It’s back – live and in person.
Last year, the pandemic shifted the Western Design Conference to an online sourcebook with shop-able pages for artists where buyers could inquire or purchase from artists directly.
“It was a nice segue – clients could commission something if they wanted,” says Allison Merritt, executive director of the conference. “It was a good way to stay connected, and be on social media too.”
This year, though, the 29th annual conference will be held in its traditional 28,000 square-foot exhibition hall. And it’ll be a full house. “Typically we have 100 exhibitors, but this year we sold out of booth space at 83 because some wanted larger spaces,” she says.
So for four days, it’ll be the largest gallery in all of Jackson, Wyo.
The conference is abiding by CDC and Teton County recommendations – and while there’s no mask order in effect, a number of activities are outdoors and the exhibition hall is well-ventilated. “We’re encouraging people to be open and be safe,” she says. “We’re being responsibly wild, as they say in Jackson.”
It all kicks off on Thursday, Sept. 9 with an opening preview party, and a live runway fashion show with cowboy couture – where jewelry, clothing, boots, hats and handbags can be directly purchased. Three days of exhibit and sales will follow, engaging guests in a tactile, hands-on experience as they explore the detailed craftsmanship and Old-World techniques of museum-quality pieces for the home.
This year there are six rooms in the designer show house, where interior designers are curating full-size rooms to incorporate fine, handcrafted pieces. “Max Humphrey out of Portland, Ore. is one and he has his ‘Modern Americana’ book out, and Connor Liljestrom is filling the hallway all in artwork,” she says. “Harker Design is designing a Great Room, and Old Hickory and Gibbs Smith Publishing are collaborating on a library with 100 Western-themed design books, all for sale, with the authors there for signing.”
The event hands out $20,000 in cash awards each year to participating artists and designers. Funds come from a combination of sponsor fees and an opening night live auction with a 50/50 split. “The artists donate pieces,” she says. “Fifty percent goes to contributing artists and 50 percent goes to the awards fund.”
Best of show wins $5,000 and the best in different genres get $1,000. “There are six judges this year, all experts in different design fields,” she says. “Among them are an architect, a jeweler, a sculptor, an editor who was at Vogue France for 15 years and a Western-style photographer.”
It’s all designed to honor a high level of creativity in a world where much is mass produced. “These are pieces that can be passed down – it’s functional art,” she says. “And it doesn’t have to be wildly expensive.”
But “responsibly wild” remains the watchword for this conference.