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Yevgeny Alexandrovich Yevtushenko–“Cowboy Poet”

YY - PZarzyski & YYevtushenko 1995©Rosoff

By Paul Zarzyski

“A poet’s autobiography is his poetry. Anything else can only be a footnote.”

In January 1995, the distinguished Russian poet, Yevgeny Alexandrovich Yevtushenko honored us with his spirited, yet humble, presence at the eleventh annual National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nevada, thanks in large part to a dear friend of the Gathering, poet-critic Scott Preston, who extended the invitation to Mr. Yevtushenko. My best recollection is that few of us knew much, if anything at all, about the Russian writer’s work or life. It was our way, however, to delve into his poetry the instant we caught wind that he’d be joining us, and the admiration for his sensibilities was instantaneous; dare I quip that we rolled out the “red” carpet of western hospitality for this literary figure as we had never done before? I only wish I could relay here the many personal recollections of those who also shared the stages, as well as attended the behind-the-scenes jam sessions, private corner-table saloon conversations, and, yes, even a wedding ceremony, with Yevgeny as celebrity witness and Russian-proverb messenger.*** Moreover, I wish I could relay the responses of those hundreds in the audiences, who sat in musical awe of his words delivered with fervor in both English and Russian—especially “our” western women (and certain western men?), who swooned over the tall, lithe beautiful poet-god with his Cossack charisma and charm. What I wish most, however, is that I had a $5.00 poker chip for each captivated (and capsized) woman I witnessed peering into the deep alluring pools of Yevtushenko’s eyes. To this day I still grin when I think about all those tough cowboys kissing good-bye for good the wife or girlfriend, who they thought they knew inside and out, never again being quite the same gal with whom they arrived in Elko!

Yevtushenko reciting 1995©Rosoff

You bet, we presented, interwoven into our lighter-hearted work, our most “serious,” heart-wrenching, soul-searching sensibilities from the Elko stages (In reflection of Yevgeny’s haunting masterpiece, “Babi Yar,” I read my Holocaust Museum poem, “Shoes.”), after which the oftentimes solemn overall mood magically transitioned to levity in Yevtushenko’s presence. We drank together, we laughed together, we danced together—as if to prove aloud and out in the wide open spaces of the Cowboy West that the crucial human counterpoise/anodyne/antidote to the evil and toxicity of human torment and suffering is indeed poetry, with its aftermath of wisdom and hope and, at times, you bet, redemption and joy.

“together / we extol what the soul knows /
once solaced by poetry—it know it wants more / poetry!”

YYevtushenko & PZarzyski ©Rosoff

Yevgeny Yevtushenko’s death in Tulsa, Oklahoma on Saturday, April 1, 2017, set into domino-effect motion for me a power-grid overload of Cowboy Poetry Gathering reminiscences, not only of our 1995 event, but of 33 year’s worth of close encounters of the ars poetica otherworldly kind coaxed out from behind the humankind / animal-kind / plant-kind / cosmic-kind scrims in Elko. For whatever mysterious reasons, year-after-year, the sacred open range of the west, before the stringing of barbed wire, becomes, for thousands of us in attendance, the open range of the heart and soul and mind rising up out of the creative journey, out of storyline and/or song line, out of imagination, to the wildest Elko Gathering heights. I choose to believe that Yevtushenko felt the presence of this power, and in its midst, embraced his fellow travelers into the passionate and compassionate realms of universal language.  Whatever the catalyst responsible for our coming together so munificently in that minuscule space and time, his presence—his grace, wisdom, humility and wit—narrowed further the finest of spiritual lines between us, and reminded us that we were not, first and foremost, Cowboy Poets of the American west, but rather Human Being poets of the Planet, Earth.

Amen, and R.I.P., Brother Yevgeny.

