I was sitting in Timothy Westbrook’s studio this afternoon. It is a few days after his first successful gallery showing and already the man is back at work. While Timothy constructed new fabric joining cassette tape and wool I listened to the repeating slick/slack/creak/crack sound of his loom in motion. With the new dress in the works I sat thinking about the ongoing, timeless, human dialogue we seem to have termed “The Great Conversation.” This may seem strange or lofty material to be considering at work, but when surrounded with artwork on every wall you do feel like you’re having a regular dialogue with the artists. In this case, when Tim is working, you can have a conversation. Sitting in this artist’s studio/gallery, the below is something I observed. Considering, and offering to, that great conversation.
The Medici Family were bankers from Tuscany, Italy. Their initial family monies were made in the textile industry and they were influential in developing the double entry bookkeeping system. During the renaissance they owned Europe’s largest bank.
I’m sure their advances in bookkeeping are fascinating but that is not generally why the Medici name has survived throughout history. The Medicis were great patrons of the arts and sciences. Artists so highly regarded we don’t bother speaking their entire names; Masaccio, Donatello, Brunelleschi, da Vinci, and even Galileo.
The first time I saw a concert in Summerfest’s largest amphitheater I was 15. The headliners were Dave Matthews Band, Blues Traveler, and Ziggy Marley. I won two tickets by being the 14th caller though a radio giveaway. I took a friend from theater camp, and it was the first concert I was allowed to attend without any parents present to shepherd the teenage flock. As I think back, oddly enough, I worked at a Marcus owned KFC at the time.
Yesterday evening the Marcus Corporation kicked off their UPAF fundraising campaign at the Pfister. It was a night of camaraderie, speeches, prizes, and fantastic food and drink. Employees were encouraged to donate to the United Performing Arts Fund, an entity of which the Marcus Family have been patrons for many years. UPAF’s current tagline is, simply, “Life’s better with the arts.”
Mr. Marcus spoke at the event last night. I type this with a bit of a chuckle because their have been three Mr. Marcus’ over the years. Ben Marcus started his company in 1935 by opening a movie theater in Ripon, Wisconsin. His son Steve took the company helm in 1988. In the past few years grandson Greg has taken over as CEO.
Greg Marcus referenced Oklahoma City, where the company operates a lovely historic property called the Skirvin Hotel. He said Oklahoma City recently invested a great deal in their infrastructure and arts and culture community. Mr. Marcus added that this was met with some grousing by the city’s long-time and retired residents. They didn’t view the expenditure as important as they weren’t certain if they’d see the fruits of their monetary seeds. During this dialogue within their city someone asked, in response, if those folks would like to see their grandchildren. The question was met with shrugging and head scratching. Greg explained that, “If you want to see your grandchildren a city needs to be somewhere your children can be gainfully employed and not desire to move to another city. But we can’t have jobs alone, a city requires an active culture worthwhile for residents spread their earnings throughout the community. So, if you don’t want to have to drive to Tulsa, or Dallas, or any other city to see your grandchildren, Oklahoma City needs to be the place your kids want to keep living.”
This type of conversation crosses my mind when I’m at Milwaukee’s Lakefront, one of it’s festivals, or one of our many county parks. These places don’t exist on accident, and we don’t have free and public beaches because the real estate is undesirable. Decades ago, centuries even, people decided that those areas were worthwhile to keep public to increase our collective quality of life. The idea of shared park space was relatively new, as European royalty often enjoyed exclusively any desirable land. Ken Burns’ documentary on the topic was titled, succinctly, The National Parks: America’s Best Idea.
I may be getting a little off the direct topic, but I see a parallel between patronage toward the arts and the coexistence of natural spaces for us to share. They both require the conclusion, whether by one person or many, that,
“This has value to me.”
Over the last six months, I’ve been able to gather the stories of people traveling through Milwaukee, native Milwaukeeans, and everyone in between. But years before that a few people got together and decided that there is a history, a contemporary living history, that is worth documenting. They decided that Milwaukee and the Pfister Hotel are worth it, and they’ve invited artists and writers in to actively chronicle our contemporary lives within this cream-bricked city. I’ve been lucky to capture a few of these stories, reassemble them, and hand the bouquet back over for you to experience. Whether you’ve been a reader, a hotel guest, a new friend with a story, a conscientious employee…you’ve all acted as patrons.
