Thomas Canada Molesworth and his art.
I was searching my mind for an appropriate way to introduce Thomas Canada Molesworth but could not improve on his granddaughter’s version so it is presented here in full as it is on her web site. I think this aptly introduces the man and his craft and is followed by Lee Molesworths outline of the life of Thomas and Lee’s personal reflections of life with Thomas Canada Molesworth his father.
If you visit the web site of Leslie Molesworth-Callahan at http://www.molesworthtoo.com/granddad.html you will find the following text
The natural beauty and the vast open spaces of the West have always attracted the most adventurous souls. The American cowboy and the Native American Indians exemplify the West; both project simple, yet strong and powerful images. In the early to mid-1900s, cowboy furniture was nothing more than furniture made by cowboys for ranches. The furniture was sturdy and strong, yet relatively primitive and simple. In the 1930s one man had a vision to bring out the best of what was at the time a very crude craft. Inspired by the Arts & Crafts Movement, Thomas Canada Molesworth (1890-1977) began making furniture, experimenting with indigenous burls, leathers, antlers, Indian weavings and different cowboy and Indian artifacts. From his attention to detail and creative craftsmanship, a new style and quality of furniture emerged that captured the romantic myth of the West. Easterners, fresh from their dude ranch experiences, were looking to bring part of the spirit of the West home with them. They eagerly purchased these strong, elegant and sometimes whimsical Western furnishings, fashionable in the most sophisticated of homes. My granddad, Thomas Canada Molesworth owned Shoshone Furniture Company, along with my grandmother, LaVerne Johnston Molesworth, from 1931 to 1961 in Cody, Wyoming. My grandmother was an intricate part of this company. Some of her contributions included the designing and making of all the drapes, curtains and bedspreads; and keeping all the books for the company. Together my grandparents created the furnishings that brought the outdoors into the home; the bold and colorful style that is unmistakably Molesworth. Today, Thomas Molesworth’s furniture is highly sought after by Western art enthusiasts, having gained in popularity after the exhibition “Interior West: The Craft and Style of Thomas Molesworth”, in June of 1989 at the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody, Wyoming and March of 1990 at the Gene Autry Western Heritage Museum in Los Angeles, California. Both of these fine museums have purchased Molesworth furniture, which remain in their permanent collections. One of his largest commissions, furnishings from “The Old Lodge” in Glenwood Springs, Colorado, circa 1935, proved to be a very successful auction at Christie’s in New York in June of 1995; thus allowing many people to add to their Molesworth collections, and providing many new collectors with their first Molesworth original. Thomas C. Molesworth became the legendary designer and craftsman who defined a new style with his world-class Western furnishings. There was only one Thomas C. Molesworth. I am proud to say he was my granddad.
THOMAS CANADA MOLESWORTH was born September 28, 1890 in Topeka, Kansas and died: July 19, 1977 at Scottsdale, Arizona
Tom was a U. S. Marine serving in France in World War 1. He married LaVerne Miller Johnston in Billings, Montana in 1917. Tom had attended the Chicago Art Institute, but he said he was encouraged to come home and go to work when his father decided he wouldn’t be a second Charlie Russell. Tom was a member of the following organizations, serving as an officer of most: Billings Rod & Gun Club, Lions Club (Billings and Cody) where he was active in the concept and completion of the youth camp near Red Lodge, MT, the American Legion, the Cody Club, The Elks Club and the Cody Stampede Board.
Tom moved his family from Billings, Montana to Cody, Wyoming in January 1931 to establish his business as Shoshone Furniture Company. Shortly after moving he started making “hand made” furniture for which he became well known. The furniture, known for its quality, utilized native wood, particularly fir, top grain leathers and Chimayo, an Indian woven fabric. In his major projects he would, as an interior decorator, supply everything from the light fixtures and wall hangings to the floor coverings. His first large Commission was the “Moe” Annenberg Ranch out side of Beulah, Wyoming in early 1933. The success of this project provided the encouragement he needed to concentrate on making and placing his own furniture versus operating a retail furniture store. During the ensuing 30 years he would work for many of the country’s prominent people and companies and before he retired he had placed furniture in every state minus only two. He was particularly proud of one of his last commissions which was the den at President Eisenhower’s Gettsburg Farm.
