Honoring Legacy

The new By Western Hands design center in Cody, Wyoming, is part museum, part classroom and part gallery

Rustic is not always as “simple” and “plain” as the dictionary would have you believe. 

Hand-carved doctor’s bag by John Blair of J.L. Blair Saddlery.

Beautifully tooled leather saddles, picturesquely inlaid wooden chairs and intricately embellished silver spurs all require artistry and mastery. Luckily, By Western Hands, a nonprofit organization in Cody, Wyoming, was founded to preserve “the legacy of Western design.”

Burl and antler end table by Ron Shanor of Wildewood Furniture.

It started with the artists, notes Kristin Fong, executive director and CEO. Local artists connected with avid collectors Harris Haston and Carlene Lebous, who became the organization’s co-founders. After years of planning, By Western Hands recently finished construction on its beautiful design center in Cody, which houses both the Western Design Museum and a gallery.

Molesworth-inspired dining chair by Tim Lozier of How Kola Furniture.

While the museum honors recognized Western artisans and the gallery promotes contemporary artists, the two components of the center intertwine. “It is no accident that our beautifully carved front door takes the shape of a large rooted tree, with branches spread wide: the roots of Western design started in Cody, and inspiration still stems from the history and spirit of this place,” explains Fong. At times, an artist is represented in both the museum and the gallery. Past and present also connect when pieces on view in the Western Design Museum inspire living artists.

Artisan Kevin Showell of Kevin Showell Custom demonstrates his wood-carving technique and array of tools to a visitor in the BWH workshop.

An installation at the By Western Hands Design Museum.

Given its rich artistic heritage, Cody is a perfect place to house By Western Hands. Two notable craftsmen who shaped Western design founded their businesses in the city in the early 1900s—Thomas Molesworth and Edward Bohlin. Molesworth, the father of Western studio furniture, began with simple designs, crafting functional furniture from lodgepole pines. After some years, Molesworth developed his mature style of cowboy furniture, which included inlaid scenes, Arts and Crafts influences and local materials such as horn and hides.

Intricately hand-tooled 1/2 scale saddle from John Blair of J.L.Blair Saddlery.

Switchback award-winning piece from Eric Shell in saddle-stitched leather and twisted juniper.

Cody was also home to Edward Bohlin, the Swedish-born silversmith and “saddlemaker to the stars,” who crafted Western-style buckles, saddles and accessories popularized in Hollywood films. The Western Design Museum honors the legacy of Molesworth and Bohlin, as well as other craftspeople—“educating the public about how Cody came to be the birthplace and locus of Western design,” Fong states. The museum includes a heritage archive that is open by appointment for visitors and researchers.

Rocking chair in walnut from Shane Hughes.

“Head Above the Clouds” hall table by Kevin Showell.

Additionally, By Western Hands focuses on education by offering hands-on training and mentor programs for high school and college students. The goal is to teach future artisans traditional skills through master-apprentice relationships. The nonprofit developed a unique arts program in collaboration with Northwest College of Wyoming, designing a field of study leading to an associate’s degree.

Ernie Marsh demonstrates the meticulous art of silver engraving.

With its museum, gallery, archive and educational programs, By Western Hands pays tribute to Western design and Cody’s artistic heritage. Ultimately, the goal of the nonprofit is to highlight the grandeur of Western functional art.


EXHIBITION During the week of September 16-21, By Western Hands will participate in the Rendezvous Royale festivities in Cody. The BWH Invitational Design Exhibition will exhibit the work of approximately 30 artists. “Pieces entered into the exhibition will not have been shown anywhere previously, and will be unique to this exhibition,” Fong explains. This inaugural exhibition is especially important since it comes shortly after the opening of the organization’s design center. Work on view “will be made of everything from wood to silver to bone to beads,” says Fong.

A chair by Doug Nordberg with antler inlay on all sides and antique Chimayo upholstery. 

JOIN IN For artists and guests wanting an immersive experience, BWH is offering various workshops, including a two-day Molesworth-style medicine/curio cabinet workshop with award-winning woodworker John Gallis, September 16-17. The class guides participants through a custom furniture build and includes instruction and materials. Reservations are required.

Anne Beard’s “Wild and Wooly” hand-appliqued and -embroidered chair with twisted fringe provides a pop of color in the Western Design Museum. 

STOP BY By Western Hands will be open daily during the week-long celebration of Western art. The newly completed design center is located a few blocks away from the Buffalo Bill Center of the West and the Buffalo Bill Art Show and Sale. BWH will offer complimentary shuttle service Thursday through Saturday during Rendezvous Royale, so visitors can enjoy all the festival activities.

As seen in the September/October 2019 issue

Categories: High-Country Communities