Thomas Molesworth (1890-1977) is one of the most important Rocky Mountains furniture designers of the mid-twentieth century with his work most fully catalogued and discussed in the exhibit (and exhibit book), “Interior West,” which opened at the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody, Wyoming, in 1989. The exhibit, especially once it showed at the Autry Museum in Los Angeles in the following year, brought greater acclaim to Molesworth’s distinctive designs.
Early on, Molesworth had taken courses at the Art Institute of Chicago; his western work reflected the Chicago preoccupation with an Arts and Crafts sensibility by its incorporation of regional materials and themes. But Molesworth also thought boldly and bright colors, especially a predominance of red fabric, make his designs striking even today.
Molesworth’s most significant period came in his years in Cody, Wyoming, after 1931 when he operated the Shoshone Furniture Company in that town. His work appeared in fine homes and hotels in Wyoming (primarily) but also in Oregon, Nevada, and Montana. Molesworth had operated the Rowe Furniture Company in Billings in the years between his discharge from the Marine Corps after World War I and before he moved his family to Cody.
The Wyoming State Museum in Cheyenne has the best collection of Molesworth’s “western rustic furniture,” with many significant pieces from the former Ranch A of the wealthy eastern publisher Moses Annenberg. But at the Valley County Museum in Glasgow, Montana (far from his earlier roots in Billings) is an interesting set of Molesworth’s designs, c. 1947, which once stood in the Western Room of the Glasgow public library. Georgia Dignan commissioned the furniture in honor of her late husband, Lt. George Dignan, who had died in 1945 during World War II.
Here are selected images of the Molesworth pieces in Glasgow Montana
This small but significant collection underscores the surprises you can encounter in the small county museums of Eastern Montana. They are in every county seat, and yes these museums are often community heritage attics, with anything and everything, dependent on volunteers and good will to keep their doors open, and offer little in interpretation except to say “we are here and we have survived, and mattered.” All true. But sometimes the collections are valuable, and compelling. This Molesworth furniture could have as easily ended up scrapped or in private hands once the local library board decided a new building was necessary. But here it is, at the Valley County Museum–a valuable relic of mid-20th century decorative arts, Wyoming style, in a small northern plains town.