Synergy: Performance, Art, & Service (Parts I & II)

Synergy.  I know it when I see it, or hear it, or feel it.  But when it does, sometimes it takes me a few days to make sense of it.  That’s why I’m only just publishing this synergy between three positive events that I attended last Wednesday and Thursday.  There are great things happening in Milwaukee!

PART I.

On Wednesday, my friend Christine and I attended a packed Pabst house for a special live presentation of Precious Lives, presented by WUWM 89.7, Milwaukee Public Radio, and 371 Productions.  Precious Lives is a two-year, 100-part radio and podcast series that explores the effects of gun violence in the lives of young people in Milwaukee.  Produced by Brad Lichtenstein, directed by Michelle Lopez-Rios, with music composed by Kiran Vee, the live show featured personal narratives from thirteen “actors,” including young people and community leaders.  Stories of ordinary lives disrupted by gun violence, stories of extraordinary people working for change.  All an invitation, a calling, to do our part.  

Precious Lives cast and crew.

By the end of the show, the entire crowd–representing every demographic in Milwaukee–was on its feet, clapping and rapping for change, committing itself to making a collective difference.  I could repeat the stories here about what it’s like losing a loved one, about what it’s like remembering the last words that someone ever uttered to you, about the girl who wants to be a global “teddy bear” and just love everyone.  But the Precious Lives website is so thoroughly and thoughtfully produced, I’d only be reiterating what’s already been said and heard.  So please visit it at PreciousLivesProject.org (follow the link above) and find out how you can be the change you want to see in the world.*

Needless to say, I left with a renewed intention to determine my part.  

* Also, follow Precious Lives on Twitter @_preciouslives_, #preciouslives, #findingamerica; on Facebook @ preciouslivesradioproject; and on Instagram @ preciouslivesproject.

PART II.

After the show, we headed to The Pfister’s Pop-Up Gallery to take in the Origin8 exhibit of abstract art from eight local artists, including our very own Artist-in-Residence and exhibit curator Pamela M. Anderson.   Truthfully, it was a shock stepping out of the elevated Pabst rap and into the white walls of The Pfister gallery with soft music in the background.  How could I reconcile what I had just heard–the lives of people damaged by gun violence–with the calming essence of these paintings, sculptures, and quilts?  I sought, eagerly and intentionally, for some connection between the artistic expression of grief and hope and the artistic representations in the gallery.

(l-r) Heidi Parkes, Rita Maria, Nina Ghanbarzadeh, Ann Baer, Pamela M. Anderson, Nirmal Raja, Leah Schreiber Johnson, Melissa Dorn Richards. Photo credit: Sara Risley

So I studied Pamela’s huge urban and natural landscapes, Nirmal Raja’s painted saris, Heidi Parkes’ quilts, Nina Ghanbarzadeh’s intricate, mesmerizingly lacy lines, Ann Baer’s primary colored salad forks and massage rollers, Rita Maria’s spiritual crows, Leah Schreiber Johnson’s ominous but hopeful monotypes, and Melissa Dorn Richards’ brilliant, outlined gestures of color pointing toward the sky.  I looked for symbolic connections between the Precious Lives voices and the paint and pen and shapes and threads.  Here’s what I found, then created from their fragments of their art and words:

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The words on this little collage are like lessons of peace and connection for Milwaukee:

Anderson claims the natural and urban world as her “sanctuary” and “vessel,” created from “intimate encounters with [her] daily life.”  Marie intuits crows as “messengers” that help her “awaken to [her] authentic self,” “stay in touch with [her] true self,” and recognize her “soul’s purpose.”  Lesson: Be open and close to your world.  Appreciate the sacred nature of everything around you.  Let your world connect you with yourself and others.  The purpose of life is to live a life of purpose.

Baer brings new life to discarded daily objects, creating whimsical towers and multi-dimensional wall sculptures–she calls them “totems”–that remind me of colorful horseshoe crabs or shiny insect exoskeletons.  Richards looks for the “humanness of non-human objects, always looking for that awkward gesture or irregular line,” then produces paintings with heavy outlines and vivid colors to celebrate that humanness.  Lesson: Recognize the beauty and humanity of those who are “discarded,” “awkward,” or “irregular.”  Then do something about it: claim, reclaim, create, construct, celebrate them.  And do it all with color.

