Oil Patch Artist: Black Gold, the Artwork of JoAnn Cowans

Community museums, historians, writers, and educators across the country are dedicated to preserving the heritage of an industry that shaped and defined the 20th century.

Artists have been important recorders and interpreters of petroleum’s influence in the United States. Oil patch preservationist painter JoAnn Cowans is among them – and one of the most dedicated.

JoAnn is the society’s first California volunteer and sponsor. She has donated her artwork to the society’s energy education conference events – and to many community petroleum museums.

By painting derricks in the 1960s, JoAnn documented a history when few if any of her generation thought to do so. According to the magazine American Art Review, “Few artists, however, were devoted to the subject of the oil industry in the 1960s. Stylistically, artists were interested in the modernist concerns of abstraction and expression, rather than documentation or narrative.”

JoAnn Cowans, Fullerton, California

In recognition of the 2009 150th anniversary of America’s first oil discovery, this talented California painter (many of her works are in corporate, private and museum collections) published a “gallery edition coffee table book.”

Black Gold, the Artwork of JoAnn Cowans includes 42 paintings.

With her canvas, paints and easel (and later, a hard hat), JoAnn Cowanscaptured for posterity an important part of what is today the nation’s third largest oil producing state.

One-hundred years earlier, in the 1860s, the first oil derricks began appearing in California.

Oil was so plentiful here that it bubbled up out of the ground. See “Discovering the La Brea Tar Pits.”

JoAnn Cowens of Fullerton, California, has been painting the state’s prolific oilfields since the 1960s. Her work preserves derricks long since removed.

Edward Doheny drilled a well in Los Angeles in 1892. Within five years, the number of wells increased to 500. produced four million barrels of oil in 1900. By 1910, California produced 77 million barrels of oil.

In Venice, the Ohio Oil Company brought in a wildcat well on December 18, 1929, on county property just east of the city’s Grand Canal. This is where JoAnn painted.

JoAnn’s latest collection includes stories about California oilfields of the 1960s and other more recent of paintings: Black Gold, the Artwork of JoAnn Cowans.

“Once seen, the depth and significance of her work becomes clear,” notes her publisher. “Her place in plain air painting and her own unique view helps us see the majesty of the oil tower.”

Among those who have served on the editorial staff at The American Oil & Gas Reporter with founder Charles W. “Cookie” Cookson (center) are, from left, Bruce Wells, Alex Mills, Bill Campbell and A.D. Koen. Cookson is holding the artist’s proof of a limited edition print, “Donkey in a Kansas Field,” by California artist JoAnn Cowans, which was presented to Cookson by the American Oil & Gas Historical Society, which honored Cookson with its first AOGHS-Petroleum History Institute Oil History Journalism Award in April 2006. Wells founded AOGHS in 2003 and continues to serve as its executive director. Mills is president of the Texas Alliance of Energy Producers; Campbell remains with The American Oil & Gas Reporter as managing editor; and Koen is an independent energy writer and communications consultant in Houston.

Among those who have served on the editorial staff at The American Oil & Gas Reporter with founder Charles W. “Cookie” Cookson (center) are, from left, Bruce Wells, Alex Mills, Bill Campbell and A.D. Koen. Cookson is holding the artist’s proof of a limited edition print, “Donkey in a Kansas Field,” by California artist JoAnn Cowans, which was presented to Cookson by the American Oil & Gas Historical Society, which honored Cookson with an AOGHS-Petroleum History Institute Oil History Journalism Award in April 2006. Wells founded AOGHS in 2003 and continues to serve as its executive director. Mills is president of the Texas Alliance of Energy Producers; Campbell remains with The American Oil & Gas Reporter as managing editor; and Koen is an independent energy writer and communications consultant in Houston. Photo and text courtesy The American Oil & Gas Reporter.

Artist seeks Home for her Epic “Oil and Guts” Oilfield Mural

California artist Barbara Fritsche began painting “Oil and Guts” at the end of 2007 – just when the fictionalized movie “There Will Be Blood” was hitting theaters, she says. Meeting with roughnecks provided her a petroleum industry education.

Los Angeles artist Barbara Fritsche’s mural – which some say resemble the Buena Vista oilfields – acknowledges “the blue collar appeal and respect of the environment surrounded by a biblical sunset, famous in this area.”

Fritsche adds that her her 48-foot by 12-foot oil on canvas board mural, which originated as a commission for an independent oilman, took a year and a half to complete.

It is looking for a home in a museum or other appropriate location.

Barbara Fritsche seeks a buyer for her mural.

“My drawings and the landscape in my painting resemble the Buena Vista oilfields, as stated by roughnecks that offered their nods of appreciation,” she explains.

“My concept for ‘Oil and Guts’ – a slice of time in the oil business, using a narrative, acknowledging the blue collar appeal and respect of the environment surrounded by a biblical sunset, famous in this area,” says the artist.

