More than two dozen paintings that depict life and landscape during different seasons in the heart of North Dakota's oil boom, including workers operating machinery, a train loaded with shale crude and pickup trucks lined up outside a church, will be showcased for the first time next month.
The paintings by Minneapolis artist Joe Burns document the changes brought by the modern-day gold rush for the newly available riches of northwest North Dakota. Burns took his easel and a camera to Williston for about 30 days in 2014, doing some painting on site and taking pictures of people he would later paint on canvases at his studio.
Burns, a lover of history, said he tried to capture the flood of humanity that has poured into the region without a political or environmental point of view.
"I went out there really with a complete open mind. I didn't know what to expect," Burns said. "I tried to get everywhere, I went to bars, restaurants, and I was able to get out on the oil rigs. I put on hundreds of miles when I was out there just driving around, taking pictures, doing sketches of everything I could see out there."
The 25 oils will be displayed for the first time starting June 2 at James Memorial Art Center in Williston. The largest is a more than 6-foot-wide canvas showing an oil-hauling train crossing a vast prairie under a blue sky. Another shows an older man arriving at a train station with his possessions tucked under his arms. A third captures a drilling rig at night.
The art center in Williston agreed to host the exhibition because it shows a positive side to the oil boom, said Monica Tininenko, who searches for worthy artists in addition to serving as the center's administrative assistant.
"This is a very nice representation of everyday life in the oil patch," Tininenko said. "We have a lot of negativity about the area as far as how fast the boom happened, but we want to let everyone know that these oilfield workers have friends and families, and they're just like everyone else."
Burns said he wanted to paint large canvases for the collection to contrast with the way people nowadays tend to look at images.
"I kind of think today people see everything that they want to see on their phones or their computer, and that's a small screen," said Burns, who is also a high school wrestling coach. "So I really wanted to do them as big as I could. I think it's a different way at looking at things when you can see something that big."
"Canvassing the Bakken Oil Fields: Oil on Oil" will also be showcased from July 8 through August 8 at Cappella Tower in Minneapolis.
Regina Garcia Cano can be reached on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/reginagarciakNO