In 1958, a small importing company named Western International Trading Co. was founded in Washington State. Tropical style had taken over the United States, and there were tropical-themed bars, restaurants and even bowling alleys nationwide.
Founders of Western International Trading Co (or Witco, as it’s more commonly known today) William Westenhaver, Robert Cookson and William’s cousin Robert Post Jr. started by importing art and mosaics from South and Central America, as well as paintings and sculptural art from lesser known American artists. But soon, William Westenhaver suggested they make their own tropical-inspired wood carvings. By the end of 1958, after a furniture and decor show in Los Angeles, the carved wood decor was a hit across the country.
The artists started carving, crafting and creating home furnishings that were an homage to the South Pacific in days gone by. Soon, Witco took off and became synonymous with Tropical and Hawaiiana style. But it wasn’t just everyday Americans that bought Witco—it was celebrities too, like the King himself, Elvis. Elvis filled his famed Jungle Room with Witco furnishings and home goods. (You can still see the room for yourself on a tour of his home, Graceland!)
Witco created and sold things like art, tables, chairs, bedposts and bars. They were adorned with carvings reminiscent of Oceanic tribal symbols and often used animal prints as accents. For many, the chunky and loud shapes of Tropical style furniture were a welcome departure from the popular sleek and low-profile furniture of the day.
Witco reached the height of its popularity in the late 60s before shuttering a decade later. But William Westenhaver continued to produced his famed wood carvings on a smaller scale, and in the late 1990’s, Westenhaver taught all his techniques to his granddaughter Heather’s husband, Ken Pleasant. Ken has continued carving in the 20 years since, and he and Heather still own the Witco trademark and its copyrighted designs. They sell the Witco designs at their shop, Pleasant Tiki. Check them out!
If you want to know more about Tropical Style, check out Tropical Style: A Midcentury Love Story that Brings Paradise Home to learn more!