Fashion, furniture shows from Cody’s ‘art week’ face uncertain future

Liz Holmes, left, looks on as furniture designer John Gallis helps Hilary Heminway build a stool during a 2008 workshop as part of the Cody High Style show. Gallis coached a dozen students at his Norseman Designs West workshop on how to create a stool in the style of Western design pioneer Thomas Molesworth.

Ruffin Prevost

Liz Holmes, left, looks on as furniture designer John Gallis helps Hilary Heminway build a stool during a 2008 workshop as part of the Cody High Style show. Gallis coached a dozen students at his Norseman Designs West workshop on how to create a stool in the style of Western design pioneer Thomas Molesworth.

CODY, WYO. — A long-running showcase for local and regional designers of Western furniture and fashion faces an uncertain future after organizers announced they are stepping away from the program, which they say is costly to produce and has not met expectations for attendance and revenue.

The Cody Country Chamber of Commerce announced Friday that the organization would not produce the annual Cody High Style show for fall 2015. The group had organized the series of events since 2011 as part of Cody’s annual Rendezvous Royale.

That weeklong annual celebration of the arts has focused on fashion, furniture, painting and sculpture during late September, serving as a major fundraiser for the Chamber and the Buffalo Bill Center of the West. Rendezvous Royale has also helped extend Cody’s summer tourism season, drawing well-heeled visitors to a series of events that benefit local charities and help boost local merchants.

The Cody High Style fashion show, furniture showcase and other related events “require a lot of resources to be produced correctly,” Chamber executive director Scott Balyo said in a statement released Friday.

“Our mission is to have the right portfolio of events which generate business for our members and make financial sense for the Chamber. After very careful consideration, we’ve decided that Cody High Style no longer meets those requirements,” he said.

The Chamber is hoping to hear from groups or individuals interested in assuming leadership of Cody High Style, Balyo said. It was not immediately clear under what terms the show might be transferred to new organizers, and the Chamber did not release details of the show’s finances, attendance or other key metrics.

Balyo said the chamber and its events coordinator, Tia Mitchell, would continue to focus on the Buffalo Bill Art show while developing new events “that will be economically advantageous to the community and our members.”

New life possible

At least one local furniture maker is optimistic that Cody High Style—or some incarnation of the show—can find new life, possibly as part of the annual Buffalo Bill Art Show & Sale, held at the same time each year.

Mayor Nancy Tia Brown models a fur made by Joel Kaye during the Cody High Style Fashion show on Wednesday in Cody, Wyo.

Ruffin Prevost / Yellowstone Gate

Mayor Nancy Tia Brown models a fur made by Joel Kaye during the Cody High Style Fashion show on Wednesday in Cody, Wyo.

“I’m not going to give up on it,” said John Gallis of Norseman Designs West, a Cody artisan who has helped organize High Style events and a frequent recipient of top honors for his work.

Gallis said the show has “kind of lost momentum” in recent years, but that one option may be to feature a sampling of top High Style furniture and fashions as part of the Buffalo Bill Art Show. That event has grossed up to $1 million annually in recent years, and benefits the Chamber and Buffalo Bill Center.

Sprinkling a few furniture pieces and fashion items into the art show, which features more than 100 offerings, would help showcase the best work by local designers, and add new life to a show and sale primarily focused on paintings and sculptures, Gallis said.

Volunteers who carry works of art onto the runway for viewing could at the same time be modeling Western fashions from featured designers, he said.

Cody High Style has its roots in the Western Design Conference, a a showcase of local and regional furniture makers and designers working in the Western tradition, first held in 1992 and organized by Cody area craftsmen.

But after struggling for years to turn a profit, the Western Design Conference was sold in 2003 to Western Interiors and Design, a Jackson, Wyo. company that published a magazine by the same name.

Jackson-bound

The company later offered to sell the conference to the Buffalo Bill Center, but the two sides were unable to agree on a price for the event. The show was subsequently moved to Jackson, where it is a key part of a similar annual arts festival held one week earlier than Cody’s.

Jake Jones, left, and Dan Neilsen photograph a wooden bicycle created by Powell, Wyo. craftsman Ati Bekes during a visit Saturday to the 2013 Cody High Style exhibition in Cody, Wyo.

Ruffin Prevost / Yellowstone Gate

Jake Jones, left, and Dan Neilsen photograph a wooden bicycle created by Powell, Wyo. craftsman Ati Bekes during a visit Saturday to the 2013 Cody High Style exhibition in Cody, Wyo.

In March 2006, the Center and Chamber announced they would jointly start a new show to be called the Cody Conference on Western Design, and later named Cody High Style. The Center hosted the show until 2011, before turning it over to the Chamber.

Local furniture makers expressed optimism during that transitional period that having nonprofits like the Chamber and Center run the show—rather than a for-profit publishing company—would allow exhibitors to focus on art and craft over budget and commerce. But none of the new players were able to find a way to economically stage the event, especially when competing against the relocated Jackson event, which far outpaces Cody’s show for attendance and sales.

More than 100 exhibitors took part in this year’s Jackson show, compared to about 20 in Cody, said Gallis, who attends both shows.

“It is disappointing. When I moved here, Cody was the furniture capital of the West. But now maybe it’s moved to Jackson,” he said.

Gallis has hosted hands-on woodworking workshops during the last several High Style shows as a way to let novices learn about furniture making, and said he would continue that effort during future Rendezvous Royale weeks.

“I’m still game to give this 110 percent of my attention, effort and backing. But I definitely need some more people with the same outlook,” Gallis said. “I just want to keep this whole genre current and credible and viable here. I don’t want to have it go by the wayside.”

Contact Ruffin Prevost at 307-213-9818 or [email protected].

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