Makers of Award-winning Fine and Rustic Furniture

Workshop offers students hands-on experience with Western design

by Ruffin Prevost
Gazette Wyoming Bureau

Though much of the Cody High Style show features accomplished woodworkers showing off masterpieces built after a lifetime of experience, a few first-timers got to learn some basic tricks of the trade Tuesday during a hands-on workshop.

"If I can learn a little here and continue to teach myself how to do this, I think it would be a great hobby," said the aptly named Gretchen Wood, a Cody coffee shop worker who was trying her hand at woodworking for the first time.

Instructor John Gallis was showing Wood and a dozen other students how to make a milk stool in the style of Thomas Molesworth, a Western design pioneer who built furniture in Cody starting in the early 1930s.

Liz Holmes, left, looks on as furniture designer John Gallis helps Hilary Heminway build a stool Tuesday during a 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.

Through his Norseman Designs West, Gallis crafts custom furniture influenced by Molesworth but also draws from simple Shaker designs, all while following the natural, organic elements of the wood.

Though he originally planned to show students how to make a three-legged stool, the final design used four legs, "because the economy is getting so bad we wanted to give everybody one more leg for the same price," Gallis joked.

Shop foreman Tim Goodwin said the fourth leg makes for a more stable stool, an important consideration for the beginning woodworkers, who will take home their completed projects.

Gallis said he got the idea to offer a hands-on workshop after attending woodworking and furniture design seminars offered by the Anderson Ranch Arts Center, near Aspen, Colo.

"I want Cody to continue to be the Western furniture capital of the country," he said, adding that Tuesday's workshop was sold out.

Dede Draper uses a draw knife to shape a stool leg Tuesday during a furniture-making workshop.

Though the workshop was a part of the Cody High Style design conference, Gallis also teaches regular woodworking classes throughout the year to Cody residents, including many beginners.

"I have just two students at a time. A lot of them lately are women, and some of them have zero experience. I'm really proud of them, too," Gallis said.

Gallis said he enjoys teaching, and likes seeing students learn what makes for good craftsmanship or become inspired to build pieces of their own.

"This is such a cool opportunity, to be exposed to someone working at the level that John Gallis is," said Dede Draper, a designer of willow furniture from Ashton, Idaho.

"It's really generous of him to do this, and it's a real treat to get to come into someone's shop and learn from them like this," she said.

For the stool project, Gallis helped students drill round mortise holes in the seat and fashion legs with a round tenon joint to fit the seat at a 15-degree angle. Students also added applied poles - decorative half-round sticks that circle the outside edge of the seat.

"Molesworth would have used real poles, but I prefabricated these just so we could finish the project in a single day," Gallis said.

Shop foreman Tim Goodwin, center, straightens up an equipment table Tuesday at Norseman Designs West, in Cody, where a dozen students were learning how to make a stool as part of the Cody High Style show.

"Molesworth was a great pioneer, and the town owes him a great amount of credit" in advancing the Western design movement, he said.

"We're lucky to live here," Wood said.

"All up in these hills are pieces of art - dead or burned or beetle-killed pieces of wood waiting to be discovered and turned into something," she said.

Gallis spent extra time showing Wood how to make her stool using common hand tools, rather than costly shop equipment that few beginning woodworkers can afford.

"I plan to use this stool as a starting point. I figure if I can complete one thing, I can learn from that and expand on it, and maybe make a coffee table or something a little bigger and more complicated," she said.

Gallis had the same idea for his workshop.

"I'm hoping it goes over well enough that we can do it again next year. We might do a chair over two days," he said.

Article courtesy of the Billings Gazette.