Deep West Radio Documentaries

Produced for National Public Radio, these in-depth features celebrate creativity, history, and folk traditions. A series born out of the belief that many of the best stories are tucked away in rural places and overlooked by most of the mainstream media, these are not stories taken from headlines, but rather spread by word-of-mouth, and uncovered through field research. Deep West Radio Documentaries are funded by the generous support of the R. Harold Burton Foundation and the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Foundation.

The Great Salt Lick


Sculptures entered in The Great Salt Lick Contest await judging and auction       

Deep West Radio Documentaries
12/22/12 NPRs Weekend Edition Saturday

“We don’t pay our artists, we eat them!”  So declares Whit Deschner, creator of the Great Salt Lick Contest. The artists he’s referring to are animals…cows, elk, deer, goats and others…who create their art by licking salt blocks left for them in fields and pastures.  Listen.

This is certainly one of the most unusual art contests and auctions in the nation, right in the middle of ranch country in eastern Oregon. For the past several years Whit's been distributing new salt blocks to ranchers who put them in fields where their livestock - and often, wildlife - sculpt away for weeks and months.  

Artist at work: Angus cow licks a salt block in a field near Baker City, Oregon

Organizer Whit Deschner examines four licks left by a local rancher   The ranchers then collect the “finished” sculptures and bring them to Whit who organizes an auction each September at a local gallery. Proceeds from the auction are donated to Oregon Health & Science University and its efforts to find to a cure for Parkinson’s Disease. Over the years more than $40,000 has been raised for the cause.
The Hemingway, a sculpted salt lick by cows and wildlife Lick created by mule deer only, proven by artist photos behind scuplture

See more entries from all years, and get more information about the Great Salt Lick contest at:

Sign on Main Street in Baker City, Oregon announces the Great Salt Lick contest Postcard for the 2012 Contest


This video is from the Western Folklife Center-produced 2010 Deep West Videos collection: read the full list of videos and filmmakers included in this DVD in our online gift catalog. All Deep West Videos are available in the Western Folklife Center Gift Shop. All photos in this article taken by Taki Telonidis.