Since it earliest days, the oil and gas industry has drawn writers, photographers, painters, sculptors, movie makers…social media.
Community museums, historians, writers, and educators across the country are dedicated to preserving the heritage of the petroleum industry, a history that has defined the 21st century. Oilfield artists have been important recorders and interpreters of petroleum’s influence in the United States.
For students and researchers, the American Oil & Gas Historical Society adds new Oil in Art articles, and the resources page includes links for photography (universities and the Library of Congress), petroleum history videos, and a small AOGHS selection of books and authors.
Petroleum History: Putting Oil on Canvas
Oil Patch Artist: Black Gold, the Artwork of JoAnn Cowans
Oil patch preservationist painter JoAnn Cowans is among them – and one of the most dedicated.
Cowans, a member of the American Oil & Gas Historical Society since its founding in 2003, has donated artwork to many community museums. She now is collaborating with Loyola Marymount University Department of Archives and Small Collections on a “Then & Now” urban archaeology project of Venice and Playa del Ray – and her award-winning 1960s oil paintings of the oilfields, including “Marina by Night,” 1962, oil on Linen, 24 inches by 40 inches.
By painting derricks in the 1960s, Cowans 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.”
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. Visit her Black Gold Prints website. With her canvas, paints and easel (and later, a hard hat), Cowans captured 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.
Edward Doheny discovered the Los Angeles oilfield 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 Cowans painted. Her 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,” noted her publisher. “Her place in plain air painting and her own unique view helps us see the majesty of the oil tower.”
California Artist seeks Home for “Oil and Guts” Oilfield Mural
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.
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.
Today, this original work of oilfield art is looking for a home in a museum, corporate headquarters, or other appropriate location.
“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.”
“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 contacting news media, petroleum companies and museums seeking a purchaser of her epic oil patch mural. Contact Barbara Fritsche at email@example.com. Visit the Barbara Fritsche website.
Art is part of petroleum history.
The 1939 “Oil Fields of Graham” mural by Alexandre Hogue is on display in its original Texas oil patch community’s historic U.S. Postal Service building – now a museum. Learn more in Oil Art of Graham, Texas. See other artistically related oil patch work in Oil in Art.
The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Become an AOGHS supporting member and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org. © 2020 Bruce A. Wells.