Prof’s work featured in Bakken exhibit

by Ellen Rossow

In recent years, Western North Dakota has been the stage for economic, political and environmental change, all of which has proved controversial.

For the next few months, the Plains Art Museum has dedicated its facility to the exploration of what has become of that corner of the Peace Garden State. 

According to the museum’s website, the show not only invites viewers to glance at the “new realities” in the west, but to consider the “profound impact of the energy boom on lives and the land.”

The gallery explores this change through various media from paintings and sculptures to photography and film.

Photography professor Wayne Gudmundson is one of the wide array of artists featured in the exhibit. The gallery displays around 30 of his photographs.

“The people photographed were intended to be a cross section of the people living and working out there,” he said. “The question we asked everyone is, ‘What is it like living here?’”

Gudmundson’s photographs were originally captured as part of a collaboration with Prairie Public Broadcasting as they shot their documentary “Faces of the Oil Patch.” Gudmundson’s images were used throughout the film.

The documentary was not the sole reason Gudmundson has an interest in the oil patch, however. In fact, his interest in documenting the area began in the early ‘80s, having shot for several books about the state, covering the oil boom back then as well. 

“In 1981, I worked with two other photographers and a writer to produce a traveling exhibit and book documenting the second oil boom,” Gudmundson explained.

Western North Dakota has seen an oil boom of this nature every 30 years since 1951, Gudmundson said.

According to the museum’s website, “the show is composed of an exciting mix of national, regional and Fargo-Moorhead area artists.”

Being a native to the state and having a background in photography of the ever-changing area, Gudmundson has special ties and has developed a strong opinion about the activity to the west.

“I care about North Dakota,” he said. “Frankly, I am saddened to see what has been done to that corner of the state.

Like many North Dakotans, his feelings about the oil boom stem from the change in environment.

“I used to enjoy being out there, seeing the stars, listening to the wind, the birds, the coyote barking, cows munching or simply nothing,” he said. “It was a grand, majestic, peaceful place. All of that is gone. I’m happy I have those memories, but I feel a poignant sense of loss.”

Gudmundson’s work is just a fraction of the artistic interpretations of the oil rush shown in the gallery at this time.

“Bakken Boom!” is currently on display at the Plains Art Museum in downtown Fargo. The exhibit will be open until mid August. For more information about the exhibit or the museum itself, visit Gudmundson’s larger collection of works, as well as the documentary, “Faces of the Oil Patch,” is available on his website at

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