It’s amazing what can be done with 14 phalanges, eight carpals and five metacarpals, especially if those phalanges, carpals and metacarpals are located in Cody, Wyoming.
That’s what I was thinking as I strolled through the gallery at the new By Western Hands Gallery & Museum, perusing the functional furniture creations of a hand-picked, exclusive group of regional craftspeople who adhere to Western design traditions. These artists use materials like burled logs and American Indian patterns to create distinctive furniture and art that does more than just look pretty. The poker table and grandfather clock are out of my price range, but maybe that beaded pillow would be a good accent in the Corrie N. Cody house. Some day.
My small town on the eastern edge of Yellowstone happens to have many ultra-talented residents who create magic with their bare hands.
Take the musical hands of Dan Miller, Hannah Miller and Wendy Corr as they perform Dan Miller’s Cowboy Music Revue six nights a week in the summer. Switching from instrument to instrument, the talented trio show the raw talent in those nimble hands as they perform an ever-changing array of ballads, country songs and cowboy poetry.
Or the skillful hands of cowboys and cowgirls as they display their roping and riding talents at the Cody Nite Rodeo.
Then there are the hands that have helped create the authentic culture of our town throughout its history. For example, the talented hands of Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney sculpted “The Scout,” the famous sculpture of Buffalo Bill on horseback on the grounds of the Buffalo Bill Center of the West. And modern-day talented hands are creating Western-themed sidewalk art sculptures that can be found throughout town.
Sometimes, tragedy and heartache have been the impetus to put hands into action. After choosing to be imprisoned with her Japanese-American husband even though she was Caucasian, Estelle Ishigo chronicled the bleak life at the Heart Mountain Japanese American WWII Confinement Site, where some 14,000 Americans were incarcerated during the war. Her watercolors and sketches showed how children and adults alike coped with living in the cold, crowded camp.
The same tragic circumstances also inspired two American heroes to extend their hands in friendship – a friendship that would last a lifetime. Former U.S. Senator Alan Simpson, a Cody resident, and former U.S. Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta, a prisoner at the camp, met when their boy scout troops began meeting for friendly baseball games, camping and other outdoor adventures in the Greater Yellowstone region. The two became lifelong friends and political allies.
Many other talented hands can be found in Cody, from the sharpshooting hands of the guides at the Cody Firearms Experience to the hands that create culinary magic restaurants throughout the region.
Although my own hands might not be as talented as Dan Miller’s or Estelle Ishigo’s, I’m going to try to up my game in a couple of weeks when By Western Hands hosts a two-day artist-led workshop that will focus on the skill of beading. It is the first of a series of programs that focus on crafts and skills that have been central to Western life.
Until next time, I’m loving life and limbering up my hands here in Cody Yellowstone.