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Baker City, Oregon

The Great Salt Lick

A bronze replica of half-consumed salt lick honors a quirky town tradition. 

Whit Deschner came up with the idea for the Great Salt Lick Contest when he realized the used salt blocks around his friend’s cabin bore a resemblance to abstract sculptures he’d seen sold for exorbitant amounts of money. He devised a plan to display, judge, and auction off the blocks to benefit Parkinson’s research.

People leave the 50-pound blocks of salt outside, and the artists—horses, cows, deer, and goats—use their tongues to carve them into beautiful works of art. The best works are rewarded with cash prizes, ranging from about $50 to $150. Blocks at the auction can go for even higher sums; the current record is $1800.

The Great Salt Lick Contest and Art Auction has been going strong since 2006. It’s been so successful, the city opted for a public monument to honor the event.

Deschner carved the four-foot sculpture out of styrofoam with a piece of wire attached to a battery charger. It’s a replica of a people’s choice winner from a past auction, but he added an extra bump at the top to make it more interactive, giving it the effect of a Henry Moore sculpture. A local sculptor at Blue Mountain Fine Art helped him cast the piece in bronze.

The annual Great Salt Lick Art Auction happens the third Saturday in September in Baker City, Oregon.