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




Honoring a Folklife Hero: Celebrating the work of folklorist Riki Saltzman 

by Kristin Strommer, Director of Communications at the Museum of Natural and Cultural History

Riki Saltzman, then Folklife Coordinator for the Bureau of Florida Folklife Programs, with master artist, Tom Walton, and apprentice, James Watson, in St. Petersburg, FL. Walton mentored Watson in the art of traditional musical street cries, which have been used to sell anything from produce to foods at baseball games (Walton’s long-time job at the time). Courtesy of the State Library and Archives of Florida, 1989.

Please join us in extending our warmest wishes to Riki Saltzman, whose position as executive director of Oregon Folklife Network comes to a close at the end of June. A folklorist, anthropologist, and tireless advocate for traditional arts and artists, Riki has directed OFN since 2012, overseeing a multifaceted operation devoted to increasing public awareness about Oregon’s living cultural heritages. From Native American basket weavers to Hip Hop emcees, from fisher poets to buckaroo gear makers, there is a world of culture in Oregon, and Riki has dedicated much of her career to helping it thrive.

OFN, which was adopted by the Museum of Natural and Cultural History in 2018, will continue on as the State of Oregon’s folk and traditional arts program under the leadership of Associate Director Emily Hartlerode. Riki looks forward to continuing to teach in UO’s Folklore and Public Culture program and to work with OFN to conduct fieldwork and mentor public folklore interns; she’ll also serve as staff folklorist at Oregon’s High Desert Museum.

We are sad to see Riki leave her leadership position but are grateful to have worked with her for part of her distinguished 40-year career. We wish her the very best and congratulate her on the publication of her new book, Pussy Hats, Politics, and Public Protest (forthcoming Fall 2020, University Press of Mississippi), which analyzes the 2017 Women’s March through a folkloric lens.

Riki Saltzman stands with public folklore students before a fireplace and paintings.

Riki Saltzman at the 2019 FisherPoets Gathering with public folklore students (l to r) Sarah Geddry, Riki Saltzman, Elizabeth Kallenbach, Prince Lamba, Matthew Schroder.

Traditional Arts in a Virtual Era

Guinean African master drummer, Alseny Yansane, in traditional clothes, stands smiling over his djembe at the front of a stage. One hand reaches to the drum lying on its side beneath him, the other is outstretched to the crowd.

Alseny Yansane performs

In a previous article, I shared the ways Persian santoor player, Hossein Salehi, has transitioned his individual lessons from in-person classes, to a virtual platform using Zoom and Skype. In this second piece in the series we explore some of the challenges of translating a master teacher’s lessons, from the nuances of communication – to some of the less tangible – but no less essential experiences of awe and wonder. I thank West African Cultural Arts Institute‘s Andrea DiPalma Yansane for sharing her observations of the ways her husband and artistic partner, master drummer/dancer Alseny Yansane, has shifted his students from in-person to Zoom lessons:

One factor that has made the transition from in-person classes to a online version a little smoother is that everyone who registered is either a returning student who has experienced our classes vis-à-vis before or people we know from the community, so students can approximate or draw from our previous face-to-face contact as they study online. This is something that brand new students just simply cannot do which makes engaging new students a little challenging because of the limited version that this virtual experience brings.

There are many ambient factors that occur in the in-person format that are very difficult, if not impossible to replicate in the online version. Take energy and spirit, for example. There is something powerful and palatable about being in the presence of traditional, source artists when they are teaching and working that doesn’t always come through when one is looking at a screen, experiencing delays due to poor internet connection, and sub-par sound due to the limitations of audio options on laptops and other devices. An online platform can also make it much harder for non-native English speaking artists to be as clearly understood as when being instructed in the flesh.

Another factor that has helped make the transition to a digital platform smoother is having organizational support. Being able to learn a new digital platform, create publicity and marketing that highlights benefits of this platform, and teach, train, and do test runs with students of all different ages who have never used these platforms before really takes a lot of organizational capacity, technical savoir-faire, English language skills, and time.

It is now more important than ever that traditional, source artists receive the support they need to not only feed their families here in the US and in their home countries, but to help them keep their art forms alive on virtual platforms so that they can continue to uplift and be uplifted.

Thank you to WACAI’s Andrea DiPalma Yansane, for her practical advice and thoughtful perspective on matters that impact traditional master artists during the pandemic. While it is hard for all of us to continue operating “business as usual” these days, Andrea reminds us that, for many artists and the extended families they support, it is vitally important that we do. I can personally attest to the joy and therapeutic benefits of West African drumming and dancing, which WACAI makes available now more than ever, from the ease of your own home. Visit their website or Facebook page for more information about attending WACAI’s classes and catching an energizing, infectious beat while you #StayHomeandSaveLives.

Do you have a personal story about giving or receiving traditional knowledge over virtual platforms, or have you any professional insights to the issues facing master artists during the pandemic? Please comment here so OFN can follow-up with ways to share them and help us all thrive in these unusual times.

