Oregon at 2020 National Cowboy Poetry Gathering

By Emily Hartlerode

This winter, I once again headed to Elko, Nevada for the (36th) annual National Cowboy Poetry Gathering presented by the Western Folklife Center. I thank Gathering Manager (and former OFN student staff) Bradford McMullen for paying close attention to the talent in Oregon, with much to offer this year’s focus on black cowboys.

Though I missed Gwen Trice from Maxville Heritage Interpretive Center, I hosted a panel dedicated to “Oregon Outback Voices” where I met Juntura’s emerging filmmaker, Clare McKay and family. Clare is one of six children adopted from Haiti and raised up on ranching. Her documentary, “Living An American Dream,” chronicles the life of ranching and rodeoing from the perspectives of her own family and community of cowboys and cowgirls. “Oregon Outback Voices” also included Clare’s sister and former rodeo participant Anna Rose, their cousin and cowboy poet Annie Mackenzie, musician and poet Forrest VanTuyl (Enterprise), and OFN rostered artist Randi Johnson.

I also met one of Oregon’s most active organizers of cowboy poetry, Tom Swearingen, who not only performs but encourages the future of the cowboy poetry tradition through his work with the International Western Music Association Columbia Chapter. Their Youth Poetry Contest invites young people to compete by age group by submitting a cowboy poem. Winners from each category earn a trophy buckle and perform at the Showcase Concert in Hood River, Oregon October 12, 2020. I appreciate networking with Tom, and we will help you find him too, through his upcoming Roster profile page. Keep checking back!

It’s a thrill to return to Cowboy Poetry each year, to meet new talent and deepen my knowledge of the tradition and its old timers. I’m giving a special shout out to Texas community scholar, Andy Hedges, produces an excellent gateway to the genre in his podcast “Cowboy Crossroads.” One of my favorite poets, Amy Hale, called NCPG the biggest family reunion in the world. What a treat to be part of the clan!

OFN Welcomes Back Four Rivers Cultural Center & High Desert Museum for 2020 Partnership

OFN is partnering again with Four Rivers Cultural Center for the 3rd annual Tradition Keepers Folklife Festival in Ontario, Oregon as well as for a series of podcasts. This year, in keeping with rules for gatherings and social distancing, we are proud to co-host a series of virtual programs instead of a live event. Those virtual programs will start later this summer and feature a variety of traditional artists from Native American, Buckaroo and Ranching, Latino, Basque, and newcomer communities in eastern Oregon, western Idaho, and Nevada. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter for updates!

Ekram Ahmed (formerly of Sudan) demonstrates the art of creating temporary tattoos with henna at the 2019 Tradition Keepers Festival.

Northern Paiute storyteller Wilson Wewa at the 2019 Tradition Keepers Folklife Festival.










We are also pleased to announce that the High Desert Museum will be hiring its first folklorist, OFN’s former director, Riki Saltzman, who will be conducting fieldwork and coordinating virtual programming in Bend as part of an Art Works grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. OFN has partnered with the HDM for a variety of programs featuring traditional artists from our Culture Keepers Roster.

Bootmaker DW Frommer at the High Desert Museum, 2018.

Sean McConville (right) serves grilled salmon to visitors while his wife Brigette looks on.

The High Desert Museum was one of our Culture Fest partners in 2018, hosted our Master Artists Gathering in May 2019, and created a virtual tour as part of our international cultural exchange with Romania this year.

We look forward to sustaining and expanding Oregon’s folklife network across the state with partners in eastern and central Oregon!

Exploring Indigeneity, Place, Tradition, and Transmission in a Virtual World

Jeremya Keartes and Anna Swanson

For the past six months, we have been involved in a World Learning international project. During the collaboration between Oregon Folklife Network and the “Alexandru Stefulescu” Gorj County Museum, we partnered up with professionals, students, and artists in Târgu Jiu, Gorj County, Romania to learn about their cultural traditions as we taught them about ours here in Oregon. Our project took a place-based intergenerational approach to exploring the transmission of Native American and Romanian artistic traditions including beadwork and regalia making, storytelling, rug weaving, icon painting, and wood carving. Through virtual cross-cultural learning, we engaged with one another’s communities and discussed topics including indigeneity, nativism, cultural appropriation, decolonization, sovereignty, and representation.

