Join us for guest lecturer Michaela Rife. This talk will delve into the ways in which public-facing art and visual culture played a pivotal role in conceptualizing and promoting oil extraction as a symbol of stability and prosperity.

A Newer Crop: Public Art and Petromodernism in the New Deal West


The later years of the New Deal found the middle of the country recovering from the ecological and societal traumas of the Dust Bowl while looking ahead to the United States’s entry into WWII—a petroleum-powered conflict—and the so-called American Century that followed. In the drought-scarred landscapes of Kansas, Texas, and Oklahoma, the oil industry rose up as a beacon of prosperity and, in contrast to its boom-and-bust reputation, stability. This talk will explore how public-facing art and visual culture conceptualized and promoted oil extraction at this moment of transition between disaster and abundance. With a specific eye to oil’s appearance in New Deal post office murals, we will also consider surrounding petroleum culture in photography and promotional film.

Short Bio: Michaela Rife is an assistant professor of art history at SUNY Plattsburgh specializing in modern and contemporary art with a focus on North America and the environment. She is currently working on her first book about New Deal-era murals in the Dust Bowl region as a way to understand how art contends with environmental disaster while supporting (or resisting) settler colonialism.

Location: McCombs Campus Center 214C - Connie Ballroom