Cody High Style – Fall 2008
Pages 24 and 25
What led you to start building western furniture?
At twenty-two, after I had retired from a career as a professional athlete, I was looking for a way to sustain my athletic lifestyle. I worked as a house painter and paperhanger for what seemed like an eternity, although looking back it was probably less than a year, before a snowboarding buddy of mine invited me to build rustic furniture with him. I worked with him on evenings and weekends to build my skills. Then I took off on my own when a co-worker of mine in the painting business suggested, upon seeing my first barstool design, that I shouldn’t quite my day job. That discouragement is what drove me to work diligently on my craft. He was right, though; I went back to painting on a few occasions to pay the bills while launching my furniture business.
Where or from whom do you find inspiration?
I don’t have a definable source of inspiration or muse. I’ve always had an intrinsic sense, and aesthetically, I know what I like and dislike. Furniture design and construction, for me, is a compilation of trial-and-error experiments conducted with guidance from visual notes I’ve stored in my memory from the past. Since my waking reality is framed in the context of furniture design, I find design ideas for visual art in just about every experience that I have in life.
What kind of people do you find are most attracted to your furniture?
I can’t really classify the disparate personalities that are drawn to my furniture, but in general, urbanites and western transplants seem to enjoy the sophistication and structure of my work. My pieces are overtly designed around specific objects or materials that are local and western in nature, which seems to ground my work in the region. I see myself primarily as a contemporary designer whose backyard happens to be full of old western mining town relics. Out of economy and necessity, my work just ends up patinaed and somewhat rustic. I think what resonates most with people who are attracted to my work is that I supplement fairly traditional stylized design concepts with unconventional material combinations.
What kind of designs do you see yourself building in the future?
I don’t have specific pieces in queue that I wish to build. I will continue to explore and expand my skill with found objects and mixed media, which, in a nutshell, means any material that I come across that looks visually appealing to me.
Rustic Juniper Barstool, 1995
Sandblasted seat with sandblasted Utah juniper legs.
30″ tall x 16″ round seat. Photo: Kathy Lippert
My first original furniture design piece was a lodgepole pine barstool. This is an adaptation of that design in juniper. It is also the first piece in which I incorporated sandblasting as a visual texture. I have continued to use sandblasted juniper as well as this basic barstool concept in my work throughout my career.
What pivotal event, good or bad, do you remember about your career that stands out in your memory?
When I started my business, I only had enough money to pay rent for either a living space or a work space. I took an idealistic chance and opted to rent and unheated studio and reside in a borrowed cargo van in the height of a Colorado winter. I’m grateful that my business took off, and within six months, I located a house with a work space that I could afford. I don’t think I’ve ever really thawed-out from that winter though, and I certainly don’t have the same reverence for camping that I once did.
How do you feel about the Cody High Style and the furniture of western design in this area?
Throughout the nineties, there was only one lucrative and successful exhibit of western furniture design, the Western Design Conference. Because of its success, there have been many spin-offs and attempts to replicate its accomplishments. Unfortunately, these attempts have only served to dilute the genre, not strengthen it. Cody High Style has stepped in with the right people and the right venue to capture the best of what made the Western Design Conference unique and productive. I’m hopeful that Cody High Style will serve to anchor both collectors and artists in a memorable, annual event. With that said, western design’s future will exist commensurate with the demand created by its patrons. Since our uniquely American style of handcrafted designs cannot be easily reproduced or replicated, in contrast to mass-produced items, its value, and presumably demand, will continue to increase.
right image: Reclamation Ranching Barstool, 1998
Antique cast iron tractor seat with spring, antique gear pattern, barbed wire accent, fence post legs.
17″ deep x 17″ wide x 30″ tall. Photo: David O. Marlow
Very early in my career, I began welding brackets and other structural furniture components to solidify my woodwork. In this piece, welded metalwork became the design and substance, not just the structure behind the work. My objective as to bring a tastefully executed piece of furniture, composed of green fenceposts, to the Western Design Conference.
left image: Grandfather Chair, 2007
Antiqued steel frame, Utah juniper seat back, Claro walnut clock face with .45 and .22 bullet shell accents, dyed and distressed leather seat with tack accents, and electrical insulator feet.
62″ tall x 24″ wide x 23″ deep. Photo: Kathy Lippert
This chair highlights my contemporary interest in balancing the dichotomy of new and old. I integrate the strength of a modular steel frame with wood, leather, and found objects as supporting textures. With this concept, I am able to make very visually rich materials of questionable structural integrity that appear more substantive than they really are.