As Manhattan fashionistas played see-and-be-seen at New York Fashion Week, a different, more rustic aesthetic surged in the Rockies -- attended by an equally moneyed crowd. With the Western Design Conference last weekend, the Jackson Hole Fall Arts Festival running through Sept. 15 and Western Visions running through Sept. 22, Wyoming is being flooded with high-end Western art, furniture and couture. Pictured: Western Design Conference 2013 People's Choice winner 'Armchair Cowboy,' featuring saddlemakers Leon and Lisa Skyhorse.
|Opening Gala, Western Design Conference|
Once held in Cody, Wyo., the Western Design Conference recently moved to Jackson Hole, where it's more in the path of the jet set collector crowd. The conference takes place in the Snow King Events Center, with most exhibitors staying at newly remodeled Snow King Resort. The Center for the Arts hosts the opening gala. For outsiders who want to know what all the fashionable millionaire cowboys are wearing, these venues provide outstanding people-watching.
|"Pony Style" by Dakota Pratt, D. Redington Design|
Hammered bottlecap decoupage is the singular specialty of artist Dakota Pratt, whose ultra-shiny and colorful animal sculptures, giant flowers, hearts-and-stars wall art and functional furniture pieces drew people like magpies to his booth at the Western Design Conference. Declared the best of the mixed-media exhibitors this year, Pratt's work wouldn't seem out of place in a West Coast modern art gallery -- though the artist himself is rather low key, especially given that he lists Andy Warhol as an influence.
|Tres Outlaws Boots|
The New York fashionista obsession with Jimmy Choos and Manolos pales in comparison to the cowboy boot obsession that has a hold on women in the cowboy capitals. Styles like the pair pictured retail for around a cool $1,500, which is a steal compared to the Swarovski-bedazzled boots from the Gypsy Rose collection ($3,500) or the hand-beaded boots of the Museum Collection. Custom boots by Tres Outlaws are among the priciest in the land, but by no means do they top the list -- and no collector can be satisfied with just one pair.
|Chandeliers by Peak Antler Company|
Antler mounts are displayed on walls all over the West, but Colorado artist Jeff Musgrave's intricate and beautifully finished pieces are far more than a hunter's conversation piece. His handmade antler pieces include chandeliers, small accent pieces, tables and other furniture pieces, as well as life-sized animal sculptures. Musgrave also sculpts in bronze and other materials.
The romantic surrealism of Martina Montana's designs evokes Western fairy tales, peopled with graceful princesses and silver-haired, buckskin-wearing heroes. Her backdrops include rose-covered prairie homes, snowy peaks and abandoned roads -- often created on the very simplest stages. Women can't get enough of her gowns or her stunningly styled specialty hats.
Inspired by the Southwest's natural landscape, the blown-glass pieces created by Jared Davis incorporate a spectrum of desert colors and imagery. Pieces run the gamut from antler-inspired chandeliers to the "Swedish Birch Series," incorporating layered blown elements to give the lichen-covered appearance found in nature. Trained by Swedish glass masters, Davis keeps his Crawford, Colo., studio open to the public so that all may witness the near-alchemical art of glassblowing.
|Rusty Nail Design|
If you picture Western-style furniture as being the rustic, unfinished bunk-style pieces seen on dude ranches, Jason Clary of Rusty Nail Design will completely turn your perceptions inside out. From reclaimed wood, scrap materials and any unexpected material that takes his fancy, this Montana-based furniture maker and interiors wizard creates some of the most imaginative living spaces in the West. This is rustic elegance with a bit of magic sprinkled in.
|Gauteraux & Company|
Rodeo cowboy cutie Ryder Gauteraux is a heck of a showman with a keen aesthetic for Western flair. In an unusually business-savvy career move, the former bull rider parlayed these innate talents, his rodeo reputation and his skill as a leatherworker into a booming boutique leather wear business. A pair of handmade boots from Gauteraux starts from $2,250 and goes up as you add "vamp options" or customizations such as hand-tooled filigree.
|Western Visions, National Museum of Wildlife Art|
Beloved by locals as THE wildlife art collection of not just the West but the entire nation, the National Museum of Wildlife Art houses the magic of the Tetons within its distinctive, low-slung stone walls. For visitors who can't quite wrap their brains around art and fashion that incorporates actual animal parts (even though it's the norm in cowboy country), this museum allows the appreciation of animal beauty created from oil paint, mixed media, bronze, clay and all sorts of other non-animal-based materials. The annual Western Visions fundraiser that runs through Sept. 22 is a great opportunity to purchase museum-vetted pieces at all price ranges.
Many of the artisans who exhibit at the big Western conferences and fairs find that a significant part of their customers are international, and aren't looking for a "Western" or "rustic" flavor so much as a handmade luxury aesthetic. The color-enhanced turquoise tiles used by Gemstone Tileworks come from Kingman Mine in Arizona, but custom installations have gone into luxury hotel pools in the Middle East and private residences in Asia.
|Teton views from Snow King|
Even after the artists pack up and the collectors get back on their jets, Jackson Hole and the Rockies continue to display an astounding beauty that's on offer to everyone, not just the wealthy. Scenes like the one pictured can be captured by anybody with a digital camera who happens to be in view of the Tetons on a sunny day.