Cody to Host ‘Rendezvous Royale’

Weeklong celebration highlights town’s Western art and design scene

Attendees at the 2022 Patrons Ball gather at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West for dinner and dancing during the Rendezvous Royale. (Courtesy photo from Buffalo Bill Center of the West)

By Ruffin Prevost

Special to the Wyoming Truth

CODY, Wyo. — Known to tourists for its nightly summer rodeos and as an affordable, family-friendly gateway to Yellowstone National Park, Cody attracts a decidedly different crowd the third week of every September, as visitors in private jets and rhinestone-bedazzled ball gowns show up for the Rendezvous Royale.

Cody Mayor Matt Hall dances with sister-in-law Vickery Fales Hall at the 2022 Patrons Ball during the Rendezvous Royale. (Courtesy photo from Buffalo Bill Center of the West)

That’s the official name for what many locals just call “art week,” when the town celebrates western art, design and craftsmanship with a series of parties, exhibitions, workshops and other events attended by big-budgeted boosters and penny-pinching patrons alike.

Among the week’s highlights each year are the Buffalo Bill Art Show & Sale, which typically nets over $1 million, and the Buffalo Bill Center of the West’s Patrons Ball, a black-tie gala attended by a who’s who of Wyoming’s political and social notables.

The Rendezvous Royale, which opens on Monday, serves as a coda to the summer tourist season, as well as a prelude to fall. It happens as cooler weather arrives and kids have returned to school, bringing a more free-spending demographic of well-heeled retirees and younger couples without children.

“It’s an amazing week for our town. It has helped really build September into an extension of the summer season, plus it’s a whole lot of fun,” said Cody Mayor Matt Hall.

“There is certainly a major cultural component in our community that week that highlights our Western heritage, with the museum as the centerpiece, and all the festivities going on,” Hall said, adding that it was hard to overstate the economic benefit and other positive effects Cody enjoys from the weeklong celebration of the arts.

“It’s fun to go to the art show, even if you’re not buying, because you’re in a giant tent with 800 people who are cheering on the artists and the buyers. They’re all there to enjoy themselves and make the event one big party,” said Hall, who served for several as one of the volunteer organizers of the art show and sale.

He said the town is “blessed with an amazing level of volunteerism, people who make all the events possible” during Rendezvous Royale.

Kathy Thompson first volunteered to help with the art show approximately 25 years ago, and has been the director of the event for the past 16 years, watching it grow into a top stop on the Western art show circuit.

“Cody is just so welcoming and so much fun that the artists love coming here,” Thompson said. “They all say other art shows aren’t as relaxed or as much fun. We also have the right audience,” making for a good match between buyers and sellers.

A pair of cowboy boots designed by Tres Outlaws of El Paso, Texas, depict two mythical dragons. They were among dozens of unique, hand-crafted items featured in the 2006 Western Design Conference. (Wyoming Truth file photo by Ruffin Prevost)

Western design grows appeal

Both the art show and ball have been fall mainstays for over 40 years. But Cody’s art week grew in appeal during the early 1990s, when a group of artists, furniture makers and others created the Western Design Conference.

That event, which has since moved to Jackson, combined lectures, juried exhibitions and sales of Western furniture and other crafts that attracted top-tier creators. It also included a Western fashion show featuring designers like Manuel, who created stage wear for Elvis Presley, and Johnathan Kayne, a standout from the “Project Runway” fashion design competition TV show.

Over the past two decades, the specific art week events have at times changed names and ownership, but the headline events remain the art show, museum ball and Western Design Conference successor By Western Hands, a showcase of furniture, design and decorative arts. All are run by nonprofits, with proceeds benefiting artists and the organizations that support them.

In June, Cody was featured as one of the 10 Best Small Town Art Scenes in 2023 by a USA Today readers’ poll, joining communities like Taos, New Mexico and Tubac, Arizona.

Major events this year include a Downtown Art Walk on Sept. 21, a handicraft workshop at By Western Hands on Sept. 22 and the art show and sale at the Center of the West on Sept. 22.

The week concludes Sept 23 with the Center of the West’s Patrons Ball, attended in years past by Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon (and several other previous Cowboy State governors), former Vice President Dick Cheney, former Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, historian David McCullough, novelist James Michener, actress and entrepreneur Suzanne Somers and Academy Award winner Julie Christie. 

A complete schedule of Rendezvous Royale events can be found here.

Ruffin Prevost is editor of Points West, the membership magazine of the Buffalo Bill Center of the West.

Spread the love

Related Post