I look out from Blu’s 23rd floor windows. Summerfest is visible and far to the south in white lettering across a blue background reads The Marcus Amphitheater. The venue in which I saw that first concert the summer before my junior year in high school. Summerfest; that musical playground of my teenage summers. Which someone built just for me and everybody else.
Travelers. Travelers everywhere. Transient folks of every stripe walking, running, sitting, working, swimming, eating. Carrying luggage. Grabbing a cup of coffee. Adding sugar to their tea. En route toward somewhere. Arriving from someplace else.
Ah, airports. All of humanity distilled to a small area becoming a sudden, immediate culture. Unique and specific to that individual moment. The energy of not knowing what awaits on the other side of the tarmac touchdown chirp. I haven’t seen an airport in awhile but all the travelers inside this hotel make me feel as though I’m spending my time in a very relaxed version of one.
The experience of travel. Not just the carrot dangle destination, but getting there as well. I have these conventions, habits which only happen when traveling. I always try to arrive at the airport early to immerse in the vibe of transience, and chuckle about the seriousness of the TSA folks. After checking my luggage I order a Cinnabon roll slathered with frosting (reserved for airports alone). Then I might have a beer, even if the sun is out. I don’t have anywhere else to be and I’m not driving. Then I buy a new magazine, which I generally don’t read until reaching my destination. The reading material is only for the rare event that my neighbors prefer not conversing as much as I enjoy it.
There’s a curiosity and a titillation which exists inside places of travel or temporary residence. The immediacy that your only time to get to know all these people exists between now and your destination or connecting flight. A chance to learn from someone who may not look like you. They might only speak your language in words that provide the most * POP * to get their point across. They might not speak your language at all. They probably won’t share your political views, and will have completely different political issues in their city, or state, or continent.
I like having the time constraint of only the flight duration to try and understand another person.
There is also no accountability. You have no emotional attachment to another traveler, their past, or their future. Conversely, they hold none toward you. People are free to confide in one another regarding experiences or feelings they may not otherwise discuss openly with family, friends, or even their spouse. A person can tell a stranger all the details of their life they don’t care to be reminded of when they wake up the next day, fully rested to experience their new surroundings.
These things are all great, but what about when you can’t travel? When you’re busy.When a vacation is not in the budget. Times when work is too busy or you’re immersed in your studies. When family requirements may not allow for time outside the immediate zip code.
Despair not fellow hearts diagnosed with an incurable case wanderlust!
I invite you to indulge in something I refer to as Travel Lite. The Lite Beer of travels. This is travel by association. Chances are you’ve never met Doug from Virginia and heard his recommendations on California wine. Or Rick’s afternoon spent downhill skiing while in Dubai. Sandra’s experience working as a city planner in New York City. The bird dogs Ole has raised over the years. That time when the locals told Erica and Steve they weren’t crazy, that probably was a pointing dorsal fin, and that South America does indeed have freshwater sharks (as they dried with towels on the beach).
That is the lovely thing I’ve learned over the past few months. Any time you have a spare hour you’re able to stop in at your friendly neighborhood upscale hotel for a dose of travel lite. It’s as if all the best about travel has been brought to you. Except the food and drink is better and cab fare is cheaper than airfare.
Timothy Westbrook’s first gallery night will be exciting and very interesting. He has both stagnant and performance components to the event.
Here’s a sneak peek of what he’s working on for the show.
Timothy Westbrook’s first gallery night will be in conjunction with the Milwaukee wide “Gallery Day and Night” event.
Updated information: Timothy’s performance piece to open at 5 pm
At 5:00 pm Timothy’s model, Rose, will be assisted into her corset fashioned after clothing from 1902. Promptly after, her hair will be styled. This will take place in the studio gallery and is open to the public. Watch as he fits her into the corset and ask him any questions about the piece you may have. The audience will experience up close a period style daily dressing routine of the early 1900’s.
She will then interact with the audience in the rouge till the last guest leaves! Timothy will be in between the rouge and his studio answering questions and interacting with the audience.
