Mountain Living

Fall 1998

A Forum for New Expressions.


Photo: David O. Marlow
Printer Boy End Table

The exclusive Western Design Conference in Cody, Wyoming, focuses on quality and diversity, making it the nation’s premier show.

(excerpt from Mountain Living Magazine)

This year, Greg Race plans a “dichotomous representation” of his hand-crafted tables at the Western Design Conference in Cody, Wyoming. One table will demonstrate contemporary Western design’s clean, open lines. The other will feature the rougher wood elements and rawhide joinery of the traditional rustic Western look. While Race, the owner of Leadville, Colorado-based Quandary Design, has steadily increased his focus on the contemporary side, his display will offer a glimpse of Western design’s evolution.

The genre has grown more sophisticated, evolving from split lodgepole pine into “very contemporary works,” says Thea Marx, executive director of the conference. The result resembles a Frank Lloyd Wright look with a Western feel, as Western Design incorporates a “very wide breadth of materials and textiles,” she says. Canvas, leather and denim have evolved into leather, velvets and silks, for example, while the traditional coral, silver and turquoise jewelry has moved into gold, sapphires and diamonds.

That expanded breadth will be highlighted at the Western Design Conference from September 23 to 26. More than a trade show, the invitation-only and juried display features only the freshest and most innovative Western design products. What it doesn’t include are rote Western products or mass-produced pieces. Seminars and the conference fashion show, How the West Was Worn, will be held at the Buffalo Bill Historical Center.  Founded in 1991 by local artisan J. Michael Patrick, owner of New West, the conference highlights the versatility of Western design. For the artists, it’s a chance to network with other artisans in a remarkably companionable genre and an opportunity to display their work at what’s become the most renown forum nationwide. An added perk: Local merchants sponsor artists and make space in their shops for their work.

Artists are invited based on design qualities of design, Marx says. Jurists note whether the submissions are cutting-edge or “the same old thing,” what materials are used and more.

“One thing the conference has done is driven quality,” Patrick notes. “It’s an exhibition, not a trade show.” Every year, the quality goes up, he says. Those who haven’t done their best work are embarrassed. Jurists aren’t interested, for example, “in the same old thing – a keyhole chair to the nth degree or to see who can make the best same old thing. We’d rather see new expressions.

“The thing that amazes people when they arrive is the quality and diversity,” Marx says. “They are expecting a trade show and booth space with mass-produced pieces. These are limited editions, one-of-a-kind. It’s very exclusive.”