Mastering Technology in order to Share Tradition

Hossein Salehi sitting at the santoor

Hossein Salehi at ArtMax Academy Studio, Portland


Emily Hartlerode

Watching Hossein Salehi teach his apprentice, Alireza, over Zoom last weekend was inspiring and uplifting. In addition to the technology, they brought their instruments, a music book, and their passion for progress. Alireza performed three well rehearsed pieces for Hossein who, after each one, gave feedback about what he had done correctly, then offered advanced training for improvement. After addressing these pieces, Hossein requested Alireza try the next piece in the book. Displaying impressive sight reading skills, Alireza performed the piece once in “simple form” and again, after Hossein gave brief comments, with ornamentation. Hossein ended with a theory lesson on the math of triplet notes and a demonstration of how to perform them. Alireza performed the technique back for Hossein, who gave final feedback before the lesson concluded.

I’ve known Hossein Salehi to be an incredible master artist, but this was the first I watched him conduct a lesson. I complimented Hossein on his teaching method, which is both motivating and instructive. Hossein referenced his experiences learning as a youngster under very different learning conditions that may be familiar to many of us. In that model, teachers are authorities, assumed to be brilliant and capable, so students who fail to understand the knowledge they try to share are assumed to have something wrong with them. Such students frequently leave with false belief about themselves: like they are not bright, bad at math, or have no creativity. Hossein recognized in highschool that he was able to break down concepts in math and chemistry that his friends could understand easier than his teachers’ lessons. His friends made repeat requests for him at breaks and after class to teach them what their own teacher had been unable to communicate. Hossein learned early in life the value of being able to break down complex ideas into small, manageable pieces. About his encouraging, affirmative style of focusing on his students’ success, Hossein referenced a lesson from his aviation training in a class on Methods of Instruction: students are far better motivated by a positive response than a negative one.

What struck me most was watching the grace and skill of a master teacher, a testimony to Hossein’s technology skills to make the interface invisible, and to Alireza’s hunger to learn, which forgave any inconvenience he felt by the social-distancing approach. Attending Hossein’s virtual lesson and seeing Alireza progress was a pleasure that affirmed OFN’s selection of this Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program team. Thanks to all our master artists and apprentices who continue working hard, despite coronavirus and so many challenges to keeping culture vibrant. We applaud you!

OFN Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program receives NEA funds: Meet the Mentors and Apply for next year!

OFN is thrilled to accept a $47,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to support Oregon’s Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program (TAAP) and other statewide initiatives that promote folk and traditional arts. Additional funding from the Oregon Arts Commission and the Oregon Historical Society make it possible for us to support TAAP to the extent that we do.

The five 2020 Oregon master traditional artists are mentoring experienced apprentices from their own culture groups and Tribes.

Meet Oregon’s 2020 TAAP awardees.

  • Hossein Salehi is teaching apprentice Alireza Talebannejad to play the Persian santoor.
  • Josue Noel Napoles Mendoza is teaching Mexican charrería (trick-roping) to Columbia Napoles Mendoza
  • Miguel Angel Ruiz Rangel is teaching Mexican talabartería (leather work) to Antonio Huerta
  • H’Klumaiyat-Roberta Joy Kirk is teaching Longhouse/Plateau sewing and beadworking to Maria Godines
  • Celeste Whitewolf is teaching Cayuse/Nez Perce/Umatilla weaving and gathering to Brosnan Spencer

All will be mentoring apprentices from their own culture groups and Tribes in the traditional forms noted.

OFN is now accepting applications for next year’s Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program (Due Oct 1, 2020 for projects in 2021). TAAP offers folk and traditional master artists and culture keepers a $3,500 stipend to teach their art form to apprentices from their own communities, Tribes, religious or occupational groups. This stipend supports master artists to share their knowledge, skills and expertise with apprentices of great promise who will be empowered to carry on and strengthen Oregon’s living cultural traditions.

We encourage applications from Oregonians practicing cultural traditions emerging from their own heritage or Tribes. This program does not fund historic reenactments or cultural appropriation.

To learn more about application procedures and eligibility or to recommend a TAAP applicant, visit ofn.uoregon.edu, email ofn@uoregon.edu, or call 541-346-3820. Our staff members are standing by to provide application advice and will provide feedback on draft applications sent prior to submission.

OFN Welcomes New Staff

Being housed at the University of Oregon empowers OFN to provide rich professional development experience. We offer a variety of student opportunities to train emerging public folklorist. Please welcome…

Rebecca Pace, a first-year M.A. student in Folklore and Public Culture, working at the OFN for the 2019 – 2020 Academic Year. Originally from Los Angeles, Rebecca earned her B.A. in Theatre and Cinema Studies, with a minor in Psychology, from Northeastern University in Boston. She returns to the west coast after residing in Washington, D.C. for several years – working in public policy, non-profits, and communications, while becoming a Certified Associate Project Manager (CAPM).

Key among her program administration duties at OFN is managing the Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program. She plans to take advantage of the many opportunities offered within the UO Folklore Program.

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.