The Best in Western Art
Design excellence on display in Jackson Hole at the Western Design Conference
Every September, Jackson, Wyoming, becomes the epicenter of Western design as a select group of nearly 100 artists comes together to show and sell one-of-a-kind creations to discerning patrons looking for special pieces to furnish their homes or add to their wardrobes. Designs in wood and metal, fabric and leather—among other media—will again be on display Sept. 8-11 at the Western Design Conference Exhibit + Sale. The event is a signature feature of the monthlong Jackson Hole Fall Arts Festival.
Executive director Allison Merritt, who has been with the show since it moved to Jackson from Cody in 2007, says the juried exhibition is unlike other craft and design shows. Its smaller size allows patrons “the time to meet and talk to the artists,” Merritt says. “You know these people stand behind their work, and we stand behind the show. It’s also a draw for architects and designers to connect with the craftsmen.” More than 5,000 people are expected to attend during the four days of the event, experiencing the functional art of makers from 20 states.
“I’ve worked hard to continue to keep a high bar and grow who’s coming,” says Merritt, who views her role as promoting artists who range from “cowboy to contemporary” and often use traditional methods to create their designs, such as hand-looming fabrics. The show takes no commissions from sales, and $20,000 in prizes are awarded to artists.
Among the featured artists this year is Joe Lake of Lake AntlerWorks, who combines naturally shed antlers and live-edge wood to create distinctive desks and tables. Joe and his wife, Laurel, collected antlers when they lived in Wyoming, and upon moving to Minnesota in 2020, he needed a desk. So he crafted one with antlers as a base. That led to many more creations and Lake’s return to Wyoming for WDC, where he was awarded a prize in the mixed-media category in 2021. This will be his second time at the show.
In a similar vein, Kelly Maxwell of Nashville, Tennessee, fell into a new career 20 years ago after his wife, Cathy, asked him if he could make some furniture for his stepdaughter’s wedding. Those simple log tables and benches were the beginning, and Kelly Maxwell Designs now offers furniture inspired by nature. He often uses discarded natural materials and dead standing trees to craft his works.
The WDC also features a five-room Designer Show House in the middle of the conference center floor, where several interior design firms display the latest in home décor and furnishings. Among the companies featured this year is Juniper Interiors. The firm previously participated in the WDC in 2020 when it was held as a virtual event, and principal designer Jacie S. Coleman says she can’t wait to meet in person with patrons again. “We look at the WDC as a way to network with other artists and designers and meet people who are looking for design services,” says Coleman, who lives in Idaho Falls, Idaho. She and business partner Erika Hachey, who resides in Pocatello, Idaho, like to mix new and vintage furnishings to create a look that is unique to each home. They will be creating a “clubby, clean-lined den” at the conference, Coleman says.
Visitors to the WDC can expect to be wowed, whether their tastes run to traditional Western or contemporary cowboy style. “What we hear most is, ‘We’ve never been to something like this,’” Merritt says. “It’s over-the-top in a fun way.”
WESTERN DESIGN CONFERENCE EXHIBIT + SALE
Artists and designers from across the country will show and sell their creations at the 30th annual Western Design Conference Exhibit + Sale from Sept. 8 to 11 at the Snow King Events Center in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. The event kicks off with a Preview Party + Fashion Show Sept. 8, when guests can get a first look at the venue and meet artists and interior designers while sampling spirits and appetizers. A live auction and runway show follows with couture creations from 16 fashion designers. The exhibit and sale will be open Sept. 9-11 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. In the center of the venue is a Designer Show House that visitors can tour to see a curated collection of furnishings and the work of top interior design firms in the area. Admission to the Exhibit + Sale is $30 per person and includes a free daily happy hour. Tickets to the opening preview party and fashion show are $75 per person; VIP reserved seating is $150 per person.
Full details at westerndesignconference.com.