TEXAS CITY — Oil and chemical storage tanks are common sights in these parts. The large, white tanks are not much to look at — except for one.
A 20,000-square-foot storage tank at Marathon’s Texas Refining Division refinery at Loop 197 and 14th Street challenges the perception that tanks have to be bland. Artist Eric Henn used the tank as his canvas.
The 16,800-square-foot mural features images of the Texas City Dike, Shoal Point Lighthouse, a shrimp boat, an oil tanker, a school of dolphins and the Marathon logo all wrapped in the Texas flag.
Inspiration came from Joyce Mancini of Marathon’s Galveston Bay Refinery and Chris Leinhart, who recently retired from the Texas Refining Division refinery. Their visions were entered in a company contest, coordinated by Galveston Bay Refinery’s Brenda Sonoras.
Mayor Matt Doyle was part of the selection process. The mural is a combination of what Mancini and Leinhart envisioned.
“We try to promote as much as we can with the employees to get involved and try to make it feel like family at Marathon,” Sonoras said.
She said the artwork was getting a good reaction “not only from employees here, but from people riding around.”
Turning oil tanks into artwork is not new for Marathon. There are tanks featuring Henn’s artwork at the company’s refineries across the country.
Galveston Bay Refinery Manager Ray Brooks has a collection of miniature replicas of Henn’s work at other Marathon sites.
One of the things Brooks decided when he came to Texas City soon after Marathon bought the refinery from BP was that he wanted to have a tank painted here.
He and Marathon Texas Refining Division Manager Connie Bradley thought it would be good to have the mural painted on one of the more visible tanks.
“We are proud of our presence in Texas City and wanted to share some local images with our employees and community via this tank mural,” Brooks and Bradley said in a statement.
“Eric Henn has done a fantastic job with painting this tank mural, which will be here for years to come.”
Henn figures he has painted more than 100 storage tanks in his 25-year-career. He estimates he’s painted more than 700 large-scale murals in that time.
“I started out painting surfboards and doing motorcycles,” Henn said. “I kind of fell into the large-scale work. Once I did a tank, I thought: This is what I really want to do.”
His first storage tank is still around in Corpus Christi. Henn said he likes the fact that his work is set in an industrial setting, where people least expect for find art.
“It’s rewarding that I am doing outdoor art, and it is not tucked away in a museum,” he said. “Anybody can see it for free. Pretty much throughout the day, I had 20 to 30 passers-by (honk their car horns) and give me thumbs up and yell.
“They don’t expect to see it here.”
It appears that some of the biggest fans of the mural are those who work at Valero’s Texas City refinery, which sits across the street. Henn said Valero employees told him that they regularly have meetings in offices where they can watch his progress.
After getting the concepts from Mancini and Leinhart, who each created their own sketches, Henn drove out to the Texas City Dike to get more inspiration.
“I’d go out there for lunch every day and just watch,” he said.
The entire mural is done by hand. No spray painting, Henn said.
He uses custom-built rollers to get the general outline done and then grabs paintbrushes to work out the details.
He used about 200 gallons of paint for the project. Because of its size and location, environmental concerns had to be taken into consideration.
Henn said he uses environmentally friendly, water-born paint.
The refinery even had to get the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality’s permission to have the mural painted. The state requires that more than 50 percent of the surface of the tank, including the roof, must be white.
GALLONS OF PAINT USED: 200
SIZE OF SCHOOL OF DOLPHINS: 35 feet
HOURS TO PAINT: 440 over a two-month period