Raja meditates upon the “possibilities and choices that lead a person to the present moment . . . the ripple effect of our actions,” describing her palimpsestic prints as a process of “accretion,” or a gradual build-up of layers.  Ghanbarzadeh also layers, but with hundreds of circular traces or cross-hatches to hypnotic effect, and in other work not displayed at the gallery attempts in her artwork “to find a more universal language” by “deconstruct[ing] written language into curves, lines, and dots.”  Lesson: Don’t forget your past and what got you to the present.  As you move into your future, build upon the layers you’ve already created.  Cover the layers you don’t want people to see; they won’t disappear, they’re under there, but you can build yourself up the way you want to be seen.

Parkes “continues a family tradition” of quilting passed down from her maternal grandmother, integrating into one quilt various views from the ground looking up and from the sky looking down.  And while Parkes builds and connects, Johnson produces monotypes of “crumbled landscapes” that represent the “destructive construction of cultural transformation” in places like Wuhan, China, which inspired some of her work in the gallery.  Lesson: Don’t ignore the “crumbled landscapes” in your life and in the lives of others.  And when you recognize them, stitch them back together again, preferably in a new pattern, a new design, a new form.  See things from different perspectives: look up if you normally look down, look down if you’re always looking up.

At least that’s what I saw when I visited the Origin8 exhibit, which runs through July 18th.  I left the gallery, just like I had left the Precious Lives performance, with a renewed sense of hope, which would be strengthened the following day at the Jewish Family Services Luncheon of Champions in the Hotel’s Grand Ballroom.

Read PART III, about the Jewish values of tzedaka (צדקה “charity”), chesed (חֶ֫סֶד “loving kindness”), and tikkun olam (תיקון עולם “repairing the world”), in my next post!

 

Jazz Virgin

I admit it.  I’m a jazz virgin.

But The Pfister Hotel is going to initiate me.

At the Mason Street Grill on Wednesday evening, after listening to part of a set by the Jamie Breiwick/Mark Davis Duo, I snuck up to a table where a woman was sitting alone.

The Jamie Breiwick/Mark Davis Duo

Her companion had just temporarily vacated his seat to chat with Jamie and Mark.  This seemed like a good opportunity to see what she knew and thought about jazz.  I introduced myself (her name is Sheryl) and remarked about how smoothly Jamie’s embouchure and Mark’s fingers communicated with each other, almost telepathically (I didn’t use the term “embouchure”–I had to look that up!).  I was really bemoaning the fact that I’d never been able to tear my eyes away from the sheet music and just, well, jam.  Improvise.  Instead, my classical and acoustic guitar playing was always literally by-the-book.  Sheryl conjectured that improvisation was like telling each other, “We’re going to do this together–but also separately.  Let’s just agree to play in this key, this tempo, this style.”  Then I’m going to play, then you’ll come in when it seems right.  I’ll listen to your notes, you listen to my rhythm.  We’ll build off each other.   Communicate and create with a look, a beat, a tone.  We’ll build off what we know and take it from there.

20160608_214806Sheryl’s husband, Kurt, whose seat I had taken, is an accomplished pianist, composer, and arranger.  When Kurt returned to the table, I learned that he had arranged the music this spring for James & the Giant Peach at The Prairie School, where Jamie and I just got done teaching for the year, and had also just performed with Aretha Franklin at the Riverside the previous Friday.  When I told them that one of my missions as the Narrator is to uncover the story of jazz at The Pfister–and educate myself on the genre–both Sheryl and Kurt recommended that I begin my instruction with Ken Burn’s famous Jazz documentary series.  Sheryl admitted to knowing about as much as I do about the technical side of jazz, but it must be nice having a jazz expert to which to defer when jazz virgins like me ask questions like “How do Jamie and Mark know when to come in after the other one solos?” or “Are there many female jazz musicians?  Have there ever been?  If not, then how come?”  or “Were they just playing Coltrane or modern jazz or Monk or someone else?”  She was able to help up to a point, then she and I were in the same boat.  I hope we’ll find ourselves in that boat again during my year-long Pfister initiation into the world of jazz.

