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Artist spotlight: Norseman Designs West

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The 3D artist that lives and breathes his work

By Mira Brody EBS STAFF

CODY, WY – John Gallis is 71 but he doesn’t see himself retiring anytime soon. He loves what he does, and has been fortunate enough to make a living from it. The Long Island, New York native has been a professional woodworker for nearly 50 years, crafting artistic, functional furniture with inspirations from nature.

His woodworking career began out of high school when he found that he was best at expressing himself through his hands. He was the chief cabinetmaker at Bloomingdales, but made the move to Cody after he and his wife at the time came out west to visit his brother-in-law, who was working as a coal miner in Gillette. After a month-long road trip, he was hooked by the open land, clean air and blue skies.

“I thought I was smart,” Gallis jokes of the harsh climate, lamenting that his Harley Davidson is still under wraps in April. “I looked on the map and saw we’re at the same longitude as Long Island, but I didn’t factor in the 5,000 feet of elevation.”

They made the move in 1996 and for a while he worked for a local furniture maker until he opened his own line of award-winning high-end western furniture under the name Norseman Designs West. He and his wife raised four children and all still live in the area.

The name of his business is derived from a trip he took to Norway, where he stood in awe of the craftsmanship of the ships.

“I fell in love with the Viking ships that they had there and their construction and precision,” Gallis said. “I really liked their style and adventure.”

Gallis is in good company in Cody—the town is the original home of the Western Design Conference, which is he still involved with. He’s also a member of By Western Hands, whose mission is “To educate, conserve, and perpetuate the legacy of western design and craftsmanship.” You can see his work on their website or in their showroom in Cody.

Gallis lives and breathes woodworking. He enjoys incorporating different textures into his pieces and says the gratifying aspect of being a three dimensional artist is being able to watch someone interact with his work. He was fortunate to be able to attend the Big Sky Art Auction last summer with By Western Hands and looks forward to attending again this year.

“I especially like it when you meet the person who falls in love with your furniture so much that they want to wake up with it every day,” Gallis said.

Luckily, his skill matches his work ethic, something his clients appreciate.

“Until it’s good enough for me it’s not good enough for the client,” he said. “I don’t own a lot of my own work because it really sells.”

Don’t miss John Gallis and Norseman Designs West with By Western Hands at the Big Sky Art Auction from July 16 through 18. Visit bigskyartauction.com for more information.

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