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Picturing a Crude Past

Picturing a Crude Past

Primitivism, Public Art, and Corporate Oil Promotion in the United States

(p.43) 3 Picturing a Crude Past
Oil Culture
Ross Barrett
University of Minnesota Press

This chapter focuses on an early sculptural monument—the Drake Memorial—commissioned by the Standard Oil Trust as the centerpiece of a turn-of-the-century publicity campaign designed to rehabilitate the public image of the petroleum industry in the United States, as well as an early expression of a promotional discourse (petro-primitivism) that would inform much twentieth-century oil boosterism. The Drake Memorial, located in Titusville, Pennsylvania, was conceived as a symbolic response to the period’s intensifying concerns about the sustainability and social effects of oil capitalism. This chapter examines how the Drake Memorial created tropes of petro-primitivism that have encouraged generations of Americans to embrace oil—a resource long understood to be dirty, dangerous, and fleeting—as an entirely natural and unassailable component of everyday life in the United States and the boom-and-bust oil industry as one phase in an age-old and steadfast venture.

Keywords:   monument, Drake Memorial, Standard Oil Trust, publicity campaign, public image, petroleum, United States, oil capitalism, petro-primitivism, oil industry

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