dogs. While dogs are symbolic of guardianship, the Labrador—on each side—was modeled after husband and wife sculptors James Earle Fraser and Laura Gardin Fraser’s own pet. 

When all the sculptural work was done on the building in the 1930s, the Frasers were brought in for the Heritage and Guardianship statues, six of the department medallions, and Recorder of the Archives pediment. 

The theme of the pediment was to illustrate a scene showing documents being collected and brought to the National Archives, symbolic of the Archives’ obligation to protect the nation’s past. The central seated figure, the Recorder, is holding an open book in his lap and the keys to the archives in his hand. Flanking the Recorder are gatherers who are receiving significant documents (like the Constitution and Declaration of Independence) from female figures. 

After another group, who are collecting documents of “lesser importance,” are three dogs who sit at each corner of the pediment. Two of the dogs appear to be taking their role as guardians seriously, while the third is taking a nap.

Some of Laura Gardin Fraser’s favorite subjects to sculpt were animals—especially horses and dogs—and when she was faced with the opportunity, she based the Labrador in the back on her own pup. As a pet owner myself, I fully understand the motivation to want to memorialize your pet in stone on the National Archives Building!

So, the next time you are in downtown Washington, DC, near the National Archives Building, look up and admire all the animals around the building, including a sculpture of a beloved pet dog.

To learn more about the symbolism and the National Archives Building visit the online exhibit Temple of our History

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