“An old Roughneck remembers the roughnecks that have passed on, depicted by workers drawn in chalk, then to the past, depicted by wooden platforms, archaic equipment – wooden platforms changed to metal – then to the present times, depicted by metal platforms and modern day workers,” she adds.

“In addition to the story, the mountains are sculpted with figures – surrealism – referencing fossil fuels,” Fritsche concludes. “Without people there would be no need for oil.”

Fritsche, whose studio is in Los Angeles, is now contacting news media, petroleum companies and museums seeking a purchaser of her epic oil patch mural.

Contact Barbara Fritsche, barbara@barbarafritsche.com, at Fine Art, 1308 Factory Place,Los Angeles CA. 90013. View a video at her Barbara Fritsche website.

Editor’s Note – Another California artist, JoAnn Cowens of Fullerton, has been painting the state’s oilfields since the 1960s. She has published a “gallery edition coffee table book” that includes 42 paintings. “Once seen, the depth and significance of her work becomes clear,” notes her publisher. “Her place in plain air painting and her own unique view helps us see the majesty of the oil tower.”

 Black Gold, the Artwork of JoAnn Cowans, is available at JoAnn Cowans & Black Gold Prints.

Canadian Author Joyce Hunt tells the History of Alberta’s Massive Energy Resource: Tar Sands

Joyce Hunt’s introduction to petroleum was at an early age in New Brunswick, Canada.

After years of research and interviews, Joyce Hunt of Calgary, Canada, has published her 400-page illustrated book, “Local Push – Global Pull” is a documented history of Canada’s Oil Sands from 1900 to 1930.

“If the Oil Sands have been a curiosity to you and you want to fully understand and appreciate the events that shaped the development of the Oil Sands industry in Alberta, this book is a must read,” notes a February 2012 review. “In order to have an educated opinion about the Oil sands, one must first understand the history that led to the development of this massive resource.”

While the time period Hunt focuses on is quite different from the significant growth of today’s oil sands projects, there are common threads. “The major issues 100 years ago were not that different from the major issues the big players face today,” Hunt says.

“It is expected that the history of the petroleum industry will again repeat itself and that the higher crude oil prices now prevailing will stimulate production and bring into existence new sources of supply which will ultimately overtake the increasing consumption,” notes a 1920 article in Imperial Oil Review (Canada).

The high price did indeed stimulate exploration throughout the world, and Alberta, Canada, was no exception, says Hunt, who  explains the role of technologies, economics, regulations, war and energy demand has shaped this energy resource.

Although conventional drilling methods were used in most of Alberta, she notes, experiments with extraction processes characterized development work in the Athabasca region throughout the 1920s.

“This economic environment provided the global pull that furthered the local push for ways to develop the Athabasca tar-sands. The deposits had been the subject of examination by curiosity seekers, investigation by government officials, attempted exploitation by promoters, as well as analysis by scientists,” Joyce explains.

“These deposits, unlike conventional petroleum sources, were visible, and well known throughout the petroleum industry, although they were still misunderstood,” she adds. “While many recognized the potential value of the deposits and pushed to develop them, others struggled with suitable terms to describe them, where as some searched for an explanation of their origin.”

Visit Joyce Hunt’s Local Push – Global Pull website.

Jack Westbrook chronicles 35 year history of  Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund

Jack R. Westbrook of Mt. Pleasant has covered the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund “from embryo to adulthood.”

In 1976, Michigan became the first state in the nation to earmark state revenue generated through mineral, including oil and gas, activity for acquisition and improvement of environmentally sensitive and/or public recreation lands.

The Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund (MNRTF) was created by the Kammer Recreational Land Trust Fund Act, signed by Governor William G. Milliken on July 23, 1976.

Through 2010, the Fund has awarded 1,601 MNRTF project grants either active or closed (completed) in each of Michigan’s 83 counties totaling more than $816.6 million.

From the tip of the Keweenaw Peninsula to a harbor park in downtown Detroit, more than 1,600 public recreation facilities from rail trails to parks to fishing piers statewide have benefited from the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund, born of a unique alliance of government, environmental groups and the Michigan oil and gas industry in the mid-1970s serving as a solution to a seeming impasse.

Michigan has produced over 1.25 billion barrels of oil and more than seven trillion feet of natural gas since the discovery of the Saginaw Field in August, 1925.

Now the history of the MNRTF has been brought to life by a new book from retired Michigan Oil & Gas News magazine Managing Editor Jack R. Westbrook, who covered the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund “from embryo to adulthood.”

In his Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund 1976-2011: A 35 year Michigan investment heritage in Michigan’s public recreation future, Westbrook takes the reader on a tour  of the places to play in Michigan’s great outdoors made possible by this historic Fund, listing the projects in each county with general, and oil and gas, histories of their county home venues.

The 222 page soft-cover book, Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund 1976-2011, published by Jack R. Westbrook ORSB Publishing and printed by Createspace.com, is available in stores and at Amazon.com for $19.95 per copy. Contact Jack Westbrook at (989) 773-5741.

