ELKO, NV - For 36 years in the heart of winter, thousands have traveled to Elko, Nevada to listen, learn, and share experiences of ranching and the rural West through poetry, music, and stories. The National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, presented by the Western Folklife Center, has been called the most honest and open-hearted festival in America. From January 27-February 1, 2020, Western community and tradition is alive and well as celebrated through hands-on gearmaking, cooking, dancing and writing workshops; live poetry and music performances; exhibitions, talks, films, and storytelling sessions.
The upcoming 36th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering theme celebrates the often under-represented historic contributions and contemporary culture of Black cowboys through film screenings including Fire on the Hill, Brett Fallentine’s documentary that paints a portrait of the little-known urban cowboy community in South Central Los Angeles whose roots reach back to a time long before hip-hop and gang culture when the region was known as home to one of the most recognized cowboy communities in the nation. Ghuan Featherstone, one of three featured cowboys, who also wrote and performed some of the songs on the film's excellent music soundtrack, will be joining us at the Gathering as part of this year's keynote address. Ghuan will participate in a Q & A following the film with award winning director Brett Fallentine.
The Gathering will also screen Cowboys - A Documentary Portrait, a feature length film by John Langmore that gives viewers the opportunity to ride alongside modern working cowboys on eight of America’s largest and most remote “big outfit” cattle ranches. Jim Brooks, who is featured in Cowboys, will again join us at the Gathering and be on hand with John Langmore for audience Q & A. Additionally, Langmore’s photography will be featured at the Northeastern Nevada Museum in Elko throughout the Gathering. A few of the other film and video selections being curated for this year’s gathering include selections from Deep West Films, The African-American Cowboy: The Forgotten Man of the West, and Struggle & Hope.
The Gathering exhibitions further honor this year’s theme by featuring Vintage Black Heroes: The Chisholm Kid Exhibition, a 1950’s groundbreaking color comic strip featuring one of the first Black heroes and the first Black cowboy to ever appear in comics. The Chisholm Kid strip paid homage to the Black cowboys who drove cattle along the Chisholm Trail, from Texas to Kansas, after the Civil War. The Chisholm Kid was presented as an American hero, fully empowered with all of his civil rights, an equal to his white contemporaries such as Hopalong Cassidy and The Lone Ranger. The Chisholm Kid exhibition was organized by the Museum Of UnCut Funk and includes comic strips from the archives of the museum, the estate of the publisher, and the University of Michigan Special Collections Library.
The Wiegand Gallery will be open throughout the Gathering, and the exhibits will be on display through mid-June, 2020. The gallery hosts an Opening Reception on Thursday January 30, 3:30-4:15 pm. Exhibits will feature selections from quilter Marion Coleman’s Blacks in the West series. Her quilt “Trail Blazers” is featured on the 2020 National Cowboy Poetry Gathering poster. History buffs will enjoy African American Western Pioneers, Past and Present, a photo montage presentation and timeline curated by Vania Kinard as well as special displays honoring significant western characters and events.
Additional exhibits include Southern Riders, a photo series in which Rory Doyle explores the vibrant but little-known subculture of African American cowboys and cowgirls in the rural Mississippi Delta and other regions of the American South. Doyle is a working photographer based in Cleveland, Mississippi, in the rural Mississippi Delta. He won the 16th Annual Smithsonian Photo Contest with the Delta Hill Riders project. Many of these photos were taken on weekend trail rides organized by deeply-rooted riding clubs to bring family and friends together for riding, socializing and sharing good times. Rory Doyle, whose photography has garnered awards in both the arts and photojournalism, will be on hand during the Gathering presenting talks and discussing his work.
During the 36th Gathering, theWestern Folklife Center will be unveiling the newest addition to it’s Contemporary Cowboy Gear Collection. Visit the Wiegand Gallery to view a beautifully carved saddle designed and built by master artisan Jeremiah Watt. The Western Folklife Center’s Contemporary Cowboy Gear Fund and Collection was designed to bring recognition to the renaissance of contemporary handcrafted gearmaking around the American West.
The Western Folklife Center is a member based non- profit organization. The 36th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering is supported by foundations, corporations, and individuals including the Nevada Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts, Nevada Humanities and the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the City of Elko and the Elko Recreation Board, as well as business and individual memberships.