Guests are invited for light appetizers and cash bar in the rouge.
The best part about starting at the Pfister for Gallery Day & Night is you can park at the Pfister and take a shuttle to the other galleries.
Gallery Night Xpress has five convenient stops throughout the Third Ward and East Town.
– 212 N. Milwaukee St. (in front of parking structure)
– The Pfister Hotel
– Hotel Metro
– InterContinental Milwaukee
– 225 E. Chicago St. (in front of parking structure)
Come join us at The Pfister to welcome Timothy to Milwaukee.
The Pfister specializes in weddings. They seem to happen here every weekend, sometimes a few concurrently. Here’s a poem about something we’ve all seen at weddings: The Generations Dance. You know, the one where all the married couples get up and gradually leave as the number of years they’ve been married are ticked away by the announcer.
* If you’d like to hear a spoken recording of this poem, please scroll to the bottom to listen or download *
As mentioned in an earlier post I’ve put considerable thought toward how to chronicle Jeff, his playing, and more specifically his playing at the Pfister Hotel. There are several occasions when I’ve left the hotel and driven home in silence because after hearing him at the piano anything on the radio sounded like a frivolous muck.
Different ways to “capture” Jeff battled with one another in my head. Photographs, photographs of his hands, photographs of his facial expressions while playing. Brief videos of the way his hands dance across the keys. Recording the audio of him playing and with no dialogue whatsoever. A poem about his playing, about piano as a whole, about piano history, about jazz and American folk musics being high art. A conceptual piece called The Silent Man, about the piano player in the corner who wields the loudest voice in the room without speaking at all. But in the end I decided to interview Jeff and partner our interview with his playing layered throughout. What better way to document him than to record exactly what he does?
During our conversation Jeff discusses how he started playing piano at the age of 4, his college level education beginning at age 7, who he considers his timeless contemporaries, and the years of inspiration the Grand Hotel of the West has provided him.
Below is former Pfister Resident Artist Katie Musolff’s rendering of Dr. Hollander, in the hotel’s hallway for all to see. To listen simply click play on the good doctor’s piano below, or click download to listen later.
MILWAUKEE – April 6, 2012 – Emerging fiber artist Timothy Westbrook, along with his floor loom and antique sewing machine, has moved into The Pfister Hotel’s studio space, where he will create art and entertain guests for one year. The historic hotel, which is owned and managed by Marcus® Hotels & Resorts, has hosted a popular Artist-in-Residence program for the past three years. Westbrook moved from upstate New York to Milwaukee for the opportunity.
“Drawn to The Pfister by the artistic and historical reputation of Milwaukee, I’m eager to develop my artistic voice in this unique setting,” said Westbrook. “During my time at the hotel, I’d like to complete two main projects. One is to create about five fully styled period ball gown reproductions and the other is to create a fashion collection. For both, I plan to weave cloth out of various organic and repurposed manmade materials, including items like cassette tapes, sculpting them into costumes and fashion while pulling from the inspiration of the hotel and the Victorian Decorative Arts period.”
A recent graduate from Syracuse University in Syracuse, NY, Westbrook focuses on costume, performance and installation art. He uses fairytale themes as an environmentalist analogy. He implements his sustainable studio practices by using re-purposed materials for his work along with low-impact equipment. He has replaced 2011-2012 Pfister artist Shelby Keefe.
Accomplishments of Shelby Keefe
Last week, Shelby Keefe was honored at a public reception celebrating her time at the hotel. Known for her creation of colorful, urban landscape paintings, she unveiled her legacy piece, “Reflecting on the Day,” which has been added to the hotel’s extensive, permanent art collection.
During her time at The Pfister, Keefe created more than 100 paintings. Highlights of her year included the 30-day challenge, in which she created a painting a day for 30 straight days—all of which were featured at The Peninsula School of Art in Fish Creek, Wisconsin, at a show last Fall. More recently, she created 16 12” x 12” paintings portraying each of the United Performing Arts Fund’s (UPAF’s) 15 Member Groups and one painting representing UPAF itself, which will be auctioned off in June as a fundraiser for the 2012 UPAF Campaign.
