By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily
Cody’s “vibrant arts community” was named one of the top ten small-town arts “scenes” in the country last week.
The list was voted on by USA Today Readers, and place Cody alongside cities such as Tubac, Arizona; Gatlinburg, Tennessee; Eureka Springs, Arkansas; and Taos, New Mexico.
“The former home of Buffalo Bill is now home to a vibrant arts community, thanks to the Cody Country Art League, Big Horn Galleries, Simpson Gallagher Gallery, and Mountain Valley Artistry,” the post read. “Visit during the annual Buffalo Bill Art Show & Sale to find pieces celebrating the American West.”
Buffalo Bill Art Exhibition and Sale
“The art show is really about the beauty and grandeur of where we live, right here in the West,” said Buffalo Bill Art Show and Sale Director Kathy Thompson. “They love coming to get examples to paint and sculpt. And all is well here in this beautiful little corner of the world.
The sale is the key event in the town’s annual royal get-together, a week-long celebration of arts and crafts held in the third week of September. Western artists like Chris Navaro, D.Michael Thomas, Ezra Tucker and Vic Payne sold their paintings and sculptures at the annual sale, which last year raised nearly $1.5 million for artists and the community.
Thompson, who has coordinated the show for the past 15 years, pointed out that many artists whose work brought them to Cody have found themselves at home in the city founded by one of the greatest showmen who ever lived.
“We have artists not only from here in Park County, but we also have artists who have left Australia and are moving to Cody,” she told the Cowboy State Daily.
She said that in addition to the inspiring environment and high dollar payouts, it’s the people of Cody who draw artists to the area every year.
“We’ve attracted some really big names and very successful people in all of the art shows,” Thompson said. “But the other thing that of course really attracts all these big names and this great art is that Cody just takes care of their people when they come. They have a wonderful time here, and Cody just rolls out a carpet red every time.
There are 104 artists who will be featured in this year’s art exhibition and sale, Thompson said, and each offers a different take on the American West.
“There are 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 this animal each time.”
One of the reasons Cody landed on USA Today’s list is the surprising number of art galleries for a small town of about 10,000 people. There are at least nine, in fact, with mediums ranging from handcrafted steel wall art, bespoke furniture, photographs, bronzes, ceramics – and of course, paintings.
One of the galleries mentioned in the USA Today article 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 an early age.
“My parents raised us with a great appreciation for art,” Gallagher told the Cowboy State Daily. “They are self-taught art historians. We’ve never been to a city 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 upbringing and upbringing in my family, and it totally blew me away.
Gallagher was the original curator of the National Museum of Wildlife Art in Jackson and also spent time on the New York art scene, before she and her husband decided they should return to her hometown in Wyoming.
Gallagher said she was not an artist herself, but was an essential part of the creative process – an “appreciator”.
“Without the person to appreciate, it falls flat,” she said. “It’s hard to get excited. And so I feel like my creative outlet is supporting people who are.
Buffalo Bill West Center
The cornerstone of Cody’s art scene is the Buffalo Bill West Center, founded in 1917 by Buffalo Bill’s niece, Mary Jester Allen. The center includes the Whitney Gallery of Western Art, named after a famous New York sculptor, Gertrude Whitney, whose enormous bronze “Scout” anchors Cody’s Main Street at its western end.
“The museum was the inspiration for my life and my calling,” Simpson said. “I grew up going to the Buffalo Bill Historical Center (as it was called then) all the time. I would take me there if no one took me. And I found that art could take me in different places. Art could take me out of myself. Art could take my imagination, could enhance my own story with someone else’s story.
The museum is the main partner for the art exhibition and sale, hosting the auction and other events. It is also the number one attraction in the community which 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 and care for each other,” Gallagher said. “And I feel like when people pass by here, they see it too. They feel it. And they love that Buffalo Bill wants it to be in our community.
Cody Arts Community
Gallagher said the community of artists and art gallery owners within the wider Cody community really come together at the annual Rendezvous Royale. She pointed to “Cody and Powell’s Creative Guide,” which was created and distributed by Brian Timmer of the downtown Timmer Gallery.
“They made it for all of us and distributed it to all of us,” Gallagher said, referring to fellow gallerists. “It gives a bit of information about each gallery in the communities.”
The building adjoining Gallagher’s business is another important gallery, the Big Horn Gallery, owned by Bob and Nancy Brown. Gallagher said the two potential competitors often join forces to host events.
Gallagher pointed out that the Cody Country Art League, located in the Chamber of Commerce building across from the museum, was the community’s first-ever sales gallery. Founded in 1964, the Art League is a space for promoting local artists, many of whom have yet to achieve professional status.
“(The Art League has supported) amateur artists, including my grandmother,” Gallagher said. “The Art League is kind of a foundation that we’ve all built on and hopefully improved upon, bringing artists from across the country.”
Bring home a piece of the West
Thompson pointed out that art show patrons return year after year because they want to bring home a little piece of this unique part of the country.
“Our top patrons bring in new people every year because they’re so excited about the art here and meeting the artists themselves,” Thompson said. “They want to support the arts and they want to support artists.”
And while many who visit Cody don’t buy art while they’re in town, the mere presence of so many galleries and organizations that support artists – like the museum and the nonprofit gallery “By Western Hands” just around the corner Simpson Gallagher and Big Horn Galleries – showcasing the culture of the community.
“There are a lot of people in this community who may not be art buyers, but build us up, feeling that it’s really important for art galleries and artists to be here, contributing to the community. “, said Gallagher.