This pleasant conversation seems like a good starting point for my initiation–that and Ted Gioia’s Jazz Standards, which I had tucked into my bag in case I had time to read while listening to Jamie and Mark.  I wouldn’t have time to read, but I would go on that evening to meet several other people who undoubtedly will become some of my jazz mentors this year.

Jamie made sure to introduce me to August (Auggie) Ray, vice president of Jazz Unlimited of Greater Milwaukee, whose mission is “to support the art of jazz in all its forms and encourage local jazz musicians, composers and venues by cultivating an interest in jazz through local live performances, youth scholarship opportunities and community outreach throughout the Greater Milwaukee area.”  Auggie sat near the piano and typed prodigiously into his iPhone, posting to Facebook a photo of the Duo, some notes, and the location.  He calls The Pfister “one of the best promoters of live music in the city.”  With live piano seven days a week, live music in the Mason Street Grill six days, and live music at Blu at least two times a week, I couldn’t argue with him.  The Pfister is not alone in promoting live music, especially jazz.  Auggie moves from one live music venue to another throughout the week, averaging two a day, although his personal record is six in one day: Amelia’s at 5:00, The Packing House at 6:00, Caroline’s at 8:00 (mostly blues), Mason Street Grill at 9:00, then the Jazz Estate for until 1:00 am (reopening in July!).  At each new place, he posts to Facebook.  He is a constant presence in the life of jazz and blues in Milwaukee.  We only got to chat for a little bit, because he was headed up to Blu, but not before he gave me a Jazz Unlimited newsletter (this is going to be invaluable!) and told me that Dan Albrechtson, who plays piano in The Pfister lobby, has a steady gig–on every second Monday at Hart Park in Wauwatosa, where I live–giving a concert and jazz history lesson with Pete Wood, Bruce Yeo, Don Shesky, and Rob Moore.  (I’ll see you there soon, Dan!)

Before the night ended, I joined Mark Davis and his Wisconsin Conservatory of Music colleague, guitarist Paul Silbergleit, at Blu, where, it turns out, Mark Thierfelder had booked The Julie Lyon Quartet from New York City to play a special show with his Mark Thierfelder Trio.  (Of course, Auggie was up there already, posting away!)  Among other musical combos, Mark also plays with The Jazz Corporation, joined by Greg Marcus and Bill Bonifas.  While Julie sang the Ella Fitzgerald/Louis Armstrong version of 1945’s “Frim-Fram Sauce,” popularized by The Nat King Cole Trio, Paul and I discussed my earlier regret, the one I’d shared with Sheryl, about never being able to improvise or jam.  In something of a consolation, he assured me that there are musicians who only improvise but who don’t really know music, and that there are musicians who can only read music, who know notes on the page and perhaps music theory, but who don’t really feel music.  He argued for a happy medium.  We also talked about how one’s environment can come out in one’s music, just as it can emerge in writing (Paul referenced Hemingway and Key West).  

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The Julie Lyon Quartet

However, as interesting and cerebral as our conversation became, these are things I’ll have to think about later as I try to learn more about jazz, as an art form and as a source of stories here at The Pfister Hotel.  Sometimes, at midnight, in a crowded bar with interesting gentlemen and songs about pork chops and bacon, oss-en-fay and shafafa, one just wants to enjoy one’s Old Fashioned, nibble on wasabi peas, tell stories, laugh–and listen.

What Did You Create Today?

Everywhere I turn in this cozy room, I encounter a new artist.  

Pamela Anderson, The Pfister’s new Artist-in-Residence, is on the west coast during this event, and her fellow artist, Melissa Dorn Richards, has taken up temporary residence in the studio, carving the thick white paint on her square canvases to re-imagine industrial mop heads in surprising ways.  

But here, in the former space of the upscale Rogers Stevens menswear store that has been transformed for a United Performing Arts Fund (UPAF) event hosted by the Marcus Corporation’s managers, the unsung artists of The Pfister are emerging.