 

Yevgeny Alexandrovich Yevtushenko–Cowboy Poet

Purring growl of your Russian tongue makes love
to our women, suddenly erumpent and churning
erotic in public. Once they were sweet
cream butter melting to our Dutch oven touch
under slow even-burning coals of mesquite,
ashwood, piñon fires, but now they burn
hot in the flames of pitchwood pine–they sizzle,
smoke, scorch and ruin the cobbler
because of you, Yevgeny. The cold war over
does not mean the heat-seeking
Yevtushenko must strike, but you have
struck Elko like a Cossack Slim Pickins
forking the bomb to earth
in a switch-a-Roosky take on our movie,
Dr. Strangelove. Stalking Siberian tiger,
you prowl the aisles, all perimeter seats
manned by women anxious to be anointed,
transfigured by one droplet of your love-
potion ambrosian spit. I must believe
they adore you merely because
you do not slobber them with Red Man
Tobacco juice, with granules of Copenhagen snuff,
Brown Mule or Skoal. In your baggy corduroy britches
tucked inside reptile-hide boots
like some tinhorn Texan, you capriole from podium,
glide, prance, pivot, swoop, whirl, as if the room
effervesces with pinkish iridescent bubble-
bath bubbles shaped like Cupid hearts
popping to the hot soft guttural
touch of your phonics, of your skinny fingers
sculpting and scripting into sexy metaphor
the palpable air of our women’s longing. You tempt them
away from our horse lather and leather pheromones
into the surrealistic–lure
them with your somniloquous lips. How dare you kiss
their thinnest skin, their rice-paper cheeks,
the silken backs of their hands gone limp
to your line’s feminine, feline endings
gently penetrating their capillary
yearnings? How dare you
mesmerize us men into applauding
your pilferage? I have caught you red-handed,
Yevgeny! But, how do I indict a fellow knight-
errant from the ivory tower’s round table
when so few of us make this crusade? The Cowboy
Coliseum exults and salutes you the Czar-
zyski of Cossack Poetry, while boasting me
The Elko Yevtushenko. My Slavic compadre,
my comrade, my partner-in-rhyme, together
we extol what the soul knows
once solaced by poetry–it knows it wants more
poetry! But it is you who has exposed the sword
as impotent twig in your forest
of Dwarf Birches. You who has led the brigadier
charge of words into battle for all those still
kept silent. Yes! Yevgeny, I shout Yes!
yes, the way to mankind’s peace-filled helix
is through the chromosomal Y, its remnant
exiled within all men. Bring it on home,
Yevtushenko–bring us back to the mother world
where your poetry throws open the gates
rolls and buries the barbed wire, bulldozes
the hormonal walls into rubble,
and hoists the white flag that allows us all,
unconditionally, to swoon for you.

(From I Am Not A Cowboy—Dry Crik Press, 1995)

Yevgeny Yevtushenko 1995©Rosoff

***Read Carson’s Vaughan’s piece in the Paris Review, “An Empty Saddle for Yevtushenko.”

Listen to Yevtushenko recite poetry in Elko during this session hosted by writer Kim Stafford.

Dreaming of Our Future

By Kristin Windbigler, Vice Chairman,
Western Folklife Center Board of Trustees

KristinWindbigler-WFCblog

Several trustees and staff members got together last year in Salt Lake City, Utah, to talk about our dreams for the Western Folklife Center. We asked ourselves what could this organization be in five years? How about 10? Who do we want to reach and what are our goals? In my role as vice chairman of the Board of Trustees, I gave a short talk at the annual Stakeholders’ Breakfast at the recent National Cowboy Poetry Gathering to share our progress and plans for the future. We were thrilled by the enthusiastic feedback we received, and thought it would be a good idea to make this information available to the whole community. That’s because we hope you will want to get involved!

It can be difficult to get where you want to go if you don’t have some kind of map, so we wrote a new strategic plan that will help us set priorities and focus our collective energy to ensure we are working toward the same goals. It includes fresh vision and mission statements that were polished until they became so crisp and clear that anyone could learn them, even the most memory-challenged among us. If you weren’t sure what to say in the past when someone asked you what the Western Folklife Center does, try these on for size:

Vision Statement: Explore and give voice to traditional and dynamic cultures of the American West

Mission Statement: To use story and cultural expression to connect the American West to the world

Don’t worry. If I see you on the street, I won’t ask you to recite them, but there is nothing like a little clarity and focus to get everyone headed in the same direction. I would like to note, though, that when we say “the world” in the mission statement, we mean that we value both the connections the Western Folklife Center fosters among individuals within the West as well as between the West and the rest of the country and, of course, the world. Not many of us will forget the memories of incredible experiences made possible at the Gathering because of the cultural exchange program, and we hope there will be more of those to come in the future.

