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ELKO – A 14-year tradition returns to the 35th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering with the Great Basin Cowboy Trappings Gear Show and Sale.

Hosted by the Cowboy Arts and Gear Museum, the show runs through the week of the gathering, with a reception starting at 5 p.m. Feb. 1.

The highlight of this year’s gear show is the first annual bit design contest that will offer $5,000 in cash prizes sponsored by J.M. Capriola’s and the Elko Convention and Visitors Authority.

Thirteen contestants entered the inaugural contest, receiving a “blank canvas” of two G.S. Garcia Santa Barbara raw steel cheek pieces to craft a functional and unique steel bit, said John Wright, co-owner of Capriola’s.

“It’s whatever way they see the art go on the canvas,” Wright said. “It’s an equal contest because everybody has the same blank canvas to start from.”

The designers are a mix of local and out-of-state silversmiths, some of whom have worked on their bits anywhere from three months to three weeks, Wright said. The finished pieces that have already arrived for display at the Gear Museum range from overlay to inlay and steel engraved work.

Wright took one finished bit from the case and pointed to the intricate hammer and chisel single-point leaf and scroll pattern on the side.

“This is all steel engraved,” he said. “It’s a project by the Wolf family.”

Some bits have combinations of gold, sterling silver, brass, copper and steel and are fashioned in traditional, contemporary and classic designs, Wright said.

All bits are numbered and stamped with the Gear Museum’s brand logo and already have interesting backstories, with one bit crafted by a father-and-daughter team.

“It’s international, passing the torch,” said Jan Petersen, executive director of the Gear Museum. “It’s continuing the legacies and traditions.”

Three judges will award cash prizes to four winners at the reception Friday night.

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Saddles, bits, spurs and rawhide braiding will be sold during the reception. Results of the silent auction will also be announced along with a people’s choice cash award for their favorite item in the Gear Show.

Additionally, the museum will feature photography by Elko County native and rancher Jennifer Bieroth Whitely.

The Gear Show and Sale continues a longstanding tradition at the poetry gathering that first started on the second floor of Capriola’s store before moving to the Elko County Fairgrounds and then to the Northeastern Nevada Museum.

Petersen said having the show in the building that once belonged to G.S. Garcia gives the Cowboy Gear and Arts Museum another way to maintain their mission statement, noting that the show falls on the museum’s first anniversary.

“It’s blending the old with the new and sustaining these traditions to show that they are alive and continuing,” Petersen said.

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Courts, schools & Spring Creek reporter

Staff writer for the Elko Daily Free Press

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