  • The bartender, Luther, creates music, mainly percussion, out of anything he can find, having recently elevated a washboard to create a wicked sound and acquired a tuba (I reminisce about my college girlfriend and I foxtrotting to “Moonlight Serenade” played by a Seattle street musician with a tuba).  We chat about how he’s seeking new creative ventures for himself, much like I am, adventures that will allow him to create for himself and others, especially after years of raising his children and cleaning their creative peanut butter smears off of sofas.
  • Also at the bar is James, a rep from Copper & Kings American Brandy stationed in Butchertown, Louisville, Kentucky, who regales me with a language still foreign to me, but one I would willingly learn: non-chill filtered, copper pot-distillation, pure pot-still, full integrity, extraction, palatability (that last one I get!).  I enjoy his spirited Absinthe Blanche creation, a double-distilled Muscat brandy with traditional absinthe botanicals, and his company’s neighborhood’s namesake, Butchertown Brandy, described on their website as “bad-ass brandy . . . non-chill filtered without adulteration by boisé (oak flavor or infusion), sugar or caramel color for an uncorrupted natural flavor and natural color.”  Of course, I detect all of those characteristics. . . I’m an art connoisseur.
  • Joe from Milwaukee’s own Great Lakes Distillery shares the new Rehorst Barrel Reserve Gin, oak barrel aged to give it a creaminess that complements the botanicals and a golden to amber palette that delights my palate.  I share with him how my friends and I created a couple of summers ago the “Walkers Point Trifecta,” which begins with a tour of the distillery, followed by an affordable meal at Conejito’s Place Mexican Restaurant across the street, and washed down with cocktails at The Yard across the roundabout.  Good times.
  • After a little while, Peter, the Hotel’s food & beverages purchasing manager, is kind enough to introduce himself and engage me about his art: at work, he says, keeping food and beverage costs down is an art, and at home, he claims to “create masterpieces” (out of leftovers, that is).  I don’t doubt his culinary skill.  He wears it like a badge of honor and gets philosophical with me (I love that), agreeing that any time we take nothing and create something, or take something and transform it, we’re making art.

So why are all these artists gathered among the emptied wooden clothing racks bedecked with hors d’oeuvres and rows of wines for a cork pull and bottles of spirits for silent auction?  This May 10th event is one of the many UPAF events that are held at the Hotel throughout the year (and one of many just this month!), a testament to the company’s commitment to the arts and artists.  Begun in 1967 to support organizations like the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, the Milwaukee Repertory Theater, and the Florentine Opera Company that would be performing in the new Performing Arts Center, UPAF has endured to this day, raising in 2014 over $12 million, due in part to co-chair Peggy Williams-Smith, Senior Vice President of Marcus Hotels & Resorts and SafeHouse Restaurants.  The Pfister Hotel’s commitment to UPAF ensures that “funds to ensure entertainment excellence” are raised, that the performing arts are a continued “regional asset,” and that donor gifts are “responsibly steward[ed].”  

As the Narrator, I have set up a table in the corner with Pfister cocktail napkins and colored Sharpies, with an invitation to join past writers in the esoteric art of napkin brainstorming.  

Prepared to hear from the artists!
Prepared to hear from the artists!

As guests approach my table, I greet them with a series of questions to answer about art, artists, inspiration, and performing.  Guests find some of them easy to answer, confident in their support of the arts and their opinions about why they’re important: How do you define art?  What inspires you?  Other questions stump them, which is my intention.  My favorites, and my go-to questions of the evening, are “How are you an artist?” and “What did you create today?”  I’ve found throughout the years that if we don’t paint or sculpt or play an instrument, most of us don’t consider ourselves to be “artists.”  But, as Peter and I agreed, any time we take nothing and create something, or take something and transform it, we’re making art.  We are artists–all of us.

As an English teacher and lover of word origins, I also share with guests that the word art derives from a Latin word meaning “joint” or “to fit together,” that inspire comes from the Latin “to breathe upon,” “to inflame,” or “to put a spirit into,” and that perform hails from the Old French “to provide completely” and the Middle English “to make dreams come true.”  For me, knowing the etymologies of short words like these that we take for granted opens up new avenues for understanding.  If art is a “joining,” then what is it that it joins?  If inspiration means to “breathe upon,” then who or what is breathing, what is being breathed, and upon whom?  And if every time we perform we’re “providing” something that “makes dreams come true,” well, how cool is that?

The guests’ napkin responses reveal to them and me new ways of thinking about ourselves:

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“I provide the world with an open ear.” “I assisted guests with reservations today!” “I try to make someone say Wow every day.”