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What We Do

The strategic plan also spells out what the Western Folklife Center does. Most folks who attend the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering know it’s our signature event, so that, of course, is highlighted, but the Folklife Center has a long history of producing rich and robust programming throughout the rest of the year. In order to make sure we were all in agreement about what it is that we do, we focused our scope to these four points:

  • The Western Folklife Center provides a platform for rural and urban communities to communicate and exchange new ideas and avenues of expression.
  • We produced the first Cowboy Poetry Gathering in 1985. Our National Cowboy Poetry Gathering continues to celebrate and promote the artistry and ingenuity of life in the American West. It remains our signature event, with programming changing to reflect contemporary realities and issues of the American West.
  • Throughout the year, our fieldwork, research, exhibits, website and archives preserve, document and share the heritage of the West.
  • Our media and educational programs entertain and engage, deepening the understanding of the vitality and challenges of Western communities.

Priorities for the Immediate Future

Using these guidelines, we set priorities for the immediate future. Remember that part above where I said we hope you’ll want to get involved? Well, the first thing we want to do is invigorate and grow our community by creating more opportunities for anyone to volunteer or contribute. We have a wonderful, passionate community who feels a deep connection to the Gathering and our organization. It’s not uncommon to hear from folks who have just attended their first Gathering that they were surprised by how inclusive it is. We want to extend that feeling year-round.

We’ve already partnered with other organizations in Reno and Yountville, Calif., to produce shows we’re calling the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering on the Road. We want to expand this concept and are exploring possibilities for shows in Texas, Montana and other sites around the West. These events create opportunities for us to showcase our community of talented artists as well as reach new audiences who may not be aware of the scope of our work or the rich diversity of voices we represent.

Another way to expand our reach is by leveraging social media even more to highlight both new and existing fieldwork. There is some amazing stuff in our archives that most of the world has never seen and many of you may have forgotten. Some of that could be repackaged for an online audience, but we’re also hoping to both bolster our preservation efforts and make the entire archive more accessible by partnering with a program or facility that values its contents as much as we do.

We also want to experiment with new content and programming that can be distributed online. The Moving Rural Verse poem-films that were unveiled at this year’s Gathering and our recent collaboration with StoryCorps are great examples of content with the potential to reach people who have never heard of the Western Folklife Center. We might also examine how we can use live video streaming most effectively or consider a podcast. Nothing is off the table. I, for one, am particularly interested in educational formats that can encourage the kind of skill-sharing that will continue to nurture the traditional forms of Western cultural expression on which the Western Folklife Center was founded. We must cultivate as well as preserve the wealth of knowledge within our community for the future.

And finally, in order to better understand what you want from the Western Folklife Center, we plan to field a survey soon to learn more about how we can better serve you. We want to hear your ideas, we hope you will volunteer to help, and we want to make sure that everyone is recognized and appreciated for his or her contributions. You are part of our family and we want to make sure you feel included. If you would like to chat, feel free to reach out by contacting the Western Folklife Center office or find me on social media. I would love to hear from you!

Faces of the 33rd National Cowboy Poetry Gathering

We’ve been having a great time going through photos of the 33rd National Cowboy Poetry Gathering by our photographers Jessica Lifland and Charlie Ekburg. We wanted to share some of them with you — Enjoy!

