Plein Air Office Space

06 Apr, 2011

by Julie Ferris

I try not to write about the staff. They’re an easy target—each is polished, professional and full of juicy bits of knowledge. They’re the eyes and ears. But we, the “in-residencers” are also staff in a way, but with the very specific charge to engage and make the hotel colorful.

So, what I’m trying to say is, I have to tell you about hanging out with Shelby Keefe, the new Artist in Residence. A program different (and longer) than the narrator, Shelby’s work life will live at the Pfister for a full year. She has a giant, glass-walled fish bowl to work in and be ogled, which is why I thought it was charming when she said “Where is your office?”

And thus began the explanation of how I don’t have walls to paint or works of art to hang…and only for a minute did I feel a bit strange explaining my office was in the bar…because truly, it is. Have notebook will travel…but that’s not all that different from this woman who also conducts most of her art work in the outdoors.

Shelby was moving into her new studio and it’s a world apart from the life Katie brought to the space. You’ll notice immediately the change in subject matter and color. Shelby chose the same direction for her easel and stool, however, and I wondered if it was naturally feng shui or just the most convenient corner of the space.

What you need to know about Shelby, however, is how ready she is for this gig. She’ll be there late. She’ll be there often, she’s not afraid of the people, she can’t wait for them (or, so she thought until she gulped and realized the very next day they’d be arriving). Her work is full of color and the day we chatted her shirt matched at least three of the paintings on the wall, which made it feel like when I stepped in to introduce myself amid her hammering and unpacking, I had fallen into a color palette. She laughed at what I noticed, given what I suspect was a talented artist’s version of “oh, this old thing?”

She’s eager. She’s also ready to show you what her art means; she was bursting with energy as she explained how she enjoys people watching her art demos and what her performance painting would be like. (I got to see the special brushes. I’d say you could be jealous, but you can see them too—just stop in her studio).

Shelby was a lot like me. I felt that vibe, that readiness. I hope she knows just what she’s gotten into, because what she’ll get out of it is more than she’ll ever know.

In honor of Shelby, who I found has a friend in common with me—another unique performer in the Milwaukee area—I think I may adopt some plein air writing to match her painting. I end up having the best conversations with guests on the elevators and in the parking garage, why not out in front of the hotel on warm spring days? Come find me there next week and we’ll capture the open air joy of the Pfister and its amazing and colorful staff, and welcome, Shelby!

About the author

Julie Ferris

Julie is a devout Iowa Hawkeye fan despite her new Wisconsin roots, loves to read and is a sucker for good creme brulee and bad puns.

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