Before the event comes to a close, I have the pleasure of chatting with Mary and Kathy, guests of Donna, Executive Assistant to the General Manager.

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Mary and Kathy, two artists.

At first mild and reserved, these two handsome women proclaim that neither of them is an artist.  However, with a little encouragement and inquiry, Mary tells me that she once took an art class to maintain her teaching certification.  “You wouldn’t believe that I made these things,” referring to the art, in different mediums, that she produced.  “I kept looking at them and saying, ‘Did I make that?’”

Hearing this, Kathy admits, “I guess deep down there’s something in each of us that’s artistic.”  And then she opens up: “A neighbor at my residence invited me to join the drama club.  We do little one-act plays mainly.”  So you are an artist, Kathy.  “Well, not really.”  Mary reminds her that she was the narrator for The Wizard of Oz.  “Oh, yes.  I had to get everyone involved.  And we made our own costumes.”  So you are an artist!  “Well, not really.  I did once play a teenager going out on a date–and then my parents interrupt the date. But I’m not an artist or performer.”

Indeed you are, Kathy.  Indeed you are.

 

The Pfister Films: THE APPETIZERS

And so we come to the final film, a cheeky little ditty I like to call THE APPETIZERS.

I think it is fitting that THE APPETIZERS is the final film that I’m sharing with you all. It is in so many ways a celebration of the glamour, the sophistication, the romance, the surprise, and the charm that sparkles between so many people who end up falling in love at the Pfister.

THE APPETIZERS is also a tribute to one of my absolute favorite things about the Pfister. But telling you what that is now would be what the kids these days call a spoiler. You’ll just have to watch to find out what my great Pfister love really is.

And before I share this last film with you all, a word to you all about what this film project has meant to me, and perhaps what it can mean to you, dreamer, creator, human being.

Becoming the Pfister Narrator meant a lot of things to me as a writer. It filled me with pride and joy. I pinched myself almost daily, never really fully believing it was true that I was the in-house writer for a stunning historic hotel. I developed friendships that I will maintain and treasure for a lifetime, being afforded the chance to meet all sorts of fascinating characters from a wide variety of backgrounds. More than anything, however, becoming the Pfister Narrator reminded me that the best thing you can do to feel alive is to make things.

I’ve made a lot of things this year. I’ve strung together thousands of words and hopefully have helped readers understand that the Pfister is a truly unique place. Through it all, I was always encouraged to speak with my own voice, and take chances. Even with something as full of pitfalls as making four short films. I never professed to be a filmmaker when I came up with this idea, but I’ve always loved movies. And, for better or for worse, I thought, “What the hell!” As I come out on the other end of making these four short films, I understand that the great joy of the project was to get together a bunch of friends and make something that we all loved creating together and then share it with others. I hope you have felt a bit of the sense of play and wonder that we all had in creating these pieces, ones we finished and were bursting with excitement to share.

I encourage anyone reading or listening to these words to walk down a similar path. You don’t need to make a movie, but by all means, get your friends together, tell stories, have some laughs, and figure out the hard stuff you don’t know how to do along the way. If you’re shooting for perfection at the end of that road, I can tell you that you’re going to be disappointed. If you want to have an experience that you can cherish forever, I guarantee you’ll be paid in great memories over and over again.

I thank everyone who supported this film project for helping me indulge in a dream and open up a part of my creative soul that I hope I can build upon in the coming days, months and years. I’m not quite done with my writing as the Pfister Narrator as I’m taking full advantage of the fact that April has thirty days, but for now, I bring you the finale of my short film project, THE APPETIZERS.

Follow me on Twitter @jonathantwest for more smart remarks and snappy retorts.

The Pfister Films: THE OTHER SIDE OF DOWN

It’s a bittersweet week for me as I look at the calendar and realize that there are only thirty days in April. As I draw to the end of my year as Pfister Narrator, I find myself wishing that we would all discover that 2016 was some sort of triple secret leap year where the fourth month was extended to 187 days. Alas, I’m unable to find even the most open sourced of Wikipedia entries on Hurdle Year (catchy name, no?), so I’m resigned to the fact that my year is almost up.