Doug Moreland by JBL

Doug Moreland by Jessica Lifland

Mike Thomas by JBL

Mike Thomas by Jessica Lifland

Ross Knox by CE

Ross Knox by Charlie Ekburg

Teresa byCE

Teresa Jordan by Charlie Ekburg

Don Jack and Andy by JBL

Don Edwards, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott and Andy Hedges by Jessica Lifland

Jack Sammon by JBL

Jack Sammon by Jessica Lifland

Paul by CE

Paul Zarzyski by Charlie Ekburg

shoe shine girl by CE

4H Shoe Shine Girl by Charlie Ekburg

Olivia Romo by JBL

Olivia Romo by Jessica Brandi Lifland

Luke Bell by JBL

Luke Bell by Jessica Brandi Lifland

Girl performing by CE

Young Buckaroo in Talent Show by Charlie Ekburg

Dame by CE

Dame Wilburn by Charlie Ekburg

Ofelia Zepeda by JBL

Ofelia Zepeda by Jessica Lifland

Dom Flemons by JBL

Dom Flemons by Jessica Lifland

Reedys by CE

Johnny and Brigid Reedy by Charlie Ekburg

Trinity and Kristyn by CE

Kristyn Harris and Trinity Seely by Charlie Ekburg

Doris Daley by JBL

Doris Daley and Jarle Kvale by Jessica Lifland

 

Dave Stamey by JBL

Dave Stamey by Jessica Lifland

Brian Farrow by CE

Brian Farrow by Charlie Ekburg

andy Wilkinson by CE

Andy Wilkinson by Charlie Ekburg

 

An Oak Tree and a Sea Change

By Amy Hale Auker

Behind our barn, in the horse lot, is an oak tree. It is actually three oak trunks that rise from the same base creating a basin above the roots. When it rains or snows, the basin fills with water. It is a smart oak tree.

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The first year I went to the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in 2002 I was amazed to see how many people were living lives similar to my very small wife-of-a-cowboy, remote-cow-camp existence, and yet they were writing poems and songs, creating art and crafts, bringing their lives from the ranches up onto the stage, sharing the work of growing food with a broad audience.

Since then, I have only missed one Gathering. I always come away inspired and encouraged. I come away with my well filled to the top.

This year, I began my #roadtriptoelko with a slightly negative attitude. Because of world and national affairs, I dreaded gathering with my friends. I dreaded hearing more divisive talk. Plus, I had been working with The Moth, a storytelling organization out of New York City, to tell my own story on Saturday night. It was hard. It was hard to work with the director, Maggie Cino, because I felt like I already knew how to tell a story. After all, I am an author! I tell stories on stage almost every time I introduce a poem. I blush to admit that I wasn’t taking direction well. Maggie persisted through many phone calls to hone my story, to help me tell it better. In the weeks leading up to the Gathering, I worked hard on that story as well as poetry and material for other sessions on my schedule. Andy Hedges and I collaborated to pull together a last-minute Guy Clark Tribute/Jessica Hedges Benefit, and the work softened me. The Western Folklife Center was generous in their help for the late-night tribute show, and I began to realize that my phone calls with Maggie, if I would lighten up and listen, might pay off in a better, clearer performance. Maybe cowboys have something to learn. Maybe a good hand is open to new things. Maybe that openness is what makes us better hands.

We arrived in Elko midday on Wednesday. Before the artists’ breakfast on Thursday, every shred of my concern about divisiveness was gone. And my pockets were full of gifts… honey, oranges, lemons, a gorgeous photograph by Jessica Lifland taken when she visited the ranch, a cell phone antenna booster, a bottle of Apple Crown Royal, a box of copper-plated horseshoe nails, a red suede coat from Jim Bone, a flowing blouse from Pam Brown, a homeopathic remedy to ward off the flu, and more hugs than I could count.

But the real sea-change for me was on Friday afternoon when I joined Teresa Jordan and the rest of The Moth storytellers for rehearsal. When I heard the other stories I realized that only by being open was I going to, once again, fill my well. The diversity of the stories was incredible. Teresa’s story was one of leaving the land so many years ago. We heard a story of the Oregon Trail from a third-grade teacher, a story of loss and healing from a Native American man with a strong sweet voice, a story of immigration and homecoming from a man from Guatemala. I told my story of leaving the land only to return to dig in deeper. I realized that one reason I love my community so much is that we are inclusive rather than exclusive. That when we open our doors, we all win. We tell about growing food and making art from agrarian roots. We recite the words of tradition. In that telling, we make room for anyone who wants to hold hands with us. To dance with us. And we learn from them just as much as they learn from us.