Entering its fourth year, The Pfister’s Artist-in-Residence program features a working art studio and gallery that is open to hotel guests and visitors. The program encourages the public to interact with the artist and witness the evolution of each piece first-hand.
Over the past few years, The Pfister has received national attention for its Artist-in-Residence program. Since 2009, the hotel has been a member of the Alliance of Artist Communities, www.artistcommunities.org,an international association of artists’ communities and residencies featuring a diverse field of more than 1,000 programs worldwide. In 2011, The Pfister’s residency program was highlighted at the organization’s annual international conference.
This is the one I’ve avoided writing. The elephant in my room. The profile I’ve put off for five months while I watched and listened quietly in the background, leaning against a column with my arms crossed wondering how it happens and how to write about it.
Every time I’ve listened to Dr. Jeffrey Hollander play the piano I’ve had a clear desire to write about him, to chronicle the man and his work. I’m a music fan but I’ve never been a musician. I can converse in a limited manner regarding jazz and even less when it comes to classical composition. But we all know when we’ve been able to observe an art which resonates within us. There has been more than one occasion when I’ve listened to Jeff play and I feel like he’s reached inside of me and turned my ribs into piano keys. Then, there I am in a hotel lobby and suddenly sniffing and clearing my throat amongst a roomful of travelers.
When Jeff’s playing within the setting of the Pfister Hotel it’s almost as though you’re attending a private concert. Sometimes he’s behind the piano for lunchtime, sometimes evening, other nights he plays late. Often, in the late morning sun there are only a few other people who happen to be on their computers or reading while he plays, looking around the room to catch eyes and smile to anyone whose ears have perked. I still haven’t wrapped my brain around the fact that some people come to work and get paid while listening to Jeff play multiple times a week.
So what’s my deal? Why haven’t I just gotten over it and written about the guy already?
My conundrum is this: How do I presume to be able to ask questions of someone regarding an activity, a vocation, a way of life they’ve lived for 70 years?
The irony is that Jeff is a surprisingly engaging musician. Beyond being an approachable musician, he’s a nice guy. Throw out your image of the stormy, brooding genius and replace it with a guy who will tell you about the composer of the piece he’s playing, why they are important, and will ask if there is anything you would like to hear.
In most musical performances there is a barrier between the performer and the audience. Sometimes it’s literal, for instance a stage (Or those weird cages that only exist in tough guy bars in movies like Road House.), but even if there is no obvious stage there is a perceived separation between performer and listener. This makes sense, as playing music is difficult. It requires concentration. For most people an instrument, or painting, or basketball requires most of the individual’s brain power. I know I’m not a very interesting person to sit with when I’m typing. Jeff, however, likes talking when he’s playing. He invites the audience to engage him. His entire face lights up when someone sits at the table closest the piano and begins speaking with him.
There are no shortage of stories about Jeff’s playing. He’s performed all over the world and has played at the Pfister for well over 20 years. Many hotel staff members have their own song, a song he knows they enjoy and he begins playing when they walk through the lobby, or arrive for their shift. Concierge Peter Mortensen’s is “Kiss Me Again” by Victor Herbert. One time a little girl asked if he’d ever heard of a song she liked called “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” which made Jeff grin. She sang, lighting up the entire lobby, while the doctor backed her as the smiling rhythm section.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched people, clearly in thought and on their way to an appointment, stop in stride upon realizing the music that they’re hearing. They then look back and forth toward the sliding doors and longingly toward the man behind the piano. Realizing the happenstance musical moment they’ve stumbled into they’re earnestly considering how much time before they absolutely need to leave to arrive on-time.
This has happened to me dozens of times over the past five months, which is probably to blame for the timid sense of awe I’ve acquired toward Jeff. I want to capture him accurately and I don’t want to screw it up.
So, now that I’m getting over my stage fright in approaching this easygoing guy, Part 2 will be about Jeff and his piano. Tonight, as he always does on the first Thursday of every month, Dr. Hollander will be performing in Blu. The series is called Rhapsodies in Blu, and entry to the 23rd floor is free. I encourage you to listen to him dance across the keys before reading Part 2 about the man and his music in the very near future.