I was hooked when I read about the 10th Annual Great Salt Lick Contest on the North American Travel Journalist (NATJA) website. The idea of auctioning off salt blocks that livestock through the process of obtaining salt, carve into an artistic creations, caught my attention and fueled my desire to visit Baker City for the September 17, 2016 event. Entries for the auction come from the people of Baker County and beyond who set out salt blocks for livestock or wildlife, and then they submit their most interesting sculptures.
Before I knew it plans were made with Timothy Bishop of the Baker City Tourism who took me up on my wish to cover this event that has multiple purposes, to give awareness about Parkinson’s disease and bring visitors to Baker City.
The community has become so associated with the event that there is a bronze salt lick art piece that was placed on June of 2014, downtown in a place of honor. The 4-foot bronze salt lick was cast by the local Blue Mountain Fine Art in Baker City. “It was a group community effort,” said Whit Deschner, the founder of the event
The auction was held at the beautiful Crossroads Art Center, a former Carnegie Library.
“I had no idea it would grow this big,” Whit said looking out at the crowd of locals and visitors that came for miles to this event. Over the years, the Salt Lick Auction has been featured on NPR, OPB’s Oregon Art Beat and the front page of The Oregonian
“This event is a mixing of art and agriculture. The first year I did it as a joke,” Whit said. “It took two of us to organize the whole show and a week to do it.”
While it started out as an amusing idea, the Salt Lick Auction has raised some serious cash, $70,000 for Parkinson’s Research before adding in the total from this 2016 auction. Whit Deschler suffers from Parkinson Disease so this cause is near and dear to his heart.
The idea for the auction came from Whit’s close approximation with animals. “I’ve been around animals, horses and goats and watched them transform and morph salt licks. They are like snowflakes, no two are alike.”
One of the things Whit loves about this event is the local aspect. “This is one of the few events in Oregon that depends only on local sponsorship.”
Whit mentioned that Ginger Savage, the Executive Director of the Crossroad Art Center, along with Andrea Stone and her husband Phil have really sacrificed for the event along with others from the community. “If disaster strikes in this community they help out. That is a way of life that is disappearing.”
“Andrea and I will do this as long as Whit wants, “Ginger Savage said. “This event keeps him vital. He gets out of bed every day for this.”
“I’ve lived here for 30 years,” Whit said. “I used to be a commercial fisherman and raised horses. I had a small ranch where I met a lot of cowboys and this helped open doors for the salt lick auction. Anyone growing up on a farm knows what they are, but not if they are from the city.”
The salt lick entries came in all shapes and colors. Ginger Savage explained, “The salt lick blocks came in colors from Cobalt blue which comes from Colorado, to the usual white salt, to brown which is a mineral salt block. to red selenium blocks and even yellow sulfur.”
With 40 entries this year the artists were comprised of cattle, deer or elk, and this year for the first time, a rabbit. The event began with visitors making selections for their favorite. The choice ended in a tie bringing a moment of brevity when Sparkle, the fainting goat was the final judge in determining the winner between a tie of two artistic blocks. Sparkle, who belongs to Paige Marlia, was able to choose without fainting, so tragedy was averted.
Before the auctions, the judges who were local clergy, Katy Nicole of First Presbyterian Church, Aletha Bonebrake of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church and Ian Wolfe of First Lutheran Church, selected the winners of the various categories which included the Michael J. Fox look alike. “It is Whit’s constant desire that Micheal J. Fox and Linda Ronstadt (who both suffer from Parkinson’s Disease) will show up at this,” Ginger said.
Besides the M.J. Fox category, the blocks also are entered into, a forgery category (which were artistic creations rather than just plain salt blocks), a poem and block, a poem only (with no block involved), most artistic and the general category. Cash prizes are awarded to the winners whose win was announced as the entries were auctioned off.
Auctioneer and local rancher Mib Daley has been selling off the entries since year one. “I’m a cattleman and a small business man. This event has brought a lot of people to Baker City like an Australian couple who came two years ago and now are part of the family. This event has an amazing sense of community. The meeting of Ag and art is an exciting part of the project.”
FFA members helped serve during the event. Beer by Barley Brown’s and wine from Copper Belt were also on hand.
Two creations by real life artists sold for a princely sum and these beautiful pieces, one a sculpture and one a mosaic will grace the lucky bidder’s homes. The auction was a loud affair with a lot of calling out from one bidder to another. Mib Daley didn’t waste a chance to auction anything from a poem that Ginger Savage wrote about Mitch to wooden containers made to cart or display the salt lick creations and even a piece of bark. “All for a good cause”, he added.
I can’t say I have ever been to anything like it before, and I may never be to anything like it again. The camaraderie that brings a community together over salt lick art and the funds from a couple hundred, to much higher that go to such a good cause is worth raising a glass to. Cheers to you Whit Deschler, Salt Lick Auction and the Baker City Community!