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Thursday, June 4, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Idaho

Connoisseurs D’Alene Popular Western Art Auction Benefits County Coffers

FOR THE RECORD: 7-29-97 Art funds: Money made during Coeur d’Alene’s Western art auction on Saturday does not benefit Kootenai County government. A story and headline in Sunday’s newspaper said otherwise.

Western art enthusiasts, many with deep pockets, converged on Coeur d’Alene on Saturday for an annual sale boasting the works of the best frontier artists.

Enough money was expected to change hands to run Kootenai County’s entire criminal justice system - courts, prosecutors and the Sheriff’s Department - for almost a year.

More than 150 pieces of early 20th-century Western furniture and 421 Western paintings and sculptures were offered for sale at the fifth annual Coeur d’Alene Art Auction.

Held at the Coeur d’Alene Resort, two separate auctions featured oil paintings from artists such as Edmund Osthaus and Carl Rungius and furniture from Wyoming craftsman Thomas Canada Molesworth.

More than 300 people attended the furniture sale, during which an estimated $800,000 in furnishings was sold.

On Saturday night, the Western art auction was expected to draw close to 1,000 potential bidders spending a combined $8 million to $10 million.

A single canvas by late 19th- and early 20th-century painter Charles M. Russell - a 24-inch by 34-inch rendering of early Native American scouts - was expected to sell for more than $500,000.

“It’s the largest auction of this kind of art anywhere,” said co-organizer Stuart Johnson, who also owns Settlers West Gallery in Tucson, Ariz.

Bidders came from as far away as New York and Florida. And one flew in from Zurich, Switzerland.

Most buyers are collectors who buy the furniture for their homes, Johnson said. A handful of buyers are dealers who buy for resale.

The furniture - typically maple or fir draped with brightly colored leather - was made mostly in the 1940s at Molesworth’s 12-man factory in Cody, Wyo.

Two fir table lamps, with rawhide shades and a rim of green leather tacked around the base, sold together for $5,000.

A 4-foot tall wooden chest of drawers, with holes cut in the face in the shape of handguns, buffalo skulls and horse heads, sold for $21,000.

And a fir dining room table, built in 1948, fetched $39,000 - without the chairs.

Even a simple mirror, with brilliant green leather tacked around the edges, brought more than $1,000.

“It just shows you: Molesworth is really popular right now,” Johnson said.

The furniture maker studied at the Chicago Art Institute in 1908 and 1909 and went on to make tables and chairs and dressers and lamps for wealthy clients, such as John D. Rockefeller and Coca Cola’s Robert W. Woodruff, according to author Elizabeth Clair Flood’s book about Molesworth, “Cowboy High Style.” President Dwight D. Eisenhower enjoyed resting in a Molesworth chair.

But most of Molesworth’s furniture was used in ranch houses throughout the West.

With the rebirth of the cowboy craze a decade ago, Molesworth furniture again was in demand. An exhibit of his furniture at a Cody historical center in 1989 helped push the craze.

Additionally, Johnson said, “there’s just not a lot of it around anymore.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo

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