Rig Art: Ensign Rig #32

Title: Ensign Rig 32*
Artist: Galen Cox
Year: 2011
size: 12″ x 16″
Medium: Oil on board

Galen cox was born in Montana, although he and his wife Marilyn make their home in Conifer County, Colorado. He admits that someday he’d like to return to Montana where the big sky country continues to influence much of his artwork.

As kids, Cox and his younger brother grew up in an oil and gas family; they followed their wellsite geologist father from rig to rig and “…like most kids whose dads worked in the Patch, we spent many hours on location pretending we were drilling wells along with throwing dirt clods into the reserve pit, sinking light bulbs and pop cans.”

Cox began working in the oilfield at 16 and had many opportunities to learn the industry; everything from moving drilling rigs, hauling water, production work, and more.

Since his teens, he’s always worked around heavy equipment, either in the oilfield or construction, so when he was hurt on the job years ago, he had to retire and decided to take up painting. He decided to return to his roots by rediscovering his lifelong love of art and embarked on a journey to ‘paint the Patch.’

Cox fancies his style of painting to that of the Impressionists, but unlike the stoic portrayal of everyday life found in the old masters’ works, he sees each of his paintings as having a unique story.

Ensign’s Rig 32, for example, was chosen because it happened to be located in Weld County, close to his home in northern Colorado. “It’s an old school drilling rig. And that’s the kind I hauled water to and my dad sat on as a wellsite geologist. I just asked the driller if I could take pictures of it for a painting.”

The fact that Cox understood rig culture and offered to wear his own PPE and eagerly complied with safety policies was enough to grant him access to the wellsite by the crew. “It’s harder now,” he says, “to be able to get on location because of the fracking issue. When I worked on and around the drilling rigs back in the seventies you could go from rig to rig and nobody ever said anything. You could get a job, or fill in, or do whatever. No one cared.”

“I miss that part of the patch…the friendli-ness. It’s still there…deep down, I suppose, but there are so many restrictions and policies brought in over the years that camaraderie has been jeopardized.” Once they know that Cox is one of them, however, it’s a lot easier to get permission to step onto the wellsite.

Rig 32 was painted from a photo he took on site. Most likely, he says, it was an old Exeter rig that Ensign picked up at some point. Exeter, coincidentally, was a drilling company whose rigs he hauled water for and his father did geology work on. Cox isn’t positive but he thinks these old rigs may have been owned by Lewmont drilling back in the 1960s.

“Sure would like to spend more time on the new rigs to see everything. When my brother and I would go on rigs with dad, we’d sit in the doghouse for hours watching the hands. When they trip out it took hours. We’d watch them through the chain and the old Jimmy motors whining up and getting ready to pull the string of pipe. It really was something when they switched to Cat and then diesel electric. We sure could sleep good on a rig when they were drilling steady…the sound of those old Detroits.”

In addition to receiving random rig photos from righands for painting ideas, Cox also accepts commission work of oilfield-related subjects. He can be reached at [email protected] or check out his gallery on fineartamerica.com.