Thomas C. Molesworth (1890–1977) was an American furniture designer who helped pioneer the use of cowhide, horn, and natural wood to produce a distinctly Western style of furniture and accessories. Molesworth’s style was influenced by the Arts and Crafts Movement and the vernacular design elements of ranches and farms in western America. The “cowboy furniture” style is said to have been popularised by him. From 1931 through 1961, Molesworth and his wife, LaVerne Johnston Molesworth, ran the Shoshone Furniture Company in Cody, Wyoming, to construct his designs.
The Western Look
Molesworth ranch style furniture has inspired contemporary Western furniture designers such as Jim Covert, Jeff Morris and Marc Tagesger with its large brass pads, Native American motifs and wildfire imagery.
Molesworth had studied at Chicago’s Art Institute, but art was not just about his path to becoming a tastemaker. During World War I, he served as a Marine, worked as a banker for five years, and the next seven, he owned a furniture store in Billings, Mont. To sell others’ designs, he moved his family to Cody, Wyo., to open Shoshone Furniture Co in 1931. It was named after the Native-American tribe, in Cody, Wyoming. Cody, the town founded in 1901 by Col. William F. (‘Buffalo Bill’) Cody to market the ‘Wild West’ to tourists. Molesworth did not invent the Western look in the USA but instead perfected it.
Molesworth’s furniture for the TE Ranch building, initially for Cody, was exemplified in an easy chair with Chimayo-weave cushions and moose-antler ‘wings.’ In the 1930s-1950s America, his furniture flourished in hotel lobbies, dude ranches, and private houses, including a Wyoming ranch for Moses Annenberg and a den for President Dwight D·. Eisenhower in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Like Frank Lloyd Wright and Gustav Stickley, Molesworth saw furniture to create a unified architectural mood.
Primitivism with modern lines
Although his designs were meant to suggest primitivism, they had Modern lines. Molesworth used honey-coloured woods, fir and pine buds, and pastel leather upholstery trimmed in brass tacks, to reflect the American West’s romantic image purveyed by 1930s Hollywood movies. His most complete architectural unit showed bucking broncos in linoleum, a wrought-iron and steel ashtray in a burro design with removable receptacles in its saddlebags, chairs with pierced bow-legged cowboy forms, and rope trim. He catered to a monied clientele; collecting friends’ work, he had an extensive art collection.
Byars, M., & Riley, T. (2004). The design encyclopedia. Laurence King Publishing.
Yoshihara, N. (2006, Jan 19). MIXED MEDIA; blazing a western technique; Molesworth, the pioneer of western design Terry Winchell Gibbs Smith; $60: [HOME EDITION]. Los Angeles Times Retrieved from https://ezproxy.csu.edu.au/login?url=https://www-proquest-com.ezproxy.csu.edu.au/newspapers/mixed-media-blazing-western-technique-molesworth/docview/422027136/se-2?accountid=10344
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