Cody, Wyoming is a town known for its many historical values and traditions, preserved and admired through western art. On September 21, 2018 from 2:00 to 3:00, By Western Hands will be hosting speaker Asa Christiana in the Coe auditorium found at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West (BBCW). The event will be held in honor of the artisans who influence our present world through artwork overflowing with knowledge of the past.
Asa Christiana speaks at the BBCW in support of By Western Hands and the many people who dedicate their time to western traditions and functional art. Mr. Christiana is an author, nationally recognized speaker, and former chief editor of Fine Woodworking Magazine. He presents information to encourage and teach others about western themed functional art, and its importance in our world today.
By Western Hands is a non-profit organization, founded by Cody community members. Members work in protecting western themed functional art, as it is becoming rarer in our modern themed world. Through events and activities, the organization promotes artisans, sustaining the creation of decorative and functional art, and using designs and techniques influenced by the American west.
Through the presentation, Mr. Christiana relates important factors, reflecting the mission of By Western Hands – promotes artisans and related activities that help sustain the creation of decorative and functional art, including designs and techniques used by the American West. One of these factors is the recent Maker Movement, reflecting roles for independent inventors, designers, and craftsmen. Mr. Christiana speaks on connecting community infrastructure to overall promote artisans.
Throughout the presentation, the audience gains understanding of how past western design influences the present. Mr. Christiana explores the meaning of specific functional art objects, observes the historical, environmental, and cultural contexts of the pieces, and perpetuates the dedication. He reflects how artisans preserve western design, resulting in custom pieces and acknowledging history and culture.
By Western Hands and speakers like Asa Christensen don’t just dedicate their time to celebrate western art. They dedicate their time to preserve and cherish artisans and western art for future generations. Because of their efforts, our community members remember and participate in western traditions for further years to come.
The Wyoming Arts Council provides the funding for Mr. Christiana’s presentation through a grant supported in part by the Wyoming Arts Council, National Endowment for the Arts and the Wyoming State Legislature.
Cody, WY– The Wyoming Arts Council, along with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Wyoming State Legislature, has honored Cody’s own, By Western Hands with a generous grant of nearly $9,000.00.
This support has made it possible to include in the 2018 By Western Hands Invitational Design Exhibition nationally recognized speaker and author, Asa Christiana, formerly of Fine Woodworking Magazine on Sept. 21st, 2018 at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West from 3:00 – 4:00 p.m. in the Coe Auditorium. Christiana will present From Molesworth to Maker and Back Again: How Today’s Young Artisans are Reinventing Traditional Crafts.
This grant also includes support for additional programs and projects for the planned By Western Hands Design Center due to open later this year. Specifically, BWH museum study collection interpretive signage design, workshop safety manual production, and professional development Board training receives support. The speaker, exhibition, signage, safety manual and board governance support programs/services, aligning with The Wyoming Arts Council mission.
The By Western Hands Artisan Guild was founded as a non-profit organization by Cody community members in 2015. It is now a national organization whose mission is to promote its member artisans through events and related activities, sustaining the creation of decorative and functional art and using designs and techniques influenced by the American West.
“The textbook definition of functional art refers to artistic, aesthetic pieces that serve utilitarian purposes,” said Dennie Hammer, Executive Director.” Using wood, leather, silver, iron, antler, and beading, our artisan members create the finest Western-themed world-class functional art, perpetuating, preserving and promoting these traditions.”
By Western Hands brought in a recognized, educational speaker in the hope that it will attract and inspire students from Wyoming Colleges, Big Horn Basin High Schools, Buffalo Bill Center of the West & By Western Hands patrons, and the Big Horn community at-large. Wyoming community patrons, sponsors and volunteers believe western design and Cody’s place in its history are valuable, irreplaceable assets worth preserving as a major part of the town economic and cultural diversity through the arts.
Hammer went on to say that “This funding will help By Western Hands to achieve our mission to sustain, promote and cultivate excellence in Western functional art while also greatly enriching the educational experience.”
(Cody, WY): Anyone who has had the opportunity to travel down the streets of Cody, Wyoming will know of its astounding art and traditions. The former Gambles Hardware building is now being refurbished into the By Western Hands Design Center – rich with education, craft, and history… a building that fits in perfectly with our remarkable town.
