Mancos BurroFest celebrates art, history, and the unsung mining heroes of the West
by Maple Andrew Taylor
A burro is actually a small donkey, typically used as a pack animal; and burros have a long history in Colorado. Because of their sure footing, ability to carry heavy loads relative to their size, and the fact that they aren’t picky about what they eat, burros were a mainstay in the nineteenth century mining industry, working underground hauling ore carts and in long strings carrying ore from remote, high-elevation mines down to processing facilities. Burros are experiencing a remarkable resurgence in the West, particularly in Colorado where pack burro racing has been designated as the state’s heritage sport. Pack burro races, where a human-burro team runs anywhere from a few miles up to thirty miles, have recently sprung up in Texas and California, and new events have been added to the Western Pack Burro Association’s sanctioned summer race circuit here in Colorado.
Ever seen a real, live burro? Just head to downtown Mancos on June 19, and you will see burros everywhere you look on historic Grand Avenue. Yes, burros. The Mancos BurroFest includes a burro-human race, artists at work, art galleries, food, beverages, and festivities. Sponsored by the Mancos Creative District, the event, being held for the second time, features fifteen burros and their handlers racing through a course with such obstacles as a water crossing and swinging saloon doors. Afterward, the burros are staged on Grand Avenue where artists assigned to each burro demonstrate their craft in real time.
Some of the artists scheduled to appear are Samantha Combs, Lille Diane, Brad Goodell, Veryl Goodnight, Miki Harder, Elizabeth Kinahan, Karen Kristin, Susan Matteson, Jan Wright, and TJ Zark. Goodnight, a local sculptor and painter, will have a burro form in progress and will let folks get some clay on their hands and help sculpt. Goodnight is best known for her sculpture, “The Day the Wall Came Down,” a tribute to the fall of the Berlin Wall. She duplicated the piece; one is located at the George Bush Presidential Library, the other, a gift from the United States, is located at Clayallee, near the Allied Museum in the former American sector of Berlin. Each sculpture weighs an incredible seven tons and measures 30 feet long by 18 feet wide by 12 feet high.
The historic Mancos Common Press right there on Grand Avenue will let visitors print a card to take home from old-timey “lino blocks” crafted by renowned local artist and illustrator, Brad Goodell, whose spectacular 510-square-foot mural, “Yesterday’s News,” graces the Mancos Common Press building. The Press is a 1900s newspaper shop housing the Cranston Newspaper Press, a “single-revolution big-cylinder drum” newspaper press, built in the late 1800s, and one of only a handful still in operation today. The newspaper shop has been restored as an educational print studio and doubles as a museum, newspaper archive, and repository for artifacts.
Betsy Harrison of the Mancos Creative District said that the group had been looking for an annual signature event and found it in the 2019 Mancos BurroFest. “The event generated lots of fun and excitement downtown, especially with all of the burros,” said Betsy. “It also showcased local artists who had the opportunity to demonstrate their craft in public view.” Event coordinator Veryl Goodnight said that the 2019 BurroFest was one of the most heralded events held in Mancos in recent times. “Everyone, and I do mean everyone, seems to love burros!” said Goodnight. “The BurroFest combines local mining history of the past with the abundance of creative talent living in the area today.”
In 2014, citizens of Mancos worked with Colorado Creative Industries through the Colorado Office of Economic Development & International Trade to become a certified Creative District. The Colorado Creative Districts program certifies communities that contribute to the state’s economy through creativity, culture, and the arts. The program helps communities increase jobs, incomes, and investments in creative places—which Mancos most assuredly is. The Mancos Creative District is a partnership between the Mancos Common Press, the Town of Mancos, the Mancos Valley Chamber of Commerce, the Mancos Valley Historical Society, the Mancos Public Library District, Mancos School of the West, Mancos Valley Resources, Mount Lookout Grange, the Mancos school district, and numerous local galleries and restaurants. One of the District’s marquee projects is the Mancos School of the West, where local artists offer classes and workshops in a variety of mediums from their home studios or in the outdoors.
COVID protocols will be in place for public safety during the 2021 Mancos BurroFest. For more information on the upcoming BurroFest and the Mancos Creative District visit mancoscreativedistrict.com.