Buckaroo Exhibit Pairs with Blake Little’s Gay Rodeo Exhibit at MNCH

We are happy to announce the return of and updates to our Buckaroo Traditions of Oregon exhibit! This exhibit celebrates the continuity of occupational traditions in rural Oregon and encourages audience understanding and appreciation of art forms arising from ranching practices.

Cowboys have made an enduring mark on the American popular imagination but not every cowboy is a buckaroo. What sets them apart? In addition to their sense of style and self-sufficiency, buckaroos work almost exclusively from horseback in the manner of their vaquero predecessors. In the Great Basin, knowledge of many vaquero and buckaroo traditions have been passed along through families and become integrated into the lives of working ranchers and horsemen. Buckaroos are unique in their use of extensive horse training techniques and custom handcrafted gear, including traditional saddles featuring intricate leather- and silverwork as well as mecates (ropes) made from horse mane hair and braided rawhide reatas (lassos).

Some of the most vibrant examples of buckaroo artistic traditions are thriving in rural eastern and southern Oregon, despite their decline elsewhere. Buckaroo Traditions of Oregon features a mecates by Helen Dougal Corbari, and the tooled leatherwork of saddle maker Steve McKay. These pieces represent a unique blend of hard work and artistry.

The exhibit was made possible by funding from the National Endowment for the Arts and the fieldwork of folklorists Douglas Manger and LuAnne Kozma. Featuring folk artists Merlin Rupp, Helen Dougal Corbari, Bill and Teresa BlackLen Babb III, and Steve McKay from Malheur, Harney, and Lake counties, the exhibit traces the development from vaquero to buckaroo. It features the artistry of some of Oregon’s finest gear-makers. Folklorist Adrienne Decker served as the exhibit curator, while folklorist and exhibit designer/fabricator Lyle Murphy designed and built the exhibit.

OFN’s Buckaroo exhibit augments the Museum of Natural and Cultural History’s Blake Little: Photographs From The Gay Rodeo exhibit, which has been extended to February 20, 2020. The gay rodeo movement began in the 1970s, combining gay and cowboy culture to combat stereotypes and create a community for marginalized individuals among the rodeo scene. The movement grew to be the second-largest rodeo circuit, creating the International Gay Rodeo Association (IGRA) in 1985. Despite its successful trajectory, it met opposition and remained relatively underground to protect its members from scrutiny and discrimination. Today it is internationally renowned and open to all – while still highly encouraging LBGTQ+ participation. Little’s photographs chronicle the period between 1988 – 1992. Folklorist Craig Miller of Utah wrote a piece about the movement: “Gay Rodeo; a Celebration of Western Urban Heritage and Urban Gay Culture” and delivered a talk at the MNCH in October 2019; Miller, an experienced ballroom and western swing dance instructor, also led a rousing rodeo dance party, which included dance lessons for all attendees. Little and Miller were among the first few to document gay rodeos; their work illustrates how gay rodeo challenged and embraced the image of the cowboy while simultaneously shaping their own identity and agency in the West.

Buckaroo Exhibit at the OFN

Both exhibits are located on the University of Oregon campus: Buckaroo Traditions of Oregon in the OFN exhibit cases on the second floor of UO Knight Library, Room 242; and the Blake Little: Photographs From The Gay Rodeo at the Museum of Natural and Cultural History.

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