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Many artists describe their style by naming influences or comparing their art to ‘the greats’ in their field. Furniture artist John Gallis likens his furniture to “a great salad.”
“People look at me funny when I say this, but it’s true. When you look at a great salad with all its textures – lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, broccoli – you know it’s going to be good before you eat it.”
Gallis strives to achieve this type of initial aesthetic response with every piece of furniture he builds. His pieces are daring yet refined, with juniper legs that twist and meander around stout slabs of walnut. He is careful to select the right materials for every piece but uses mostly walnut and juniper.
“The walnut gives it a relaxed, elegant feel and the juniper adds a sense of movement,” he says. “I like my furniture to look like it’s in motion.”
Gallis uses traditional tools and techniques, including mortise and tenon joinery, and keeps the natural edges of the wood intact so “you can always tell it came from a tree.” He is a conscientious worker, building every piece as if it is for himself. “That way,” he says, “if the client doesn’t want it, I’ll be happy to keep it for myself.”
In the seven years since he founded his company, Norseman Designs West, Gallis hasn’t been able to keep any of his pieces. He aims to please and spends a great deal of energy making sure he gives clients exactly what they want.
“I enjoy making people happy and giving them their money’s worth,” he says. “My goal is to have the client say, ‘John, it’s better than I expected.’”
Gallis has been fashioning custom furniture for over 20 years. A native New Yorker, he began building furnishings at age 21. He eventually formed a profitable relationship with Bloomingdales, building custom cabinetry for the upscale department store chain. His heart wasn’t completely in it though. He says it was like having to color within the lines.
Gallis needed a way to express himself artistically. During a trip to Cody, Wyoming — dubbed The Western Furniture Capital of the World — he fell in love with the great expanse of land and its big blue skies.
John moved his family to Cody and went to work for a local furniture maker. But after being his own boss for 21 years, he wasn’t satisfied working for someone else. In 1995 he opened Norseman Designs West.
He quickly decided he didn’t want to build the same type of rustic furniture those around him were building. This was partially because the market was becoming flooded but also because he was friends with many of those builders. He didn’t want to make enemies by creating unnecessary competition.
He envisioned building a higher-end line of Western furniture. He combined the simple honesty of Shaker-style furniture with the flowing curves of Art Nouveau and began building his award-winning furniture.
Gallis says one of his first challenges was getting people interested in his furniture. “It was like opening a Thai restaurant in Cody,” he says. “I had to give people a taste for it before it would be successful.”
His furniture caught on right away and John says he’s lucky it did because he couldn’t see himself doing anything else.
“I couldn’t be an accountant and move a stack of papers from one side of my desk to the other all day,” he says. “I need to have a sense of accomplishment. It’s amazing to go in to the shop and look at all the lumber stacked up and then at then end of the week have a beautiful piece of furniture.”