Western Design Conference
Functional art takes center stage at this annual Jackson Hole show, which celebrates its 20th anniversary in September.
Clockwise (FROM TOP LEFT): Antler Expressions, Carol Braden Inc., MacPhail Studio, Bear Paw Designs, Sorrell Custom Boots, (necklace) Teripelio Designs.
PHOTOGRAPHY: COURTESY WESTERN DESIGN CONFERENCE
You don’t need an excuse to travel to Jackson Hole — the Wyoming valley lays claim to some of the most beautiful mountain landscapes in the world. However, for a few days each fall, the area offers a bonus attraction in addition to the ubiquitous Tetons, Snake River, and resident elk when it hosts one of the premier showcases for functional art.
The Western Design Conference is an annual juried exhibition and sale focused on art with a purpose, offering everything from jewelry and fashion to home décor pieces and saddles. “We are more than traditional Western style,” says director Nancy McCullough-McCoy. “Our artists are inspired by their natural surroundings and use the organic elements in their mediums to create these extraordinary functional art pieces.”
Chosen to compete for thousands of dollars in jury prizes, more than 100 artists and designers will push the envelope creatively in terms of wearable, usable, and rideable art. “Competing in the juried exhibit allows artists to have a space where they can throw caution to the wind,” says event manager Allison Merritt. Which means not every purpose is entirely practical. “Obviously, if you buy a $75,000 saddle, it won’t be on the back of your horse,” Merritt says. “But [in addition to] the high-end things, which are expensive because of the labor and materials that have gone into them, there are also really affordable items.”
Folks visiting Jackson who simply wish to take in the show from Friday to Sunday can pay $15 at the door, but Thursday’s kickoff events are worth a visit for a more engaged experience. Noted bootmaker and past jury award winner Lisa Sorrell will give a free keynote lecture of sorts on September 6, detailing her journey from designing apparel to learning the craft of leatherwork. And a gala event later that evening will feature a fashion show, an art auction of past award winners’ new works, and chances to mingle with artists and jury members.
More From The Western Design Conference
Images Courtesy Western Design Conference
Competing artists, of course, will also be on hand throughout the event. “You get to actually meet the artists as you look at their pieces,” Merritt points out. “Sometimes that can be the thing about the piece that really speaks to you and seals the deal. You can carry that story and that insight with [your purchase] forever.”
WDC EXHIBIT & SALE: September 7 – 9 at the Snow King Resort in Jackson, Wyoming. Tickets are $15 per day at the door. www.westerndesignconference.com
FASHION & JEWELRY SHOW: September 6 at the Jackson Hole Center for the Arts. Tickets are $35 – $125 and include admission to the exhibit and sale. 877.733.4901
This article appears in the July 2012 issue of Cowboys & Indians. Click here to subscribe to the magazine.