Thrills for the week

January 9
Western stars: If it's January, this must be the Colorado Cowboy Poetry Gathering, celebrating its eighth year of campfire range-rhyming, beginning tonight and continuing through Sunday at the Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities, 6901 Wadsworth Blvd. Headlining this year's laconic long weekend are Colorado's own zen cowboy Chuck Pyle, Wrangler Award-winner Buck Ramsey of Texas, and laid-back local legend Pete Smythe, who'll be joined on stage by many of the region's best-known Western yarn-spinners and folklorists during three consecutive evenings of 7:30 p.m. performances and a 1 p.m. matinee Sunday; tickets are $13 per show. In addition, marathon daytime theme sessions, with participants that include yodelin' vaudevillian Sourdough Slim, run from 10 a.m. to 5:15 p.m. tomorrow and Saturday; economizers can get their fill for only five bucks each day. Capping the Arvada Center's regional mood this month is an exhibit of Western pastels by artist Jan Myers, a thirty-year veteran who depicts the subtle landscapes of Colorado and New Mexico. Her show opens with a gallery talk tonight from 5 to 6 and a reception from 7 to 9; Myers's works remain on display through March 9. For general information and advance reservations, call 431-3939.

Books of life: Any woman who's tried to combine personal projects with day-to-day responsibilities will tell you that the road to artistry can be strewn with obstacles, from cleaning the toilet to raising children. Explore the feminine side of the creative process in Composing a Life: Rocky Mountain Women's Institute 20th Anniversary Exhibition, a telling array of handmade artist's books conceived by seventy-odd past and present RMWI associates. The women's group includes scholars and performing, literary and visual artists who have all sought to find a working mean between the pragmatic and imaginative worlds. Opening tonight from 7 to 9 at the Robert E. Loup Jewish Community Center's Singer Gallery, 350 S. Dahlia St., and inspired by the book Composing a Life, by Mary Catherine Bateson, the collection of black-fabric-covered books can be viewed through February 9. Artist programs in conjunction with the exhibit are scheduled throughout January; for more information call 399-2660, ext. 176.

January 10
Powwow to the people: The big draw at the Colorado Indian Market and Western Art Showcase? Native American and Western arts and crafts--perhaps the most you've ever seen in one place. A veritable Babel tower of indigenous potters, weavers, basketmakers and other visual artists will be on hand today through Sunday at Currigan Exhibition Hall, 1327 Champa St., giving demonstrations and workshops and selling their fine wares, from totem poles to painted buffalo hides. Once you get inside, though, you'll also be treated to a nonstop entertainment slate of traditional dancers and musicians. Attend the market from 2 to 9 today, 10 to 9 tomorrow or 10 to 5 Sunday; admission is $5 to $7 (children under seven free). Call 758-1118 for information.

Victorian secrets: There's always been a Gothic tinge to the startling fiction of acclaimed Canadian author Margaret Atwood, but her latest novel, Alias Grace, provides a virtual field day of mysteriousness, sporting an old-fashioned, labyrinthine Victorian plot with as many nooks and crannies as an ancient English castle. Atwood will lead fans into its tangle tonight at 7:30 when she reads at the Tattered Cover LoDo, 1628 16th St.; as new Atwood offerings are usually cause for excitement in the literary world, numbers for a place in line will be available beginning at 6:30. Call 436-1070 for details.

Art of the state: An impenetrable skin of steel must be foremost among the lengthy requirements for people who dare to be critics. But since most of us seem to be dying to know what others think, before we'll try out the newest restaurant, movie, CD, play, book and/or artist on the block, someone else has got to do it. When just such a brave, dinosaur-hided panel of local art reviewers was asked by the Metro State Center for the Visual Arts to name Colorado's best crop of homegrown artists, members of the elite group agreed it was one of the most difficult tasks they'd ever undertaken. The resulting exhibit, Critics Choice, opens today and continues through January 31. The center is located at 1701 Wazee St.; call 294-5207.

January 11
Here's the beef: You may ask yourself: What's all this hoopla over a spit-shined herd of overfed cows? You must be new in town. If so, get in here, pronto: When the National Western Stock Show prances in to the city, it's your civic duty to find out what it's all about.

True, the two-week event centers around an endless schedule of livestock shows, sales and exhibits, but it's ever so much more than a bull market--you'll also get an eyeful of horses, goats, sheep, hogs, bunnies, llamas and even dogs as you traipse through. And every stock-show-goer's list of things to do at the National Western includes a variety of special ticketed events, including 23 PRCA rodeo performances featuring top rodeo act John Payne the One Arm Bandit, high-stepping horse shows, draft-horse exhibitions and more, beginning today and continuing through January 26. Of special note are the flashy Mexican Rodeo Extravaganza, an annual favorite headed by Tejano charro Jerry Diaz, which takes place tonight at 7:30 and tomorrow at 3 p.m., and An Evening of Dancing Horses, an equestrian spectacle with Michael Martin Murphey providing the music, scheduled for January 23.

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