Elko – The Western Folklife Center has become internationally known for its yearly National Cowboy Poetry Gathering. Locals and thousands of visitors intermingle during the dead of winter to partake in the celebrated culture of a fabled hero, the American cowboy.
What some may not realize is the event that highlights the mission of the Western Folklife Center, as fun and lively as it is, is not the only egg in the basket. The Western Folklife Center plays a very active role in day-to-day entertainment and educational opportunities.
There are several new exhibits in the Wiegan Gallery. “Way Out West: Images of the American Ranch” highlights black and white images from the 1936-1943 Farm Security Administration. The exhibit captures the changes that occurred during those times in ranching and farming. The collection includes photographs by Dorothea Lange, Marion Post Wolcott, Arthur Rothstein and other notable photographers of the era.
Selections from former Western Folklife Center executive director Charlie Seemann’s newest book can be seen. Seemann used many of the photographs to illustrate the book.
“This has a lot of photographs from ranch country in the West,” said artistic director Meg Glaser.
A Nevada Museum of Art exhibit celebrates local artist Dennis Parks, who moved to Tuscarora in 1966 and created an internationally renowned pottery school. Works from his son, Ben Parks, are also on exhibit.
A new concept in art exhibition for Elko was started this winter just before the Gathering when Eureka photographers Deon and Trish Reynolds brought their wheat paste imagery to town in the form of outdoor murals. The concept proved to be a popular addition to the event and now an “Alley Gallery” is planned for the future.
“We are hoping that between us and the Stray Dog there is some ambience available in the alley with the mural photographs,” said Executive Director David Roche. “We learned from the winter that the alley provides the most protected surface and exposure for the photos. It’s all about process art.”
The plan is to renew them from time to time and eventually highlight other artists in this format.
“It’s great for the community because some of the alleys running downtown could use some cleanup and this helps to provide the impetus for that,” said Nevada Task Force member Emily McMullen Hiles.
With that concept in mind visionaries at the Western Folklife Center are looking for a location in an alley or other empty space where they can project movies during the warmer months. These will be short films that the public can view. Moving Rural Verse Films will be presented in late summer.
An ongoing project to which locals can contribute is StoryCorps, a program initiated by National Public Radio. People can set up a time with the center where they can interview either with a volunteer or personal acquaintance. These stories are recorded and will be archived at the Library of Congress.
“We also plan to do a presentation,” said Roche.
“Mark Paris, an accountant in town, has a ranching background. The family is Basque and he had his mother come in when she turned 90 to record her life from growing up in Cherry Creek,” said Nevada Taskforce member Cyd McMullen. “Anyone can come in and tell a story.”
The stories will be online and accessible to the public.
“This is a peer-to-peer interview but we do have volunteers who can help if someone does not have someone to interview them,” said Katie Aiken, programs and National Cowboy Poetry Gathering manager.
A listening party is planned for sometime in the fall.
“Healing the Warrior’s Heart” is a film by Taki Telonidis. The production examines the emotional trauma of war and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder through Native American tradition and ceremony. The story documents the methods that Native healers and spiritual leaders use to treat the disease known as “a poisoning of the spirit.” Cleansing, blessing, and soul healing are used to assist men and women returning to their communities from America’s wars. It was shown locally in conjunction with the college a couple of years ago but plans are to bring back this powerful film.
“Hardly anybody knows about this wonderful Native American approach to dealing with PTSD and I was just blown away by it,” said McMullen.
Besides these new programs and exhibitions the crew at the Western Folklife Center is always busy helping the community learn and interact in a familiar surrounding that has been embraced as a treasure and needs support to continue the traditions they have been honored for.
“We do shows or activities here for around 7,000 kids,” said Aiken.
“Seven thousand times 30 years, that’s more than the population of Elko,” said Roche.
The group talked about their memories and the memories of their children drinking sarsaparilla at the bar and tying bandanas.
The center also takes programs to schools, even in the peripheral communities, during the week before the Gathering. Onsite school tours are ongoing at the Western Folklife Center.
Glaser loves the children’s art show she has helped produce for many years during the Gathering.
“One kid showed up with his pin that he got from last year’s art show and he made sure he had on his new pin,” said Glaser. “He wanted us to take his picture.”
Jam On is a well attended musical and poetry event that happens from 6 to 8 p.m. every second Wednesday of the month. The evening features a mix of old-time fiddle tunes, folk songs, country tunes, and ballads. The forum is very open and people can lead a song for the group or join in on tunes. It is not necessary to be a musician to enjoy the scene and people are welcome to just sit and listen. The bar is always open and dancing is encouraged.
Let’s Dance! takes place from 1 to 8 p.m. the second and fourth Thursdays of the month. Dance lessons are provided each time, followed by open floor dancing.
“The core program involves rodeo swing, two-step and waltz,” said Aiken. “You don’t need a partner or any prior experience.”
Southwind plays in the G Three Bar from 6 to 8 p.m. every third Wednesday of the month. Members Carolyn Steninger, Susan Lawrence and Ken Harriman have been entertaining the Elko populace for many years and their popularity never wanes. They have recently come out with a second CD and have been playing songs from that.
“They are also inviting local guest artists who work out some tunes with them and showcase their work,” said Glaser.
There is so much to do and be involved in. The center embraces people with special skills like graphic arts, editing, and installing exhibits to join their volunteer program. More the merrier is definitely the theme for any event or show. At the Western Folklife Center the employees aim to please the public and share what they love.