Shaw Thompson: Meet the Artist Who Breathed New Life in to Misco Mill

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Photography by Cathy Copp

When you visit Shaw Thompson at Misco Mill, it’s easy to see where his inspiration comes from. I had the opportunity to visit him in November as afternoon light bathed his work shop with a late autumn glow. His space was magnificent and the stuff every artist dreams of for their studio. Shaw is both a visual artist and furniture maker and the visit to his studio and gallery was a little like coming home because it’s where our sister business, Abby Hetherington Interiors, began and where the idea for Architect’s Wife was born.

workspace, studio, artist
Shaw’s light-filled workshop.

Even more impressive than the light-filled studio space is the fact that Shaw along with his brother and father renovated the 80 plus year old building starting in 2000. The grain mill was functional until the 1980’s, but fell in to disrepair after it closed, so much so that Shaw says it resembled a pigeon coop when his family took possession of the building. Their hard work over the last 16 years stands now as one of Bozeman’s most iconic landmarks and home to a family that worked really hard to keep the space alive.

It’s hard to believe 300 square feet of this inspiring space was occupied by Abby Hetherington Interiors just a little over two years ago. Our little design firm began here in a tangle of fabric swatches and tile samples and quickly grew to three employees who, in turn, outgrew our modest one room office. Not only do I have great respect for Shaw’s work I also have really great memories of dreaming big and toiling away until I made those dreams a reality. So, take a minute to learn more about this great guy who breathed new life in to a great space.

When and how did you get started as a furniture maker?

I have been building furniture since 1992. I was going to San Francisco State for a painting and drawing degree and someone asked me to build a desk for them. I obliged and loved everything about it. I realized it would be something I would love to do for a living. So from that point on, I have always divided my time between furniture making and painting. Furniture gets more of my time these days, but painting is really how I want to leave my mark on this world.

floor lamp
Mr. Thompson’s plow floor lamp. Shaw loves to marry the old and new together.

Tell me about your process.

What’s my process? Well it varies a lot. Sometimes I have a beautiful piece of wood, which I want to be the main focus. So then I might make a simple steel platform or base that showcases the wood. Other times I might find a piece of farming equipment which dictates the overall design of the object. For example, for years I have looked at and loved the shape of this old plow which I found. So, I thought really hard about a way to compliment that shape. (I get a lot of inspiration from shapes of objects.) I decided the plow would lend itself well to a floor lamp and the rest is history. A lot of the objects I incorporate in to my furniture are antique, but then I like to give it a simple modern context in which it can live. I find it very exciting to try to find a balance between old and new.

You renovated the Misco Mill. When and how did this project come about?

My dad, brother and I have renovated this grain elevator from a pigeon coop to a home, workshop and gallery over the course of several years. We bought the building back in 2000 and it seems like the work is never done. It is a lot to keep going, but we feel very fortunate to be able to call it home. It was built in 1933, which highlights how agriculturally rich the Gallatin valley was even during the Great Depression.

Anyone who is a furniture maker or artist knows how important your creative space is.
This building spoke to me immediately. And maybe it was the shape of it… There is something special for me about the roof lines of this grain elevator.
Initially, I was looking for a live/ work space, which this is, but just a lot bigger than I was thinking in the beginning. But when you put all the family members in it- then it makes sense.

drill, wood, workshop
Shaw Thompson’s workspace.

Tell me a little about the gallery and the artists whose work inhabits the space.

We are a little selfish with our gallery space :). Most of the work in the gallery is either mine or [belongs to] my brother, Nate. But we do have some amazing walnut tables by Lance Hossack and some incredible veneer work by Phil Howard in the form of walnut burl side tables. We also have some beautiful textiles by Abby Foster which she’s made into pillows. Her fabric is also available for purchase and can be made in to wallpaper as well. All of these artists call Montana home.

Shaw's handiwork: a roomy dining table.
Shaw’s handiwork: a roomy dining table.

How long have you lived in Bozeman? What brought you here?

I have lived in Montana for about 16 years now. I was passing through this beautiful state when I was 15 and it struck a very powerful chord inside me. It took me awhile to get back here, but I made it. After a life of moving a lot [I was raised in a military family], I feel very lucky to call Montana home.

What do you love about Montana?

I was initially drawn to the rivers and mountains, and just the empty space. This continues to fuel my spirit. This part of the country never disappoints.

What’s your favorite place to go out in Bozeman?

It is becoming harder to leave my little northeast neighborhood these days. I’m still trying to figure out my favorite place — it’s between Wild Crumb, Treeline and Rendezvous food truck. It changes every day :).

What are the last three things you Googled?
1. How to cook potatoes au gratin (substituting sweet potatoes).
2. An old car on Craigslist
3. What time is it in Morocco?

What’s on your shop playlist?

The Black Keys ( older stuff), for getting the blood moving and just spark some gritty motivation.
Built to Spill, for cerebral thoughts and more driving motivation.
First Aid Kit, for a truly lovely sound and inspiration… “Keep on keeping on…”

misco mill, furniture, gallery, bozeman
Present Day Misco Mill. Image Courtesy of Shaw Thompson.

If you’re in Bozeman make sure you stop by Misco Mill and check out Shaw’s gorgeous original furniture and art. He’s around most days, but it’s worth it to give the gallery a call and announce your arrival, because he might just be grabbing a pastry at Wild Crumb when you decide to come a’calling.