By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily
Cody’s “vibrant arts community” was singled out last week as one of the ten best small town art “scenes” in the country.
The list was voted on by USA Today readers, and put Cody alongside towns such as Tubac, Arizona; Gatlinburg, Tennessee; Eureka Springs, Arkansas; and Taos, New Mexico.
“The former home of Buffalo Bill now hosts a vibrant arts community, thanks to the Cody Country Art League, Big Horn Galleries, Simpson Gallagher Gallery and Mountain Valley Artistry,” the article reads. “Visit during the annual Buffalo Bill Art Show & Sale to find pieces celebrating the American West.”
Buffalo Bill Art Show And Sale
“The art show really revolves around the beauty and the grandeur of where we live, right here in the West,” said the director of the Buffalo Bill Art Show and Sale, Kathy Thompson. “They just love to come and get examples for them to paint and sculpt. And it’s all right here in this little beautiful corner of the world.”
The sale is the keystone event for the town’s annual “Rendezvous Royale,” a week-long celebration of art and artisanship that’s held the third week of September. Western artists such as Chris Navarro, D. Michael Thomas, Ezra Tucker and Vic Payne have sold their paintings and sculptures at the annual sale, which last year brought almost $1.5 million to the artists and the community.
Thompson, who has coordinated the show for the last 15 years, pointed out that many of the artists whose work brought them to Cody have found themselves at home in the town that was founded by one of the greatest showmen who ever lived.
“We have artists from not only here, right in Park County, but we also have artists that have moved from Australia and are moving to Cody,” she told Cowboy State Daily.
She said that besides the inspiring surroundings and the high dollar payouts, it’s the people of Cody that attract artists to the area every year.
“We’ve attracted some very big names, and people that do very well in all of the art shows,” Thompson said. “But the other thing that, of course, really draws all these big names and great art is that Cody just takes care of their people when they come. They have a wonderful time being here, and Cody just rolls out a red carpet every time.”
There are 104 artists who will be featured in this year’s art show and sale, said Thompson, and each one offers a different view of the American West.
“There’s over 100 ways to see the west,” she said. “You could have five different buffalo pieces – sculptures and paintings – and it’s a different look at that animal every time.”
One of the reasons Cody landed on USA Today’s list is the surprising number of art galleries for a small town of around 10,000 residents. There are at least nine, in fact, featuring media ranging from handcrafted steel wall art, custom furniture, photographs, bronzes, ceramics – and of course, paintings.
One of the galleries mentioned in the USA Today piece is the Simpson Gallagher Gallery, founded by Sue Simpson Gallagher and her husband, John, in 1994. Sue, the daughter of former U.S. Senator Alan Simpson and his wife, Ann, said her parents instilled in her a love for the arts from a young age.
“My parents raised us with great art appreciation,” Gallagher told Cowboy State Daily. “They’re self trained art historians. We never went to a town where we didn’t visit a museum, and if there wasn’t an art museum, we went to history museums, and we went to concerts. It was essential in our education and upbringing in my family, and it totally took with me.”
Gallagher was the original curator for the National Museum of Wildlife Art in Jackson, and also spent time in New York City’s art scene, before she and her husband decided they needed to move back to her hometown in Wyoming.
Gallagher said she’s not an artist herself, but is an essential piece in the creative process – an “appreciator.”
“Without the person to appreciate, it sort of falls flat,” she said. “It’s hard to get excited. And so I feel like my creative outlet is to support people who are.”
Buffalo Bill Center Of The West
The cornerstone for the art scene in Cody is the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, founded in 1917 by Buffalo Bill’s niece, Mary Jester Allen. The Center features the Whitney Gallery of Western Art, named for a famous sculptor from New York City, Gertrude Whitney, whose massive “Scout” bronze anchors Cody’s main street at its west end.
“The museum was the inspiration for my life and my vocation,” Simpson said. “I grew up going to the Buffalo Bill Historical Center (as it was called then) all the time. I would take myself there if nobody took me. And I found that art could take me to different places. Art could take me outside myself. Art could take my imagination, could enhance my own story with someone else’s story.”
The museum is the Art Show and Sale’s primary partner, hosting the auction and other events. It is also the number one attraction in the community that is otherwise primarily known as a gateway to Yellowstone National Park.
“We are a tourist town with a wonderful year round community of people who care about each other, and look out for each other,” said Gallagher. “And I feel like when people come through here, they see it too. They feel it. And they love that Buffalo Bill wanted it to be in our community.”
Cody’s Art Community
Gallagher said that the community of artists and art gallery proprietors within the larger community of Cody really comes together during the annual Rendezvous Royale. She pointed to the “Creative Guide to Cody and Powell,” which was created and distributed by Brian Timmer of the Timmer Gallery downtown.
“They made it for all of us and distributed it to all of us,” Gallagher said, referring to the other gallery owners. “It gives a little bit of information about every gallery in the communities.”
The building adjoining Gallagher’s business is another prominent gallery, the Big Horn Gallery, owned by Bob and Nancy Brown. Gallagher said that the two would-be competitors often join forces, hosting events.
Gallagher pointed out that the Cody Country Art League, situated in the Chamber of Commerce building across the street from the museum, was the very first sales gallery in the community. Founded in 1964, the Art League is a space to promote local artists, many of whom haven’t quite reached professional status yet.
“(The Art League has supported) amateur artists, including my grandmother,” Gallagher said. “The Art League is sort of a foundation that we’ve all built upon, and hopefully enhanced, with bringing artists from around the country.”
Taking Home A Piece Of The West
Thompson pointed out that patrons of the art show come back year after year because they want to take home a little piece of this unique part of the country.
“Our very best patrons bring new people every year, because they’re so excited about the art here, and meeting the artists themselves,” said Thompson. “They want to support the arts, and they want to support the artists.”
And even though many who visit Cody don’t purchase art while they are in town, just the presence of so many galleries and organizations that support artists – like the non-profit “By Western Hands” museum and gallery just around the corner from the Simpson Gallagher and Big Horn galleries – enhances the community’s culture.
“There are lots of people in this community who may not be art buyers, but build us up, feeling like it’s really important that art galleries and artists are here, contributing to the community,” Gallagher said.