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Amy Hale Auker storytelling at The Moth show, with Brigid Reedy playing musical interludes.

The keynote address written and delivered by Andy Wilkinson, spoke of reconciliation. Art, especially poetry and music and story, brings us together, makes us kinder to one another. The 33rd National Cowboy Poetry Gathering was one of community and kindness. As I stood on stage on Saturday night, I felt the tiny rock in my pocket, the one given to me by Brooksie, the one shaped like a bird on a nest if you look at it from the right angle, and was flooded with love. I was flooded with hope. I recognized the beautiful strength in humans coming together to share, the beautiful idea of gathering. It is hard to be divided when we look each other in the eye and tell our personal narratives.

From folklorists who give dance lessons, to Butch Hause keeping the sound board going long past midnight during the Guy Clark Tribute, to a hat full of cash for Jessica and Sam Hedges, to old friends helping me when I almost melted down with nerves, to a song by Rod Taylor about turning off the news and going out of doors… this Gathering was my best ever.

The well in the base of the smart oak tree behind the barn is full from all of our winter moisture, and my well is full because we gathered, we came together in community, rooted together, growing up strong.

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Meet Wyoming Poet Maria Lisa Eastman

By Darcy Minter

Every year, we look forward to welcoming new poets to the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, and this year is no exception. One of those poets is Maria Lisa Eastman, who ranches with her husband Skip in Hyattville, Wyoming, on the west side of the Big Horn Mountains. Maria and Skip have a wonderful tradition in their home. When they have dinner guests, they scatter poetry books around the table and ask people to browse through them and read a poem if they are inspired. Skip encouraged Maria to read her own poetry to their guests. And, she says, he has been “bugging” her to apply to perform at the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering for a long time. She says she finally did it to shut him up. And she couldn’t believe it when she was accepted!

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Maria says she started writing poetry as a young girl needing to express her pre-adolescent angst. And she has been writing poetry for more than 40 years. Her poems are often about horses which are her passion. She started taking riding lessons when she was five years old and has ridden ever since. Whether riding in the rainy countryside outside of London, England, scrimmaging polo ponies in Santa Fe, or working cows and riding fences on ranches in New Mexico and Wyoming, she’s always made sure horses were near. While riding colts out and collecting native grasses in New Mexico, she earned a master’s degree in range and watershed management. Currently, she operates Rainhorse, a nonprofit organization offering equine-assisted activities and therapies, and she trains in dressage on her 18-hand gelding Brego, a horse she rescued six years ago. Many of the horses that Maria works with in her equine program are rescued.

FullSizeRender[4].jpgMaria is new to Elko and new to performing her poetry. Fresh off her recent readings at a local book store and book club, Elko will be her third time in front of an audience. Her poetry has always been personal, written for herself. Now she is ready and looking forward to sharing it with us!

You can see Maria perform several times throughout the Gathering. Check out our full schedule of events here.

Awakening
By Maria Lisa Eastman

When I wake in the morning
I can’t wait to see my dear friends –
The animals who live around me.

The dogs wag and grin, they
Groan in delight as they greet the early day.
Horses stretch and nicker across a sleeping pasture
They prick their ears as one
When oats splash against a wooden pail.
Barn cats unfurl their downy limbs and blink –surely they are smiling-
In the slow building heat of the sun.
Baby calves, black against the quicksilver grass
Buck and hump, butting their quiet mothers
Who graze together with studious pleasure.

Do we need a reason to be glad of the day?
Look at all those around us- for them it is enough
That the sky brightened
And enough that the sun warms
For these wise ones, enough to live one more simple day.

