Strong Foundations Mural

The most notable work I have had the opportunity to create was commissioned by Chevron Corporation. The fifty-one-foot painting, entitled Strong Foundations, is in the lobby of the new Chevron Midcontinent Headquarters in Midland, Texas, and depicts the history of oil discovery in the Permian Basin in the twenties. The imagery of the mural honors the people who laid the groundwork of the oil industry in the Permian Basin. The Chevron campus in Midland is not open to the public.

This narrative is from the book, At Home on the Great Plains of Texas: Paintings by Laura Lewis, published by Texas A&M Press,

Almost 100 years ago, the discovery of oil brought rapid and sweeping change to a large portion of the Great Plains of Texas. Before the discovery of oil, ranchers struggled to survive due to the average rainfall of 15 inches per year.  Suddenly mineral rights leases were bought and sold and men rushed to the new opportunities for work. Boomtowns appeared overnight.

In the early twenties the region was sparsely populated and there were few roads.  Mule teams hauled the heavy drilling equipment and storage tanks to the drilling site, which might be miles from any settlement.  By the end of the decade, combustion engines had supplanted the mules. In the absence of pipeline infrastructure, oil was transported to market in oil tanker trains.

In the early years, cable tool rigs were used to drill for oil in the Permian Basin. Operation of the rig required two men, the driller and the tool man. The mural depicts two men using a circle wrench to tighten a bit, a long heavy chisel which was lifted by the walking beam and then dropped repeatedly, crushing the ground.  Water was added and a bailer was lowered into the well to remove the accumulated fractured earth.  The process was slow.   The steel bit was sharpened by heating the chisel-end in a fire box to a glowing red, placing it on the forge and beating it with a sledgehammer, restoring the sharp edge.  In the winter, the fire box might be a comfort, but winter was all too brief.

The equipment and labor for drilling were costly, and many drilling attempts were not successful.  It is the risk-taking and hard labor, grit and perseverance of many people that built the infrastructure for the oil industry in the Permian Basin, which is the highest producing oil field in the world, providing abundant resources for millions of people and employment for many in west Texas.

The award-winning documentary film by Larry Ray Causey II tells the story of the making of the Strong Foundations mural.

The Making of Strong Foundations