Seasoned Artistry in Baker City: The Great Salt Lick Contest Founder Says Farewell

By on Friday, September 15th, 2023 in More Top Stories Northeastern Oregon News

BAKER CITY — A quirky and artistic tradition has taken root over the years in Baker City – the Great Salt Lick Art Contest and Auction. This event has garnered attention far beyond the town’s borders and has become an integral part of the local culture. Now its creator is passing the torch after years of creative and charitable success.

The Great Salt Lick Art Auction began as a whimsical idea in the mind of its founder, Whit Deschner. Reflecting on its genesis, he shared, “The idea had been brewing for a long time. I had seen salt licks as a kid and thought they had a unique, almost sculptural quality to them”, said Deschner.  “I attended Evergreen College, and it was built like a prison. It was like daco. They’d put this art in front of it, like two sheets of steel welded together and they’re getting $100,000 for it. I thought, well, if they can do that. I can sell these salt licks for just the idea.”

What started as a simple notion soon gained momentum when Whit teamed up with a neighbor, Mib Daly, a self-taught auctioneer with a knack for humor and a passion for making things happen. Their collaboration was the catalyst that set the Great Salt Lick Art Contest and Auction in motion.

The inaugural auction in 2006 drew around 50 attendees, and the first artwork sold for approximately $150. This modest beginning laid the foundation for an event that has since raised around $175,000 for Parkinson’s research at OHSU. Deschner was diagnosed with the disease in 2000.

Over the years, the Salt Lick Art Auction has evolved into somewhat of a cultural phenomenon, putting Baker City on the map and attracting visitors from near and far. Its unique combination of artistry, community spirit, and charitable giving has captured the hearts of many.

Deschner even has a good eye for deciphering which species was responsible for carving each block. “Deer and goats, if this was art it’d be renaissance. Cows would be Picasso. Horses, they just don’t even count, they’re not artists. They don’t even have a clue.”

As Deschner prepares to step away from the helm, he expresses his desire to pass on the responsibility while ensuring that the event continues to flourish. He says he’ll stay around and help out, but that a new generation needs to take up the mantle.

This transition marks the end of an era for the founder but opens a new chapter for the Great Salt Lick Art Auction. The legacy of this creative and charitable endeavor will undoubtedly live on, leaving an indelible mark on Baker City and the people it has touched.

In the founder’s words, “It’s a real warm feeling to just know that people have accepted it. This is going to be maintained because it’s a huge part of Baker City now and just the community, so.”

As the Salt Lick Art Auction moves forward, its unique blend of art, charity, and community will continue to make waves, and the quirky creations of deer, goats, and other eastern Oregon wildlife will forever be celebrated in this one-of-a-kind event.

The Great Salt Lick is this Saturday, September 16 at Churchill School in Baker City. Viewing starts at 5:30 p.m., and the auction follows at 6:30 p.m.