Myth, Legend, Reality – Edwin Laurentine Drake and the Early Oil Industry

The man who would create the American petroleum industry was down to his last few pennies in August 1859. A letter was on its way from the company that had hired him to drill a well in Titusville, Pennsylvania. The letter instructed him to close operations.

“As far as the company was concerned, the project was finished,” writes William Brice, PhD, in his new biography of Edwin L. Drake. “Fortunately that letter was not delivered until after they found oil.”

On Saturday afternoon on August 27, at a depth of 69.5 feet, the drill bit had dropped into a crevice, Brice notes. Late the following afternoon Drake’s driller, “Uncle Billy” Smith, visited the site “and noticed a very dark liquid floating on top of the water in the hole, which, when sampled, turned out to be oil.

“Drake’s Folly, as it was known to the local population, was not such a folly after all, for Drake had shown that large quantities of oil could be found by drilling into the earth. And so began the modern petroleum industry.”

Commissioned in 2007 by the Oil Region Alliance in Oil City, Pa., to write a new Drake biography, Brice, professor emeritus in geology and planetary science at the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown, has published his 661-page Myth, Legend, Reality – Edwin Laurentine Drake and the Early Oil Industry. The book, part of the 2009 celebration of the 150th anniversary of the nation’s petroleum industry, includes more than 200 pages of reference material and dozens of rare images.

“Bill dug through the history related to Drake as no one has before, and the result is a much more complete picture of the man, his family and his accomplishments,” proclaims geologist and editor of the Oilfield Journal Kathy J. Flaherty.

Myth, Legend, Reality – Edwin L. Drake and the Early Oil Industry is a well-written account of Drake and his times — and the history and significance of his 1859 discovery,” adds Bruce Wells of the American Oil & Gas Historical Society. “Bill Brice provides the careful research needed to sort out the nonsense and brilliance of the man who established the American petroleum industry.”

A Johnstown resident, Pa., Brice was on the Pitt-Johnstown faculty from 1971 through 2005 and was a visiting professor in earth and atmospheric sciences at Cornell University from 1976 to 2002. Brice received the Distinguished Service Award from the History of Geology Division of the Geological Society of America in 2008. He currently is editor of the Petroleum History Institute journal Oil-Industry History.

“August 27, 1859, is one of those dates on which the world changed, Brice explains. “Edwin Drake’s quest to find oil by drilling was a success, and the modern oil and gas industry took a giant leap forward. Even though the use of petroleum dates back to the first human civilizations, the events of that Saturday afternoon along the banks of Oil Creek near Titusville, Pennsylvania, provided the spark that propelled the petroleum industry toward the future.”

Myth, Legend, Reality – Edwin L. Drake and the Early Oil Industry can be purchased for $40 online at the Pennsylvania Oil Region Alliance website, which includes dozens of excellent books about the petroleum industry’s heritage. Among them is The Natural Gas Industry in Appalachia, published in 2005 by David Waples.

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The Natural Gas Industry In Appalachia

In March 2011, David announced that McFarland Publishing agreed to publish a second edition of his The Natural Gas Industry In Appalachia – in order to incorporate information about the Marcellus Shale natural gas production now ongoing in the region.

“For those of you familiar with my book, if you know of any area, technology, incident, persons, issues that you noticed not explored in the piece, I would appreciate it if you could let me know,” David notes. Contact him at dbwaples@verizon.net.

The Natural Gas Industry in Appalachia explores the evolution and significance of the natural gas industry. Early chapters discuss the first natural gas discoveries in the 1800s, the way in which entrepreneurs used the fuel, and the displacement of the manufactured gas industry.

The practical uses of natural gas were introduced by innovators Joseph Pew and George Westinghouse for the steel and glass industries in Pittsburgh. Today, gas is a prevalent part of American markets, filling the critical void left by a lack of new coal, oil, and nuclear power. This vital American enterprise, however, began in the Appalachian states as an unwanted or underestimated byproduct of the oil rush of 1859.

Later chapters discuss the growth of the Appalachian drilling industry, the first wooden and metal pipelines, the development of gas compressor engines, the pioneering of gas storage fields, and the genesis of gas marketing for lighting, heating, cooking, and industrial use. The final chapter describes the growth of the Appalachian natural gas industry since its major source of supply shifted from local wells in the 1950s to new discoveries in the southwestern United States and the Gulf of Mexico.

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Oil and Natural Gas

Detailed illustrations tell the story of the industry’s remarkable heritage in Oil and Natural Gas – an excellent book from the Society of Petroleum Engineers. Discovering the story of petroleum – and the many ways it shapes the world – is the theme of this illustrated guide to the industry’s past, present and future.

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“Like” AOGHS on Facebook

Visit the American Oil & Gas Historical Society on its Facebook page at www.facebook.com/AmericanOilandGasHistoricalSociety. The postings feature petroleum heritage – sharing stories, news and events among oil patch historians. See Today in Petroleum History updates.

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