The new Design Center is being shaped by the non – profit organization, By Western Hands (BWH). On their mission to preserve western art, they have worked hard hosting events, celebrating artisans, and keeping western traditions alive. The new BWH Design Center is a perfect representation of the values that By Western Hands is determined to support – promoting artisans, and overall sustaining the creation of decorative and functional art. This important mission will be supported through three components in the Design Center – an education and training center, a member gallery, and a western museum.
Through education, exhibition, and history, the BWH Design Center will ensure that western art will continue to thrive for years to come.
Because it is composed of three elements, the building can accomplish multiple purposes at once. The Design Center will become a place for everyone to enjoy. Whether an artisan, student, or buyer, the home for western design will be a home for local, state, and community arts.
“If you think of it in terms of a stool, the By Western Hands organization would be the top of the stool,” said Executive Director Dennie Hammer. “What supports that in this new Design Center will be the three different but equally important legs.”
Maintaining western craft is one main goal of the By Western Hands Design Center. The education and training center, containing a workshop, is the first leg, helping keep this purpose standing.
“The workshop is going to be a space for those working under an apprenticeship program with By Western Hands and Northwest College, and others learning different artisan skills,” stated Hammer.
Because the education and training center correlates with Northwest College, artisans can volunteer to help train students who are apprenticing under the college’s curriculum. This learning opportunity will connect those with a desire for the honored craft, passing on western design for future generations.
Not only will artisans be able to showcase their trade through the education and training center, they will be able to share their trade through the next part of the By Western Hands stool – the member gallery. The gallery will become a designated place for buyers and artisans to meet, providing a simple way for everyone to view western talent.
As artisans display their work in the member gallery, they will be assisted with a showcase room, the support of the By Western Hands website, and authenticity to reinforce their business.
The museum is the final component in helping support the By Western Hands mission.
“The museum will give not only the history but highlight some of the finest furniture from the past as well as looking on to the future,” said co-founder Carlene Lebous. “The past informs the future.”
Through a display of history, intricate pieces, and private collections, the museum will revolve around the importance of western design to the world.
Cody resident, Wally Reber, who recently retired from the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, will establish the archive and curate the BWH museum. Through a 3D model, Mr. Reber described the layout of the museum, designed to tell a story, beginning with the history of Thomas Molesworth who brought forth the concept of western design to our Cody community.
“The applause goes to Molesworth as he introduced us all to this defined sort of western style,” said Reber. “But then it was carried on, and contemporaries used the style at this point in time.”
In the same way that Thomas Molesworth designs were continued, the museum’s layout will be designed. As the room entry leads the guests into an area with contemporary designs, the evolution of western furniture into special contemporary designs will display Molesworth style modifications. “This is a way to put real value on the material out there,” said Reber.
Those who are interested in the craft, talent, or history of western themed art will have the opportunity to savor it all in one place. The museum will be a space, overflowing with knowledge and helping to honor western style traditions for future generations.
“Over the years, not only did we build friendships and watch the level of design created, we realized there was a lot to make sure that we preserved over the years,” said Lebous.
The construction of the Design Center is still in progress with many people persevering to ensure it will become a home for everyone to appreciate, preserve, and experience a piece of what makes western themed functional art so important.
“It’s been a fairly clear roadmap of how these three components came together,” said co-founder Harris Haston.
The Design Center will not only fit in perfectly here in Cody, Wyoming, but will secure western traditions live on forever in our remarkable Western town.
On the heels of the ’07 show, Cody High Style was set to be the premier destination for western design and fashion. However, couture fashion and finely crafted studio furniture would take a back seat to national economic circumstances. The recession that began on a similar timeline as Cody High Style would plague the attendance numbers of both exhibitors and prospective clients. This overall decline in numbers and a perceived shortage of gallery space was enough for the museum to let its sponsorship lapse in 2011.
Recognizing the importance of the show, the Cody Country Chamber of Commerce made the decision to underwrite the show on a three-year commitment. The show was held at the museum in 2012, and then moved back to the Cody Auditorium in 2013.
Unfortunately, to many participants the move back to the auditorium was a serious letdown, particularly for those who had only been active in the Cody High Style shows at the museum. According to Anne Beard, “We got spoiled by being at the museum.” The lighting at the museum was so much better than at the auditorium, but even more so was the gravitas of the museum itself. To be able to say that your piece was on display at one of the finest western museums in the world was very significant to many craftsmen.