The most visible of his work was in hotels and Wyoming Dude Ranches. The hotels included The Plains, Cheyenne, Wyoming, The Grand and Northern, Billings Montana, The Stockman, Elko, Nevada, The Pendleton, Pendleton, Oregon and the Wort, Jackson, Wyoming. Cody area Dude Ranchers who utilized Tom’s furnishings in their lodges and cabins included Larry Larom, Valley Ranch, Simon Snyder, Sunlight, Bob Rumsey, UXU, and Max Wilde. Although all of these ranches have changed hands, much of Tom’s furniture is still in use.
Many artists’ works were commissioned and many more were utilized in decorating the rooms Tom did. He was a trader and would frequently swap furniture for an artist’s admired work. Later he would agree to the sale of that piece to a client. His wife, LaVerne used to say she would just begin to “get comfortable” with a painting and it would be gone. Cody’s Ed Grigware’s work figured prominently in Tom’s jobs along with other well known artists including F. Tenny Johnson, J. H Sharp, Winold Reiss, W. R. Leigh, Olaf Wieghorst and Olaf Seltzer. His trading and expertise, extended to Navajo rugs and sand paintings, Crow beadwork, Zuni pottery and other Plains and Southwest Indian artifacts.
A retrospective of his work was done by the Buffalo Bill Historical Center of Cody, Wyoming June 19 through September 10, 1989. The exhibit then went to the Autry Museum in Los Angeles, California. Both museums now have several pieces of Molesworth’s work in their permanent collections.
Several publications have documented Tom Molesworth’s work. “Interior West, the Craft and Style of Thomas Molesworth” by Buffalo Bill Historical Center. This publication is a catalogue of the retrospective of his work displayed by the BBHC in 1989. “Cowboy High Style” by Elizabeth Clair Flood published Gibbs Smith in 1992, “Cowboy Chic” by Chase Reynolds Ewald, published by Gibbs Smith in 2000, and “Molesworth , the Pioneer of Western Design” by Terry Winchell, also published by Gibbs Smith, 2006. This last book probably has the most extensive photographic display of Tom’s work.
In June of 1995 a highly successful auction was held by “Christies” of New York City.
This included the entire contents of “Old Lodge”, George Sumers retreat near Glenwood Springs, Colorado (at the time owned by Dr. and Mrs. George S. Bayoud of Dallas, Texas). The “entire contents” comprised all furnishings and fixtures including of even the light fixtures and doors. The auction house transfer and displayed the items in their New York show rooms where they achieved a total of over two million in bids.
The show done by the BBHC in 1989 definitely sparked the revival of interest in Molesworth’s work. As a result an active industry devoted to hand crafted furniture and western design has developed. The BBHC has helped sponsor the ”Western Design Conference ‘ – now “Cody High Style” which displays the work of active craftsmen from throughout the west including artisans producing unique and beautiful work in Cody, Wyoming. Tom would be proud of this legacy.
Personal Reflections on Thomas Molesworth
by Lee Molesworth
Tom was a private person not given to idle conversation. He had many male friends and he enjoyed their companionship participating in his three major recreational activities; cards, hunting and horseback riding. He was active in the “Director’s Club”, a private club where the members (by invitation only) gathered to play bridge, gin rummy and poker. Thursday night was their major evening where they would start gathering in late afternoon, have dinner brought in and play cards sometimes late into the night. They owned their meeting house and that club is still flourishing today (in Cody, WY).
We had horses (of course I was responsible for feeding, grooming and cleaning up). We frequently rode in the evening and on weekends.
Although dad did go big game hunting, I believe it was the companionship and the “getting away” into the mountains around Cody that attracted him most. His major hunting was upland game birds, particularly pheasants. Dad and I harvested a great many during the season. My mother would can the pheasants and that was a major menu all during the year. Of course I cleaned the birds as well as the guns. We had a fine German shorthaired pointer who was our loyal hunting partner and was admired and enjoyed by all who hunted with us.
I was fortunate to enjoy the hunting companionship of my father and his friends who accepted my presence among them. I had a good friend I hunted with who was also included in the adult company. John and I frequently hunted together when the adults were unable to go.
The greatest tragedy in Tom’s career happened with the burning down of his shop and showrooms. Construction of the building had just been completed and he was prepared to move in the next day. The whole building went up in flames that night. The town rallied to his aid and merchants, bankers, workers, attorneys showed up. Some too old to work hired trucks and other equipment. Cafes and women prepared lunch and refreshments. In one day the entire mess was cleaned up and construction could begin again. Sam Parks, the head of the Shoshone National Bank, advanced the credit. The rebuilding took place on good faith, credit and the good will of the town of Cody. Tom survived that great tragedy and went on to do his best work.