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Black Sheep Gathering

Kieran Van Horsen, 17, of Albany, shows a Bluefaced Leicester sheep Sunday at the Black Sheep Gathering at the Linn County Fair & Expo Center.

Kieran Van Horsen and his family show sheep all over the West Coast, so having a major fiber arts and sheep festival relocate to his hometown meant the rising West Albany High School senior was able to show off his Bluefaced Leicesters on Sunday without much hassle.

“It’s really nice having it be this close,” he said of the Black Sheep Gathering, which was held in the Linn County Fair & Expo Center this weekend for the first time. The 44-year-old event combines workshops on fiber arts, livestock competitions and a marketplace, all focused on fibers from naturally colored animals.

Van Horsen said he showed his sheep three times at the gathering when it was held in Eugene.

“The venue is a lot better,” he said. “There’s a lot more space here.”

Van Horsen said he likes the show because it has a very supportive atmosphere — all the competitors are helpful to each other.

Laura Todd, director of the Black Sheep Gathering, said she and the other organizers are pleased with the move.

“It’s fantastic. People are really happy with the new facility,” she said. She added the organizers are pleased with the turnout, which she estimated to be in the range of 10,000 to 15,000.

“Attendance is tough to judge because we don’t charge for admission,” she said.

Todd said the event attracts people from all over the West Coast and she’s aware of people who came from Sweden and Australia to attend.

She said the event has such appeal because of its reputation as a place to buy very high quality fleeces and the prestige of the awards they give.

“There’s no cash prizes,” she said. “It’s all about bragging rights.”

She said from the event’s creation its purpose has been to celebrate naturally colored animals and their fibers.

Todd said the event is run entirely by volunteers, and she has a core group of 25 volunteers, who each have their own teams of volunteers.

Todd said her hope is that the event can become more connected to the mid-valley as it gets better established here in future years, with more local people attending and more local businesses getting involved.

“Agriculture is a bit more present here,” she said of the event’s better fit in Albany. “Eugene has lost that feel a bit.”

Anthony Rimel covers education and can be reached at anthony.rimel@lee.net, 541-758-9526, or via Twitter @anthonyrimel.

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