Several artisans did not follow the show back to the auditorium in ’13 and fewer still in’14. Though Osiecki made a valiant effort, the show had lost much of its luster after the move. The writing may have been on the wall, but this further hurt the show and may have been the straw that broke the camel’s back.
One point that should not be understated for the Western Design Conference and for Cody High Style is that in planning events during the same week as the art show and Patron’s Ball, they, along with the events at the museum, made it very difficult to quantify the financial benefits to the community for each event separately. With the “three-legged stool” of the Rendezvous Royale all working together everyone benefits, but if one falters, as was the case with Cody High Style, the decision to save it became hard to justify for the Chamber. As a consequence, after the 2014 show, the Chamber announced it would not financially support the show in 2015.
Seeking to find a fresh start, but using the philosophies of the original Western Design Conference, the Cody craftsmen came together to form the Cody Western Artisans Guild in 2007. The original guild had twenty-six members, representing Cody’s finest craftsmen: Jim Anderson, Scott Armstrong, Maurice Brown, John Cash, Brice & Yazmhil Corman, Jimmy Covert, Lynda Covert, Steve Estes, Bill Feeley, John Gallis, Tim Goodwin, Mike Hemry, Bert & Judy Hopple, Tim & Tiffany Lozier, Ernie Lytle, Tom McCoy, Doug Nordberg, Joe Paisley, Wally Reber, Lester Santos, Fly Brod, Keith & Lisa Seidel, Ron & Jean Shanor, Matt Sheridan, Ken Siggins, and Marc Taggart.
These craftsmen and women, led by co-chairs, Jimmy Covert and Wally Reber, created the idea for Cody High Style. With ethics similar to the early Western Design Conferences, Cody High Style’s mission was to educate, to present economic opportunities, and to provide a forum for the exchange of ideas which perpetuate the best traditions of Western decorative Arts.
Unlike the early conferences which took place at the Cody Auditorium – whose decorum and lighting was not the highest caliber – Cody High Style was sponsored by and held at the Buffalo Bill Historical Center. To many of the craftsmen who had participated in the Western Design Conferences, the move was a perfect match. The museum held the Molesworth exhibition in ’89 and the largest collection of Molesworth furniture, housed the permanent collection of Switchback Award winners, and was a world-class western museum.4 7 What better forum to hold a show with the premier western designers and craftsmen?
In 2007, the Cody Western Artisans Guild and Buffalo Bill Historical Center held the first Cody High Style. The show was much smaller than the recent conferences. There were fifty-nine exhibitors in the first High Style show. In the 2005 and 2006 conferences, there were one hundred ten and ninety-two exhibitors, respectively. The number of awards dramatically reduced from as high as twenty-five in 2004 to nine in the first High Style show. The show was also designated to be a retrospective for six artisans who had been long time participants of the Cody shows. All of these elements – the gallery-style lighting, higher quality venue, smaller scale, and the artisans – gave the new Cody High Style not only a more intimate feel, but a level above. Anne Beard, a fabric artisan, who participated in the first Western Design Conference and won numerous awards, said of the first Cody High Style, “It was exciting again. The first few Cody High Style shows were as exciting as the first Western Design Conferences.”
As is the saying with the success of a restaurant, “location, location, location” – the success of Cody High Style was driven in large part by being at the museum, and the director at the time, Bob Shimp, guaranteed the craftsmen three years of support. So the artisans, both from Cody and those who had travelled for many years to come to the shows, had a new home. With the combined effort and desire of the Cody Western Artisans Guild, the numerous volunteers who dedicated their time, including former director, K.T. Roes, and the staff at the museum, notably, Jill Osiecki Gleich, – who many craftsmen have said did a great job as coordinator – Cody High Style was a rousing success.
Despite the growing success of the show, it was not, nor was it originally intended to be, an overly profitable venture. In most years, the show covered its costs and would yield a marginal return. 42 Unfortunately the financial structure of the show was setup where the board members had to personally back the annual note the conference held with its bank. This put a lot of pressure not only on the staff, but also on those board members, as they would be personally responsible for any shortfalls. As the show continued to grow, so did its bottom line, which over the years only further increased their personal risk. The board members also had to find a replacement for Marx who tendered her resignation, after the 2001 show.
