A Portrait of the Artist
26 Mar, 2011
by Julie Ferris
“Well, everyone calls me Eugene,” he said, when I stuck out my hand to meet the now infamous subject of one of Katie Musolff’s paintings. I’ve seen Eugene before each time I pass through the Artist-in-Residence’s studio, but here he is, live and in the flesh and, he’s beaming.
Eugene is one of the partygoers at Friday night’s celebration of the Pfister’s second AIR and he’s a proud papa. He’s not Katie’s father, but it doesn’t matter. He knows Katie and her partner, Andy, from their time in Stoddard, WI—Eugene is a neighbor. “They’re just such good kids,” he says.
“Well, let me tell you…” he begins. Eugene describes what he calls his little “shack”—a three bedroom house that Katie walked through, exploring the best location to create the famous portrait. He says she hit the back bedroom and it was decided, “We’ll do it here. It’s the best light.”
And together, Eugene and Katie sat for days, working a few hours at a time until the work was done. “Oh, it was easy to chat with her. We always had things to talk about. It’s just so easy to talk to her.” Eugene’s sparkle isn’t from the champagne. It’s his fondness for this amazing talent, wrapped in the woman we came to know as the artist in residence, the art tour lady, “that girl in the studio” or just plain Katie.
I believe him not because he’s driven all this way to say farewell to her and spend his first night in the Pfister—a far cry from his “shack,” he says. I believe him not because he’s gathered his daughter, two granddaughters and his great grandson and great granddaughter to share in the celebration with his friend Katie. I believe him because I’ve met Katie.
Katie was my first interview at the Pfister. I walked into her studio and introduced myself as the nervous and eager finalist for the Narrator program and asked her point blank, “Any tips?” She spun on her stool, got comfortable and, despite having never met me before, began to tell me about the experience. I was enraptured with how she adjusted to being in “the fish bowl” to how she saw her role and the importance of her interactions with people, and how she was able to work among the press, the onlookers and the management. She was generous with her time, and had already gathered and measured the early months of her experience at the Pfister enough to turn it into wisdom worth passing down.
Katie also became my first story. You didn’t read a blog about it because it was the lever to the writings you see. When approaching strangers, talking with guests, and looking for common ground, Katie was where I began. “Have you seen the artist in residence’s studio? Or been on her art tours?” were my questions-as-answers to anyone who began their conversation with me by saying “It is so beautiful here!”
And that’s how most people talk about Katie—kind, engaging and willing to share and speak. That’s how she was reviewed in the press release that announced her residency. That’s how she floated through the room the night of her celebration.
That’s probably why Eugene sat in the good light and talked to her that week. That’s probably why her talent is so apparent and beautiful that he and his family took photos of the portrait and hung one in every room of his house—even though each child and grandchild had their own copies in theirs.
Trust me, being a lived, interactive creative presence at the Pfister is an amazing blessing for the artists and writers, but as I was admittedly a little teary talking to Eugene, I saw clearly it’s really a gift to those we get to engage.