Cody Western Furniture
It’s going to be a big week for me in Buffalo Bill’s Cody/Yellowstone Country with some serious decision-making going on.
That’s because I am going shopping for furniture, and I am not talking about your basic sofas, loveseats, chairs, ottomans and recliners.
No, I like to buy my furniture one or two pieces at a time from one of many fine artists in town. You probably didn’t know that our little town has attracted some of the finest builders and designers of Western furniture and accessories.
This is not something that happened overnight, and we can trace Cody’s roots as a center for Western furniture back to the 1930s to our most famous designer and builder – Thomas Molesworth, owner of the Shoshone Furniture Company. Molesworth combined the basic furniture designs that local cowboys used in ranch houses throughout the area with elements such as leather, horsehide, elk antlers, Native American weavings, brass tacks and more.
After building furniture for us locals, Molesworth’s work became known by Easterners, many of whom traveled to Western dude ranches and Yellowstone National Park. He subsequently receivedcommissions to design and build tables, chairs, couches and other furniture for homes across the country. In the process he became the best-known designer and builder of furniture in the Western genre.
In 1989 the Buffalo Bill Center of the West (then known as the Buffalo Bill Historical Center) held an exhibition called “Interior West: The Craft and Style of Thomas Molesworth.” This exhibition sparked a renewed interest and helped to attract builders and marked a resurgence of Western design, particularly among furniture builders.
Since that spark almost 25 years ago, furniture builders have opened shops, trained apprentices and taken traditional techniques and designs to a new level. We now feature approximately two dozen artisans creating unusual furniture in both traditional and modern Western motifs. Their wares are available in the town’s galleries and directly at many of the artists’ shops or through their web sites. Most artists are happy to provide tours, and most have showrooms.
Much of the distinct design comes from the fact that the original ranchers often had limited materials with which to work. The original Molesworth chairs often featured branches from lodge pole pine trees that developed those big knobs, and he incorporated them into the design. The hides from cattle were used for upholstery, and Rocky Mountain junipers added wood grains you could spot a mile away. And then there are the antler specialists who use elk, deer and moose antlers to create those spectacular chandeliers, lamps and more.
The question is: Do I go for the coffee table with the antler legs or the jewelry box trimmed in leather and brass tacks?
Until next time, I’ll be shopping for that special furniture piece in Buffalo Bill’s Cody/Yellowstone Country!