The Flying Eagle Gallery in Thermopolis isn’t your typical art gallery.
On any given day, there’s likely to be a table or two of rowdy teenagers playing trading card games while shoppers browse local art, handmade jewelry and clocks made from vintage vinyl records, or place custom frame or engraving orders.
When Tom Butler moved to Thermopolis with his wife and son, they were surprised to learn the local artists hardly knew each other and the teens were hanging out at the 24-hour laundromat, “which was weird,” he said with a laugh.
Originally from the Pine Bluffs area, Tom moved from Portland, Ore., to Thermopolis when his grandmother needed him closer about six years ago. He had been a stained-glass artist in Portland, making windows for homes and businesses.
He and his wife, Shelley, purchased the Flying Eagle Gallery upon moving to Thermopolis. They learned they couldn't rely fully on tourist traffic, he explained. So, they have diversified widely to fill gaps and meet the needs of locals.
In addition to custom framing, adding engraving tools and creating a gallery specifically for local artists, they’ve dedicated a section of the shop to tabletop and trading card games like Magic: The Gathering and Settlers of Catan.
Hence, the rowdy teenagers.
Today, the gaming section of the store belongs to Tom’s now-14-year-old son, Josiah, and they work with a game distributor in Riverton to keep it stocked. Running that part of the business gives Josiah a bit of business acumen, Tom said, and perhaps inspires him to want to take over the shop someday. It also gives Josiah and other local teens a safe, supervised place to hang out late at night, he added.
“They add a really different kind of energy in the shop, and I can call their parents if I need to,” Tom chuckled.
By experimenting with laser cutting and engraving in the shop, Tom has made all sorts of custom creations.
“My typical day is finding out how far I can push any of these tools to do what I want them to do and make these different things,” he said.
For example, he discovered he could make unique clocks from vintage vinyl records, many of which are available in his online store.
“I get the biggest kick out of making stuff that’s cool,” he said. “Those clocks are a lot of fun.”
He is also proud to have brought the local art scene a better sense of community, having set up a local gallery in the shop and frequently hosting art shows.
Supporting the local community is one of Tom’s most important goals, he said.
The gaming tournaments and art shows aren’t making him a millionaire, he joked, but they are increasing his visibility and positively impacting the community by bringing artists together and giving kids a place to have fun.
Tom referred to the lessons of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who encouraged people to spend money in their own communities in order to improve them and build them up.
“Go to your own barber, your own flower shop, the people who are just a few blocks away,” Tom said. “Doing so gives those businesses the opportunity to eventually buy and sell better products, offer more services and lower their prices. You’re recycling your money back into your community.”
Tom said he’s grateful to his loyal customers in Thermopolis for supporting his family business, and he’s thrilled to be back in Wyoming.
“As soon as you hit the Wyoming state line, you just relax a little bit,” he said. “There’s just something about this state that reduces stress.”