PHOTO/CHARLIE EKBURG: Trinity Seely. left, and cowbot poet Waddie Mitchell on stage at the Western Folklife Center in Elko.

It takes more than a worldwide pandemic to stop the 38th Annual National Cowboy Poetry Gathering.

The in-person festival at the Western Folklife Center in Elko, which usually takes place in January, is cancelled for the second year in a row. But organizers have morphed the event into the year-long “Western Folklife Center’s 2022 Wild Ride,” a title inspired by Walter Piehl’s painting of Betsy, an angelic cowgirl, riding a bucking bronco called Blue Buttes. 

Kristen Windbigler, executive director of the Western Folklife Center, said Piel’s artwork had been commissioned for the event’s  38th Cowboy Gathering poster. “Now, it’s become our guiding light for the upcoming year—a joyful celebration of the thrill, inherent beauty, and grace that reveals itself in the hard work of overcoming some of life’s most difficult challenges,” she said.

“We’re all disappointed, but the board has made a wise decision. It’s like finding the road is washed out when you’re headed to the yearly dance. You’ve got a date and you’re on the wrong side and there’s nothing you can do about it. It’s no one’s fault. You just have to say, ‘Shucks. We’ll try it again next year.’” — Waddie Mitchell, cowboy poet.

In the meantime, a different version of the festival lives on in Elko and across the Silver State.

Walter Piehl’s painting,“Betsy and Blue Buttes: Cowgirl Suite,” (2021) commissioned for the 2021 Cowboy Poetry Gathering.

The ‘Wild Ride’

Starting in December, the Wild Ride will kick off a year-long series of programming, both in-person and live-streamed on the Web. The series will feature many traditional readings and other events expected at the Gathering, as well as “some surprises,” Windbigler said. “We’ll be kicking it off in January with a live stream featuring classic cowboy poetry, music, and gear.”

The electronic reach of the center is made possible by a grant from the E. L. Wiegand Foundation that paid for a new television studio in the facility’s G Three Bar Theater in January 2020. Cowboy poetry will be sent across the internet to Nevada — and the world. In addition, the center is planning a weekend or two of in-person events in Elko and elsewhere.

The first live show is scheduled on Dec. 15 at 6 p.m. in the center’s G Three Bar Theater and also will be carried live online.  Southwind’s holiday special will feature musical guests Marinna Mori, Buckridge Potts & Harmony Knight, and Straight to Eden. Seating will be limited. Details and reservation information are online.

A tradition continues

More events will be announced as planning continues for 2022. As those events progress, the center’s staff will be work planning the 2023 National Cowboy Poetry Gathering.

“We’re an organization that will continue to celebrate tradition, but if life in the rural West has taught us anything, it’s that you have to adapt to change if you’re going to survive.” Windbigler said. “Like Betsy aboard Blue Buttes, we’re ready to make it happen!”

The Western Folklife Center at 501 Railroad St. in Elko is open to local residents and visitors, Monday through Friday, 10 5:30 p.m.; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday.

Jo Mora exhibition

The center is hosting a new exhibition, “The Western Sights of Jo Mora,” which will feature an assortment of works in various media by 20th century artist Jo Mora. The exhibition will continue through May 14, 2022.

The show coincides with the recent release of the visually rich and captivating book, “The Life and Times of Jo Mora: Iconic Artist of the American West”by Jo Mora Trust Collection curator Peter Hiller. The book is on sale in the center’s gift shop and its online store. A number of artworks on display in the exhibition also will be available for purchase including prints, illustrations, rare books, and bronze sculptures.

Riding the West

Joseph Jacinto “Jo” Mora (1876-1947) was born in Montevideo, Uruguay, and then moved with his family to the eastern United States when he was a child. Jo’s father, Domingo Mora, was a well-known Catalan fine art sculptor; his mother, Laura, was French;  and his older brother Luis became a classical painter. After attending art school, apprenticing with his father and working as an illustrator and cartoonist in the Boston area, Jo spent the rest of his adult life living and working in the western United States, primarily in California. 

Jo Mora traveled the California Mission Trail on horseback, lived with the Hopi and Navajo for almost three years, and worked on the decorative elements of numerous buildings in the San Francisco Bay area before he finally settled down on the Monterey Peninsula in 1920.

Maps and cottontails

Some of Mora’s most recognizable works document his experiences throughout the Western U.S., its people, and its landscapes. Works on exhibit include: Mora’s intricately detailed cartes (maps) covering  areas from Los Angeles to the Grand Canyon; the artist’s famed “Budgee Budgee Cottontail” children’s book illustrations; the famous “Sweetheart of the Rodeo” image used as a 1968 album cover for the Byrds, and more. 

Alongside Mora’s works the Western Folklife Center also will be exhibiting a selection of items from its permanent collection of contemporary handcrafted gear in the exhibition, “From the Western Folklife Center Collection.”

“The Western Sights of Jo Mora” was produced with support from the Nevada Arts Council, National Endowment for the Arts, Jo Mora Trust, Ford Foundation, Hearst Foundation, Arthur & Marianne Glaser Fund, and the City of Elko.

“Indians of North America” by Jo Mora.

Cowboy gifts

The Folklife Center also offers the online “Ask a Cowboy Poet” feature which encourages fans and fellow poets to pose questions to the Western bards. This month, the question is about how established poets protect their work from plagiarism. Several poets answered the query.

Questions for that feature may be sent via email.

The center’s Gift Shop remains open for business, both in person and online. The shop offers signature Gathering silk scarves, books, one-of-a-kind jewelry items, artist prints from the Jo Mora exhibition and an inventory of cowboy-themed arts and gifts.

Those items include limited-edition 38th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering scarves featuring Walter Piehl’s “Betsy and Blue Buttes: Cowgirl Suite” artwork. The center will be printing more scarves with the Blue Buttes image, but this first run is the only batch printed with the now-cancelled 2022 Gathering date on the border.

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