The American West and its heritage are solidified through the expression of artists and their works. The call of the West is strong, and these artists preserve the ideals and visions through paintings, furniture, jewelry, and other crafts. Western furniture designs, in particular, are influenced by the Wild West imagery of ranches, cowboys, and horses, but also by masters of the art such as 20th-century furniture designer Thomas Molesworth and saddlemaker Edward Bohlin. Styles include plenty of fringed leather, carved wood, and cowhide, all illustrative of traditional Western living.
By Western Hands
In downtown Cody, Wyoming, By Western Hands is a nonprofit gallery dedicated to education, preservation, and conservation of the legacy of Western design. This artists’ collective includes a gallery with items for sale and a museum with antique pieces on view.
By Western Hands was created to preserve Western heritage and design by featuring and celebrating past and present artists and their work. The best time to meet the artists and gain a deeper appreciation for Western-style furniture is at the annual Rendezvous Royale, hosted at By Western Hands, the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, and the Buffalo Bill Art Show & Sale. The three partners have collaborated for years to host events for patrons of the arts. In addition to lectures, tours, and painting classes, each day of the festival, artists can be found in the workshop at By Western Hands displaying their talents.
Among the more than 30 artists featured in the gallery at By Western Hands are John Gallis, an award-winning furniture craftsman and owner of Norseman Designs, and his son, Ian. With wood as his favorite medium, Gallis creates Shaker-style furniture. Although much of his inspiration comes from nature, Gallis is also inspired by great artists such as Molesworth.
“We create Western-style pieces that feature juniper legs and antler pulls [handles] and utilize mostly dark walnut or English walnut. But when we create a Molesworth[-style] piece, it’s more his style with fur or maple, Native American beadwork, and touches like that,” Gallis said.
In 1931, Thomas Molesworth opened the Shoshone Furniture Company in Cody, Wyoming, capturing the spirit of the American West with his furniture. As an artist, Gallis said that Molesworth “put Cody on the map with his unique style.” This style is recognized in part by its Native patterns, bright leathers, and Chimayo (a style of weaving indigenous to New Mexico) fabrics, and Molesworth’s work was stylish and functional—sturdy pieces that decorated dude ranches and hotels of the time.
Molesworth pieces continue to sell for top prices, said Gallis. “An old Molesworth piece, like a club chair, can sell for $25,000.” For those who can’t afford an original, artists such as Gallis and his son create Molesworth-style furniture to continue the tradition.
Although Molesworth is an inspiration for many of the pieces at By Western Hands, the artists also have their personal styles. The art is Western-themed, but artists from all over the country showcase their art at By Western Hands.
Gallis said fellow member Christina Chapman, of Chapman Design, Inc., designs club chairs and other furniture pieces with side panels of elaborately carved leather. Artist Brad Greenwood, of the brand J. Bradley Greenwood, is recognized for his striking mix of hardwoods, and for intricate carvings and distinctive features such as secret compartments. And Anne Beard, of Anne Beard Custom Furnishings, comes from a fashion background that is evident in her appliquéd upholstered furniture designs.
One aspect that distinguishes Western-style furniture is the attention to detail. In Gallis’s work, you’ll find intricate details such as hand-tied fringe and rifle shell casings used as tacks on a chair. John Blair, of J.L. Blair Saddlery, has more than 40 years of experience as a saddlemaker and crafts finely carved leather saddles, purses, and dishes.
This attention to detail is evident in every piece of art on display in both the museum and the gallery at By Western Hands.