Cowboy couture at WDC


By Tibby Plasse As Seen In Jackson Hole News & Guide

As Fendi celebrated the 25th anniversary of its famed baguette purse this week during New York Fashion Week, the Western Design Conference took over the Snow King ice arena to celebrate its 30th anniversary in cowboy couture.

“This is a great time for Western Design,” said Allison Merritt, executive director of the Western Design Conference. “There is an outpouring of talent from across the country at the Western Design Conference Exhibit and Sale. Artists and designers representing 20 different states feature one-of-akind work from Cowboy to Contemporary came to Jackson Hole, marking the 30th anniversary.”

Wares included a Colorado farrier and his worn horseshoes being repurposed into decorative pieces large and small, including a base frame for a large cottonwood stump and its glass topper that exposed the tree’s root system to act as a sculpture.

Merritt points to a quote from Eleanor Roosevelt when she thinks about the role decorative arts and material culture play in our lives and homes.

“There is a joy and connection in living with objects that you love,” she said. “Here, each juried piece has a story to tell. Eleanor Roosevelt once said, ‘The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.’ ” The showroom had nearly 100 artists on display in the transformed ice rink, which felt more like a party than a trade show. Bars were dispersed amongst the booths, artists, enthusiasts and shoppers were stopping to speak to one another as each admired one unique ware after another. Two conversation pieces caused big bottlenecks of attendees who gathered and swapped reactions. A custom poker table made from a hide and covered in tattoo art featured bullet cartridges as handles for the chip drawers. It was made by Jerry Van Vleet of Legendary Heirloom.

“The elk hide came from Fred Barnowsky, one of the original smoke jumpers in Missoula when I cleaned out his barn,” Van Vleet said.

It was impossible to not stop and inspect the already sold $13,000 table for all of its details, including the knotty tree base which came from the same tree that the table’s cover inlay came from.

The second piece that made friends of strangers was quite literally the constant opening and closing of a door by Thomas Harvey at Earth Wood Design.

The artisans were selected through a rigorous and juried process that “accepts only the best of the best in Western-inspired functional art,” Merritt said.

As attendees wandered through the show, there were opportunities to shop directly at the booths. Some things were small enough to take home in your purse — like upcycled cashmere and jewelry, but in some cases, plans were needed for the larger legacy pieces like furniture.

For Merritt though, the Western Design Conference is much more than an Exhibit and Sale.

“Together we’re creating something bigger. When we collaborate, we inspire other artists and the public alike. I am forever grateful for the energy and ingenuity of the artists and designers who are an integral part of the continued success of the Western Design Conference,” Merritt said.

“We hope the over $19,000 in awards for excellence in design convey our love and respect for not only the award winners but everyone who is an integral part of this endeavor.”

This year’s jury was made up of Terry Winchell, owner of Fighting Bear Antiques for nearly 40 years; Ellie Thompson, an award-winning Chicago-based jewelry designer; Elizabeth Clair Flood, a photographer and author of five books including “Cowboy High Style: Thomas Molesworth to the New West”; John Gallis, founder of Norseman Designs West and who began his career as Bloomingdale’s lead high-end cabinet maker before moving to Cody to open his design house; and Chase Reynolds Ewald, the author of over 10 books.

The Western Design Conference was founded 30 years ago in Cody to promote contemporary artists working in historical American craft methods. The Western Design Exhibit and Sale moved to Jackson Hole in 2007, where it has been under Merritt’s direction and expanded its reach.

Merritt says the Exhibit and Sale would not be possible without every moving part that makes it so unique, from attendee to staff to sponsor to the artist.

“The artists comment that Jackson Hole is their favorite — our town, our restaurants. And they spend a lot of time immersed in all things Fall Arts Festival, but it’s the sophisticated buyers and friendly culture that has them returning year after year.”

Next year’s event will take place from Sept. 7-10, 2023. Artisan applications will be accepted online Jan. 1 to March 1.

“Together we’re creating something bigger. When we collaborate, we inspire other artists and the public alike.” — Allison Merritt WDC Executive Director

And the winners are …

The $1,000 Sonny Tuttle Spirit award is sponsored by Dr. James Ciaravella and was awarded to Keoni Wood Art.

Lifetime Achievement Award went to Lone Wolf Furniture with a $1,000 award sponsored by Terry Winchell and Fighting Bear Antiques.

The Exhibitor’s Choice 2023 Pedestal Space (Value $1,500) was awarded to Many Tears & Lake Antler Work and is sponsored by the Tara Hazlewood Foundation.

BoJoe Jewelry won Best of Show with an award of $5,000 sponsored by Maggie & Dick Scarlett.

TimberFire Studio received Best Artist for Accents, an award of $1,000 sponsored by Fighting Bear Antiques.

Tres Outlaws Boot Co. took home Best Artist for Fashion and a $1,000 award sponsored by: Skin Works by Jana.

Best Artist for Jewelry went to first-timer Jackson Hole Beadwork. The $1,000 award is sponsored by Deanna Briggs Jackson Hole Sotheby’s International Realty.

Best Artist for Mixed Media went to How Kola with the $1,000 award sponsored by First Western Trust.

Best Artist for Woodworking went to Grain of Thought Woodworking, with a $1,000 award sponsored by JLF Architects.

Best Collection-Fashion Show went to Living and Dyeing with a $1000 award sponsored by Belle Cose.

Honorable Mentions included $200 prizes and went to Gina Pannorfi, Mountain Girl Studios, Gossamer Wings, John Glossa Jewelry, Red Tail Forge Works, Kelly Maxwell Design and Lone Wolf Furniture.

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Digital Sourcebook

Available September 10th

This year’s Western Design Exhibit + Sale will be online through a new virtual marketplace.  SOURCE, COMMISSION + SHOP the Best of the West via our interactive Digital Sourcebook – online September 10. 

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