Though the departure was on good terms, it was a significant loss. Marx had been a huge driver of the show. She had pushed the show to a higher level of professionalism and reached a much broader market than the early shows. Further, the 2001 show, which was on pace to be one of the best conferences to-date, took place only a week after 9/11, and consequently had lackluster performance. All of these factors came to a head in 2002 when, for the first time, the show took a financial loss, leaving the board members responsible for the shortfall. Having to make the decision
whether to write personal checks to creditors or look for another viable option, the board sold the show in 2003 to Western Interiors and Design.
As Western Interiors and Design was preparing for the show in May of ’03, the conference and the colony of Cody area craftsmen suffered a tragic loss when its founder, J. Mike Patrick, lost his life in a car accident.
Mike’s passing signaled the closing of a significant chapter in western design and Cody’s history. Different than many of the craftsmen in this industry, Patrick had the vision and commitment to bring together a group who until then worked mostly in isolation. In the January 2004 article in Log Home Design, Marx stated, “Mike was very much the guiding light of the conference. He had a vision and was very intense about following it.”
On the heels of the sale of the show and Marx’s departure in 2001, the loss of its Patrick would prove to be too much for the conference to bear. The show would operate for several more years under the ownership of Western Interiors and Design, but despite a growth in participation (2005 had 110 exhibitors) the show did not thrive in its new incarnation.
Carol Decker, the founder and CEO of Western Interiors and Design, stated, “The goal is to encourage the continuation of creativity and beautifully crafted work. We want to nourish and support these artists and craftspeople.” Western Interiors aim was to make the show profitable and thus sustainable. In 2003, for the first time in its 11-year history, the Western Design Conference became a for-profit venture.
While Western Interiors intention may have been to follow the framework set forth by Patrick and the early boards – the belief that bringing artisans together to share ideas and philosophies benefits all – the for-profit motivation was at odds with those earlier sentiments, and the show began to take on much more of a “trade-show” feel. This eventually tarnished what had been a gathering place for the craftsmen and artisans, and the show attendance and profitability began to fall off. In 2006, Western Interiors looked for suitors for the show. Initially, Decker sought out the Buffalo Bill Historical Center, as a possible buyer for the show, but, after negotiations over the pricing fell through, the museum was not interested in the purchase of the show.
In 2007, Western Interiors did find a buyer when Powder Mountain Press and Jackson Hole News and Guide partnered to purchase the show. Once the ink was dry, the new owners moved it to its current location in Jackson, Wyoming. The sale and move of the conference left Cody area craftsmen and all of those who had travelled to participate with a void. Cody had become synonymous with western design, and the Western Design Conference had become not just a place to meet prospective clients or show ones latest and best pieces. It had become a gathering place for friends who shared a common bond. Many exhibitors had been coming to Cody for nearly a decade or more. While many craftsmen would follow the show and participate in Jackson, a core group would come together for what would become a renaissance of the old ideas in a new setting.
K.T. Roes was the executive director again in 1996 and the show was successful, but the board decided to make a change, and in 1997 hired Thea Marx, as the new executive director. A native of Kinnear, Wyoming, Marx was living in Cody, but working in Campbell County, exporting log homes from Canada to Japan. Marx had a background in marketing, and a passion for design and immediately put that fusion of skill and enthusiasm to work growing the conference by more than twenty exhibitors between 1997 and ’98. The style of the show also began to change. In the 1997 catalog, the basic beliefs of the Western Design Conference appeared, as listed:
- Western Design is a bona fide school of design.
- The role of education is to promote an appreciation of the school of western design.
- Quality craftsmanship is worthy of encouragement.
- Sharing of ideas, experiences and knowledge creates a synergy that is beneficial to Western Design.
- The client is an important partner in Western Design.
- An annual conference is important in fostering a sense of community among practitioners and enthusiasts of Western Design.
- The opportunity for sales is an essential element of the Western Design Conference.
- The Western Design Conference should be fun.
- The Western Design Conference recognizes the historic traditions of the Western design.
- Change is an important ingredient of the annual exhibition.
