Summer Exhibit 2009
OIL! We travel the globe in search of this natural resource and wonder if something can be found to take its place? Finding enough oil to sustain the nation’s energy needs is one of our greatest challenges.
This exhibition is about oil – no, not only the oil we burn today, but also the whale oil and other illuminants that we burned a century ago – which show how market pressures, foreign interests, and the scarcity of raw materials can lead to innovation and problem-solving. This exhibition is about the oil we use for lighting and other energy needs in contemporary life. Since the 1700s, we’ve become less dependent on natural daylight to illuminate our work, our homes and leisure activities. But prior to the modern electrical age, every means of producing artificial light depended upon a substance that could be burned to produce a flame. All illuminants came from animal, vegetable or mineral sources: whales or hogs; olives or canola; and coal gas or early petroleum distillates, such as kerosene. Along the way, our quest for oil laid the ground work for powerful global markets and industries.
With the invention of the internal combustion engine in the late 19th century and its rapid assimilation for transportation in the 20th, the petroleum market rose to dominance in our total energy demand. Facing a similar crisis to what the whaling industry faced more than one hundred fifty years ago, the petroleum industry is now experiencing its own set of challenges— with economic, environmental and geopolitical concerns weighing heavily on consumers’ minds.
The question is: What new energy source, or combination of sources, will fulfill the future energy needs of our planet? As we exhaust our natural resources – first the whales and then petroleum – we look to renewable energy sources as the solution.