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The Making of the Poem-Film “Homesteaders, Poor and Dry”

By Chris Simon, Filmmaker

The Western Folklife Center has been working on a series of four poem-films that powerfully communicate contemporary rural issues, ideas and insight—particularly the subject of water in the West. Titled Moving Rural Verse, these films are produced in collaboration with respected Western poets and experienced video artists, and will premiere at the upcoming National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, January 30-February 4, in Elko. Filmmaker Chris Simon worked with poet Linda Hussa and Reno filmmaker Jerry Dugan to produce a film of Linda’s poem “Homesteaders, Poor and Dry.”

John Hussa, Rylee Dickson and Linda Hussa.

John Hussa, Rylee Dickson and Linda Hussa

When Meg Glaser, Artistic Director at the Western Folklife Center, told me about her new project, Moving Rural Verse—four poems on water in the West made into films—I was intrigued. When she asked, “Would you like to do a poem by Linda Hussa?” I was thrilled.

Then Meg said, “It’s ‘Homesteaders, Poor and Dry’.”

“Isn’t that about drought?” I probe, gazing out my window at the pouring rain. “That’s right!” Meg says brightly.

“And don’t they have to kill a cow and drop a little girl down a well so that the baby won’t die?”

“Can’t you get creative? And no blood.” She hangs up fast.

“Homesteaders, Poor and Dry” is an incredibly powerful poem about the hard emotional impact of drought on a family. It is told from the perspective of the young daughter. It would not be an easy film to make.

I wrote out a scenario for how I’d like to interpret Linda’s poem. Getting from what was on paper to film… well, that was a problem. I’m a documentary filmmaker. I usually film what is there, not create it. Dropping a camera down a well to show a little girl’s point of view is not in my skill set. I decided to collaborate with Reno filmmaker Jerry Dugan who made Buck Ramsey’s poem “Anthem” into a film for the Nevada Museum of Art. As a commercial and extreme sports filmmaker, Jerry could bring the technical skills needed plus additional creative perspective. We arrange to film at the Hussa Ranch at the northeastern tip of California. Linda and her husband John start combing the country looking for a hand-dug well. Their milk cow, Blossom, is offered a starring role. Fortunately, it has stopped raining.

Linda Hussa and Jerry Dugan

Linda Hussa and Jerry Dugan

Jerry and I rendezvous in Reno. I generally work with only a sound recordist (if I’m lucky); Jerry brings a crew of six. That’s seven including me. What can they all do?

The next day it becomes clear. Everyone has a job and everyone is busy. Jerry is on camera assisted by Ryan. Mike does stop-action camera. Trent and Keaton are in charge of MoVi. They will rig the camera down the well. Canyon operates the jib, a complicated apparatus that will give us overhead shots. In truth, everyone does whatever is needed.

Rylee and the rig.

The jib, in position at the well

 A sleepy Rylee Dickson, nine years old, arrives with her mother to play the girl. They had to get up at 4:00 am to make the three-hour drive from Reno. We dress her up in overalls and braid her hair. Keaton is drafted to play the dad and he gets overalls, too. With some dirt smudges they can pass for 1930s ranchers. Blossom is brought into the barn. She looks pretty healthy for a cow that is drought-stricken, but you can’t have everything. Blossom does not like the look of the knife in Dad’s hand. She really doesn’t like the camera being poked in her face. She rolls her eyes and pulls back. This translates well onto film. She goes back to her stall with an extra ration of hay.

The actors: Keaton and Rylee.

The actors: Keaton and Rylee

After shooting all morning at the ranch, we set out for the hand-dug well John Hussa found. It’s half way between the Hussa Ranch and Gerlach, Nevada, out on the sagebrush plains. It is perfect. We pull off the covering boards and when the guys drop a bucket down it comes back with dead scorpions floating in the water. We all take an extra step back.

Lowering the camera into the well.

Lowering the camera into the well

Rylee going down the well is accomplished through the magic of cinema and the technical expertise of Jerry and crew. Then it’s time for her big scene—the one that will make or break the film. Rylee nails it and as Linda, Jerry and I watch the screen, tears come to my eyes. This is even better than I had imagined.