This small element helps demonstrate the conference’s move toward a more distinguished and professional show. The overall quality of the show became more refined from the exhibitors’ displays to the quality of the catalog – the show looked and was more polished by the late 90s, and the number of clients, designers, and guests had dramatically grown. By 1999, the conference had grown beyond a gathering place for craftsmen to a higher, more professional level. Awards were given through a blind jury process, seminars grew into an accredited education program, the volunteer-based staff was replaced with paid professionals, and in every way the show was growing in scale and legitimacy.
In addition to growing the conference in the number of participants and clients, Marx also helped push it to new heights by establishing the Western Design Institute. The Western Design Institute was created “to carry out the mission established by the conference at its inception. The Institute will provide architects, interior designers, collectors, and crafts people with gratifying educational opportunities.”3 9 Accredited through the American Institute of Architects and the American Society of Interior Designers, the Western Design Institute was a significant development for the conference.4 0 Now, not only could designers come to see what the best western builders and designers were displaying, those who attended the world-class seminars could use those credits to further their education and their own accreditation.
Whether simply through antidotal information, the amount of transactions that took place, or the number of participants and guests coming to the conference, the late 1990s to early 2000s would be described as the show’s high-water mark.4 1 Multiple tragic and significant events in the following years, coupled with circumstances within and outside the show’s control, helped to cement these years as the best of the Western Design Conference.
On September 20, 1993, the Master Artisans Guild hosted the first Western Design Conference. The conference was three days long, included twenty-three presenters, twenty-nine exhibitors, and a fashion show at the Old Trail Town. Like the earlier shows, the first Western Design Conference was run by the craftsmen and a core group of volunteers, all led by Mike Patrick. “He was the juice behind the movement.” Wally Reber described for Mike and his passion for the Cody shows. That passion drove not only Mike and New West to new heights, but also elevated the conference and those craftsmen who participated. Virginia said of the early shows, “you’re going to bring in fifty competitors? You’re nuts!” Though the conference did not yet have fifty exhibitors, it continued to thrive.
In ’94, the conference had thirty-nine exhibitors and fifteen presenters. In addition to growing the scale of the show from the previous year, the 1994 conference included the prestigious Switchback Ranch Purchase Award. The brainchild of Mike Patrick, who had the initial idea and a contact to underwrite the award, and Wally Reber, who had the idea for the Buffalo Bill Historical Center to purchase the award, the Switchback Award was added to preserve the best piece of the year. With the generosity of David and Paula Leuschen, the Switchback became the most coveted of all of the awards – not only would the craftsmen have sold their piece, but it would be part of the permanent collection at the premier western museum in the world.
Although still primarily a volunteer run show, the 1994 conference also marked a shift from the early guild shows and first conference in that there was a paid executive director. Dennis Zenhle, the president of a marketing and advertising firm based in Laramie that consulted for New West, was hired as the first executive director of the Western Design Conference. Although he was connected to Mike Patrick through New West, Zenhle was the director for only the 1994 show. In 1995, the show hired Cody local, K.T. Roes and her firm, Wordsworth, to run the conference.
By 1995, western interior design and fashion was fully en vogue. The scale of this growing trend was clearly evidenced by the Christie’s auction on June 7, 1995 – Furnishings from Thomas Molesworth’s “Old Lodge” for George Sumers, circa 1935 . Like the Molesworth exhibition in 1989, the Christie’s auction was further proof that western style was a legitimate school of design. The Christie’s auction helped to galvanize the movement for those putting on and participating in the Western Design Conference, and the ’95 conference reached the mark of fifty exhibitors that Mike had envisioned only a few years prior.
The 1996 and ‘97 conferences continued to grow. By then, it included nearly sixty extremely talented craftsmen, designers, leatherworkers, and metalworkers, with the majority traveling to Cody from outside the state. The conference had a board of directors, made primarily of craftsmen, was an established non-profit corporation, and, with the boards’ personal backing, had secured a note from a local bank to ensure the show would continue to grow.
In its origin, the Western Design Conference was a way to bring together the best western style furniture makers to showcase their talents, help push each other to be better, and educate their clients and each other as to what quality western designed studio arts represented. In its goal, according to the craftsmen that were part of those early shows, it was successful. It was the place where interior designers, gallery owners, and prospective clients could come to see what the top western craftsmen and artisans were building and making.