Helping Works

Bid on ‘art’ created by livestock at the Great Salt Lick

The Great Salt Lick in Baker City auctions off used salt blocks as ‘art’

The Great Salt Lick in Baker City auctions off used salt blocks to support Oregon Health Sciences Center for research into Parkinson's disease. Salt blocks are submitted by ranchers who vie for cash prizes in several categories.
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The Great Salt Lick in Baker City auctions off used salt blocks to support Oregon Health Sciences Center for research into Parkinson's disease. Salt blocks are submitted by ranchers who vie for cash prizes in several categories.

A salt lick or mineral block is used to supplement much needed nutrients to the diets of livestock and even wildlife, such as deer.

It’s like a good-for-you lollipop for animals, but in block form, that eventually wears down from all the licks.

The resulting shape from all the course tongue action would hardly be classified as “art” ... or would it?

After all, art is subjective. Art is in the eye of the beholder. And according to Baker City resident Whit Deschner, art is a used salt lick!

Whit recalls “sitting on the porch of a friend’s cabin admiring the shape of a salt lick a deer had worked on and thinking that it sure beat some of the sculptures in parks and in front of buildings.”

It didn’t seem fair that some artists were bringing in six figures, yet cows and other animals weren’t getting any moo-la for their hidden talent.

After further reflection (and according to his website, maybe a beer or two), he entertained the idea of a contest. And with the help of local sponsors, The Great Salt Lick was born.

The event, which started in 2007, is an art show/auction where salt blocks, licked by livestock and/or wildlife into “sculptures,” are auctioned off as art.

The blocks are entered by farmers and ranchers, who also have the chance to take home prize money from contests such as People’s Choice, Most Artistically Licked Block, and other categories.

Appetizers are served and attendees can wet their whistles with local beer and wine.

It’s not only an opportunity to score some very unique pieces, but all proceeds go to Oregon Health Science University to fight and research Parkinson’s disease. (Whit was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2000.)

This year’s contest is Sept. 21 at Churchill School, 3451 Broadway St., Baker City, Ore. The viewing begins at 5:30 p.m. and the auction at 7 p.m.

It will be event’s 13th year.

13 years? I know what you’re thinking, “People are really into buying worn-down, slobbered-on salt blocks?”

Well, since blocks have gone for over $3,000, that’s a big fat “YES”!

The event’s popularity and success, raising more than $150,000 to date for Parkinson’s research, doesn’t surprise me.

I mean, when you hear about an auction of salt licks, you’re kinda intrigued. When you hear about the cause, you’re there.

Curiosity is what coaxed Boise residents Stephen Crowley and his wife Ellen to attend their first Great Salt Lick back in 2014.

And they haven’t missed a year since.

They even purchase a few licks each visit.

Many currently enliven their living room, no doubt serving as great conversational pieces. Others were gifted to friends.

What keeps them going back year after year?

“The people, the place, the cause, the energy of the event,” Stephen explains. “... it is one of the most joyous, affirming and magically silly events we know of. The sense of humor, of community, of Whit’s commitment to make “lemonade” out of his situation and the way so many and varied folks not only support the “lemonade making” but celebrate it.”

He adds, “If the state of the world is getting you down, head to the Baker City salt lick auction. It will give you hope, make you smile and give you a part in their work to make the world a better place.”

If that doesn’t sell you on joining Stephen and Ellen this year on that two-hour drive to beautiful Baker City, then nothing will.

Can’t think of a better way to cash in on one last road trip before the weather turns.

For more information about the event, including how to submit your own salt block, go to whitdeschner.com. Deadline for entry is Saturday, Sept. 14.

Michelle Jenkins compiles event calendars, archives and writes a Helping Works column for the Idaho Statesman. She attended Boise State University and grew up in New Plymouth, Idaho.
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