By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily
In the mid-20th century, nothing said “western affluence” like furniture crafted by Wyoming artisan Thomas Molesworth.
Using hides, shed antlers and “burled” wood (logs that feature naturally occurring twists and bumps), Molesworth made a name for himself in western Wyoming creating unique furnishings that became associated with the cowboy culture.
And although Molesworth died in 1977, the unique style of furniture he created is still being produced in the town where it was born.
From 1931 to 1961, Molesworth operated the Shoshone Furniture Company in Cody. Marc Taggart, who owns and operates Marc Taggart & Company (also in Cody), told Cowboy State Daily he and his family decided in the early 2000s to continue creating high-quality pieces in Molesworth’s signature style.
“My dad, Lloyd Taggart, was really good friends with Molesworth,” Taggart said. “Our grandparents owned the Two Dot Ranch, which is north of Cody and Powell, at one time. I have probably 75 letters my dad exchanged with Molesworth over the years.”
Started In The Depression
Molesworth began creating and selling western furniture during the Depression, Taggart said.
“Before Molesworth, there just wasn’t anybody really doing anything for log cabins and that kind of thing out here in the West,” Taggart explained. “He started like, in ‘31, during the Depression, because he had to feed his family. He just started creating this kind of fun furniture that people could enjoy.”
Molesworth’s work became so popular that the pieces created by the Shoshone Furniture Company were purchased for use in high-profile settings such as the Plains Hotel in Cheyenne, the Wort Hotel in Jackson and the Pendleton Hotel in Oregon. Dwight D. Eisenhower (an acquaintance of Molesworth and of Taggart’s father) even commissioned Molesworth to furnish his home in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.
“The cool thing about Molesworth is, he just didn’t design 20 or 30 pieces of furniture,” Taggart explained. “Every piece he built was one of a kind. And he designed an entire look, not just a few pieces of furniture.”
Holds Its Value
That one-of-a-kind attention and craftsmanship is sought after. And the originals don’t come cheap.
At a Sotheby’s auction in New York in 2020, a collection of authentic Molesworth Furniture from a private Wyoming ranch showed off its value.
A pair of Thomas Molesworth club chairs from 1938 sold for $93,750, while a “rare” six-legged library table from 1940 sold for $96,875.
Not all the prices are that high. Another Molesworth sofa went for only $35,000. But the matching coffee table added a hefty $52,500 to the final tab.
The price is indicative of the furniture’s rarity.
Terry Winchell of Fighting Bear Antiques in Jackson told Architectural Digest that collectors can’t get enough of the furniture because of its uniqueness and because it’s hard to get.
“He was a small craft shop . . . it was never mass-produced,” Winchell said.
Before this event, the last Molesworth-only was 25-years earlier in 1995. “There’s as much demand now, or more, than there was in 1975,” Winchell said.
By comparison, a custom-designed, hand-painted Taggart club chair in the Molesworth style can be found online for $8,000 to $12,000.
Keeping The Tradition Alive
The artisans working for Taggart’s company, Tim Goodwin and Don Matteson, aren’t the only ones keeping Molesworth’s traditions alive.
Craftsmen such as John Gallis and Lester Santos in Cody create pieces in the Molesworth style as well. But due in part to his family connections — his aunt Ruth Blair also worked as an interior designer for the Molesworth’s company — Taggart has made this particular style of furniture his focus for the last few decades.
“I’ve been doing it for about 28 years,” he said, crediting the artisans he works with for continuing to create amazing pieces using the example set by Molesworth.
“We do stuff that he would never have thought about doing,” he said. “They just didn’t have ultradown cushions and that kind of thing back in the old days. So we’re busy and we’re building full time, and we were always trying to take on new projects that are challenging. We just did two 60-inch chandeliers and one 42-inch chandelier for a client in Illinois.”
From furnishing the Moose Lodge at the Yellowstone Club in Big Sky, Montana, to private homes in Jackson or a cabin in California formerly owned by Clark Gable, the Molesworth furniture that Taggart’s company has created continues to project the comfort and style associated with the famous craftsman.
“It’s just a really special kind of furniture,” Taggart said. “It’s very comfortable – especially like when you’re going through a real cold winter, it’s nasty outside, this furniture just kind of warms your heart up a little bit, and you just feel good being around it.”