You can see for yourself when “Homesteaders, Poor & Dry” premieres at the upcoming National Cowboy Poetry Gathering as one of the Moving Rural Verse Series.

And, don’t worry, no cows nor children were harmed in the making of this motion picture.

It's a wrap: the end.

It’s a wrap: the end.

See “Homesteaders, Poor & Dry” and three more Moving Rural Verse poem-films on:

Thursday, February 2, 12:15–1:30pm Ruby Mountain Ballroom #1, Elko Conference Center
Friday, February 3, 11:00am–12:15pm, G Three Bar Theater, Western Folklife Center

Moving Rural Verse was produced with major support from the National Endowment for the Arts, ArtPlace America, the Community Foundation of Utah and from Western Folklife Center stakeholders.

Good Optics on Idaho Street

Deon & Trish Reynolds’ “WestStops” Photography Exhibition at Western Folklife Center and Throughout Downtown Elko

By David Roche

Driving west down Idaho Street in Elko, Nevada, and entering the central district at 4th Street, the unsuspecting traveler is suddenly confronted with a grazing trio of horses languidly munching in a rustic corral. Not in the flesh, mind you. A large 7 by 17-foot black and white photo mural, plastered on the plywood siding of a boarded up building puts the driver into instant time warp. Further down the street, in an alley behind the Pioneer Hotel, a calf roping cowboy bears down with lariat flying. Out on 5th Street, a steam engine on the wall of the Western Folklife Center peeks out toward Railroad Avenue where the real trains once ran. What’s going on?

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The downtown corridor of Elko has long been subject to the blight of empty storefronts, most recently along Idaho Street. To address the problem with ideas developed through creative placemaking projects and techniques from other similar street artworks, the Western Folklife Center, through the support of the Nevada Energy Foundation and ArtPlace America (and the generous permissions of Pedro Ormaza and Mike Reynolds), commissioned Reynolds Photography to produce these photographic images for outdoor wall installation.trish-reynolds-at-work-meg-glaser-photo

A work-in-progress entirely dependent on weather conditions, wall surface composition and the viscosity of the cream-of-wheat paste used to glue the photo paper to the walls, Reynolds Photography and Western Folklife Center volunteers have been busy attaching and re-attaching images that change the feel of the neighborhood.

Deon and Trish Reynolds, based in Eureka, NV, have been traveling the highways and byways of Nevada for more than 25 years. Deon shoots black and white panoramic images with those disposable plastic Kodak Funsaver cameras once found in drugstores everywhere but utilizing film stock he customizes and installs. Trish shoots her black and white photographs with a 1920s box camera. Both of them have had distinguished gallery showings of photographs and other multimedia works. Trish is a member of the Wild Women Artists group of Nevada and Deon recently stepped down after serving several years as a Nevada Arts Council board member.

deon-trish-celebrate-meg-glaser-photoTitled “WestStops,” a play on words referencing both camera aperture nomenclature and local geography, the large mural-size photographs give instant pause, a momentary visual meditation on time, timelessness and the circling ebb and flow of life, decay and continuity. Like the work of ramshackle structures of the rural South by the late William Christenberry, Reynolds Photography’s dedication to craft inspires an understanding of both the beauty and the poignancy in viewing images that may depict scenes out of place in the center of town but that magnify the current reality of empty storefronts as part of that same natural cycle of appearance and disappearance in the rural West.The patina of age extends to the cameras used and the darkroom techniques.

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While ranch traditions of horses and cattle continue to the present, the steam trains are gone and ghost towns of abandoned mining towns dot the Nevada countryside, the latter replaced by major earth-moving operations. The glory days of downtown Elko—when big name bands played the Commercial Casino and the train ran right down the center of town between Commercial and Railroad streets—are past and gone. But the idea of a downtown Renaissance is always a possibility. For us at the Western Folklife Center, we have the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering to attract winter audiences and a canvas of brick and plywood on the sides of buildings on which to inscribe some of the visual stories of time and place in the second decade of the 21st century.

For a time-lapse video of the installation process on Deon’s Facebook page, click here.

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