Throughout this uncertain time, living through a global pandemic, many things have changed. A big adjustment was the cancelation of planned physical travel to Oregon and Romania, which we transformed into a virtual tour experience. We also adapted our public programs by organizing synchronous Zoom “show and tell” sessions including all the participants.

We (Mya and Anna), had the role of creating and sharing our experiences through social media. These platforms included: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest. The creation of our social media platforms allowed us to share our project, website and virtual tour with a larger audience. We were fortunate to gather support from individuals all over the world. We are so grateful to have made lasting connections with our Romanian friends.

To learn more about our project, visit Alive as Folk, check out our zine, and explore your own folklore with our downloadable activity pages.

Follow us on:

Oregon-Romania project participants with and without our masks during a Zoom meeting, May 2020

Roberta Kirk explaining to us the meanings in her beadwork

Traditional Salmon Bake, Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, Oregon

Filomela Sîrbu – Tiştere and Claudia Drăghescu at their loom in Tismana, Romania

Claudia Drăghescu teaches the craft of weaving to one of her students

Florin Gheorghiu showing us one of his ikon paintings

Esther Stutzman telling the group a story during our Zoom meeting, May 2020


Alive as Folk is part of the project “Exploring Indigeneity, Place, Traditions, and Transmission” funded by Communities Connecting Heritage. Communities Connecting HeritageSM is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State with funding provided by the U.S. government and administered by World Learning. The University of Oregon Folklore and Public Culture Program also provided support for this project as did the Oregon Historical Society, Oregon Arts Commission, High Desert Museum, the Museum at Warm Springs, Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians, Klamath Tribes, the Museum of Natural and Cultural History, UO Special Collections and University Archives, and the many individuals noted on the project website.

Follow World Learning on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram @worldlearning; the US Dept of State on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram @StateDept as well as on Facebook @ExchangeProgramsAtState and on Instagram @exchangeourworld.

Fisherpoets Gathering 2020

Madeline Ruzak & Rebecca Pace

Fisherpoet Meezie Hermansen performs at the Kala Gallery – Photo by Rebecca Pace

The 23rd Annual Fisherpoets Gathering brought hundreds of patrons to Astoria, Oregon, late February — including the Oregon Folklife Network’s own Riki Saltzman and two of the University of Oregon’s Public Folklore students, Madeline Ruzak and Rebecca Pace. During their time volunteering at the Gathering, they were able to listen as poets shared years of experiences and memories through poetry and song. Listening to fishermen from all different walks of life perform also gave the students a window into why they began writing about their lives off-shore and how they used writing as a means to form connections with others while at sea. Subjects varied: some were humorous while others were poignant, some reflective of past experiences while some looked ahead, some were cautionary tales while some were a call-to-action towards environmental issues, such as off-shore drilling at the Pebble Mine depository in Bristol Bay, AK, and its effect on the fishing community.

The students heard and documented poems, songs, and even the annual on-site poetry contest, which can be entered by anybody, not just fishermen. Four interviews were conducted at the Columbia River Maritime Museum as willing poets discussed their work, what the Gathering means to them, and why they return yearly to perform to enthusiastic crowds. As a result, the OFN’s collection of FisherPoet interviews is 45 strong, dating back to 2012.

The weekend was an enlightening experience and an overall unique means to express the fishing profession and community. A very special thank you to Michelle Abramson, Erica Clark, Todd Waterfield, Mariah Warren, Riki Saltzman, Oregon Folklife Network, University of Oregon, and Fisherpoets Gathering.

Documentation of the 2020 Fisherpoets Gathering was part of OFN’s North Coast Folklife Survey, which was funded in part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and matched by the UO Folklore and Public Culture Program.

Sunset on Commercial Street in Astoria, OR – Photo by Rebecca Pace

Fisherpoet Erica Clark performs at the Fort George Brewery’s Lovell Showroom – Photo by Rebecca Pace

Grad Students Rebecca Pace and Madeline Ruzak interview Fisherpoet Todd Waterfield – Photo by Riki Saltzman

Grad Students Madeline Ruzak and Rebecca Pace interview Fisherpoet Michelle Abramson – Photo by Riki Saltzman

View of the Columbia River and Astoria-Megler Bridge from the Columbia River Maritime Museum – Photo by Rebecca Pace