The Crystal Narrator

03 Feb, 2013

by Jenna Kashou

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Do you ever wonder if walls could really talk? Or if paintings, sculptures and chandeliers could too? These are the questions I ponder, as the Pfister Hotel’s narrator charged with excavating the memories and experiences of guests past and present that are steeping in every wall, carpet and object in this place. I want to write about them and Stephanie Barenz wants to paint them.

Already elbow-deep in pictures, paints and pencils, I sat down to chat with Stephanie in Timothy Westbrook’s studio as she was creating a painting of the Pfister Hotel’s lobby chandelier. I inquire why, of all the gorgeous relics, she chose the chandelier in the lobby. “It was a natural choice – it’s gorgeous and eye-catching, and it has the best vantage point. It’s the omniscient narrator, it sees and knows all of the happenings in the hotel.”

Stephanie Barenz

Stephanie Barenz

Stephanie is vying for the coveted title of the Pfister Artist in Residence to replace Timothy  in April. She stood out not only for her outstanding credentials, but also because of her proposal to incorporate the Pfister Narrator’s stories into her paintings.

Travel is a big part of her life and work as she explores how art changes perception of a place. She speaks of travel, not just the international type, but any path from point A to point B. She paints about place – series like Middle West, City Middle and Middle Kingdom (i.e. China) all showcase places she’s lived. You’ll see images of houses, suitcases, bicycles and cars – all objects representing travel and place.

Stephanie knows a thing or two about travel. She grew up in Lincoln, Nebraska, moved to Wisconsin when she was 15, attended college in Minnesota, graduate school in Missouri, and lived stints in Italy and China.

“Culture shock hit me hard in China and it wasn’t graceful, but I grew so much and the Chinese people taught me so much about having a playful, whimsical nature that I’ve carried over to my work. They have an amazing outlook on life after going through all they did as a country.”

Stephanie admits that there were times when she took herself more seriously and then retracted: “Well I am very serious, so artwork is a way for me to get away from that.” She credits illustrators like Shel Silverstein for influencing her work.

“Matisse said something like ‘I want my art to feel like an armchair to a businessman at the end of the day,’ and that really stuck with me,” she reveals. Her muted color pallets are harmonious and quiet, subduing the flurry of activity often portrayed in her work.

Stephanie hopes to create a series of 20 to 30 paintings entitled “The Carriers” inspired from Pfister hotel guests and the stories that both she and the narrator uncover. She sees the objects in the hotel as carriers of the stories “silent witnesses to it all.”

Stephanie is creating detail and embedding images of the characters I've written about in her chandelier.

Stephanie is creating detail and embedding images of the characters I’ve written about in her chandelier.

We started to gab like two giddy schoolgirls dishing about their first crush. The prospect of collaboration excites me, though Stephanie’s potential tenure and mine would only overlap by one month. We envision a two-way process where the paintings inspire the characters and the characters inspire the painting. Stephanie also hopes to create a book with her paintings, with text written by the Narrator.

Find Stephanie and her work at Plaid Tuba (207 E. Buffalo Street, 6th Floor). And, be sure to vote here for your favorite 2013 Artist in Residence (whether it’s Stephanie or one of the five other amazingly talented artists) by February 14.

For the next three months, you can still find me pondering what lies beneath these walls.

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About the author

Jenna Kashou

A Milwaukee native and freelance writer, Kashou has published in local publications such as Milwaukee Magazine, M Magazine and the Shepherd Express. Find her weekly adventures of city life as MilwaukeeMag.com's ‘Girl About Town.’ Kashou earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Iowa in mass communications and Spanish, and a graduate certificate in digital storytelling from Marquette University. By day, she is a grant writer for Radio Milwaukee and has worked in the nonprofit sector in arts and education for 10 years. In her spare time, she enjoys dabbling in everything from being a DJ and photography to do-it-yourself deco, yoga and rock climbing.

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