At the onset of this great adventure I had outlined some plans for things I was going to do to leave my mark as the Pfister Narrator. One pursuit that excited and terrified me all at the same time was to write and produce four short films inspired by my experiences at the Pfister. I admit to everyone now that it was one of those things that sounded great when I said it out loud, but as I thought about how it would actually happen, I found myself saying, “Oh my goodness…what have I gotten myself into here?”

But here we are almost 365 days later, and I’m extraordinarily pleased to announce that I did what I said I would do and wrote, directed, edited and produced four short films. And you know what? This project was an absolute joy to tackle and stretched me in ways I never dreamed possible. Every day this week, I will share one of those films with you, and I hope you’ll then share them with others because I’m proud of them all and believe that they succeed in showing different bits of the magic that is the Pfister.

As with any pursuit such as this, there are so many people I need to thank for helping make the ideas that bounced around my head and ended up on paper come to bristling life. You’ll find all the names of the immensely talented actors and actresses who volunteered their time acting in these short pieces in the credits of each film. I’m so grateful to Cassy Scrima, the Marcus Hotels Area Director of Marketing and the best boss in the world, for helping me with coordination of spaces and places to shoot. And if I don’t thank all the Pfister Associates who gave me a smile and lent a hand in the heat of the moment, I’d be nothing but the world’s biggest jerk. Thanks team…you are the greatest people I know.

So, enough of the platitudes, on with the show.

Today, I give you THE OTHER SIDE OF DOWN. I got the idea for THE OTHER SIDE OF DOWN on one of my first days as Pfister Narrator all the way back last May. It was a quiet weekday and I was hanging around near the concierge desk listening to guests chatter away, trying to get a sense of any stories that I might capture. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a woman who had entered the building from the Mason Street entrance. It was hard not to spot her because she was clutching about four-dozen helium balloons in her hand. She sauntered down the hallway leading to the lobby and stopped at the bank of elevators directly across from the Artist-In-Residence Studio. An elevator arrived, the woman stepped inside with her balloons, and I watched as I assumed she ascended to a party or event on an upper floor. I immediately made my way over to the elevators and caught another car, hoping to follow her and find her so I could learn more about why she had all the balloons. I never did find the lady or her balloons, but she left me with a tremendous gift instead–the idea for my first Pfister Film.

Here’s the first of four short films that I’ll be sharing with you all this week. I hope you enjoy THE OTHER SIDE OF DOWN.

Follow me on Twitter @jonathantwest for more smart remarks and snappy retorts.

We Are The Sesame Street of All Hotels, People

I am a man of a certain age who is able to proudly claim to have been raised in part through the counting, alphabetizing, and sharing lessons regularly doled out on the standard bearer for all great children’s programming, good old Sesame Street. Even into my forties, I still have bold images of the residents of Sesame Street, the flesh and bones ones as well as the felt and fake-hair ones, playing and working side-by-side.

I found myself thinking hard about what made Sesame Street such a magic place as I enjoyed a recent Pfister event. Our new Artist-in-Residence Pamela Anderson recently kicked off her year in the studio with a sparkling night of art and celebration. One of the highlights of that night was a performance by a group of young artists from The Florentine Opera.

Outside of the obvious talent displayed by these singers as they filled the Pfister’s Rouge salon with soaring melodies, I took note of something else that was special about these performers. They all might have shared the same megawatt capacity for smiling and charm, but the faces that displayed those smiles did not all share the same pigment of skin. I find myself thinking more and more about race in this country as discussions come front and center about how we as a nation can work and play better together now and into the future. That’s why it’s nice to know that right here at home at the Pfister Hotel, the spirit of Sesame Street and all its lessons of inclusion feels alive and potent.

I have made it a habit when I enter the Pfister to look up and see the SALVE motto hovering over the lobby, the hub for all guests as they arrive and start a visit. SALVE, that “all are welcome” ideal, is not just a gilded adornment that floats in the air at the Pfister. You realize it is a real boots-on-the-ground reality as your eyes descend from the heavens and you see that the mix of men and women who make up the life of the hotel as guests, drop-in visitors and associates is as varied, ecletic and diverse a gathering as the mind can conjure. Walking through the Pfister lobby on any given day is sort of like taking a stroll down the best kind of Main Street, USA, one where you only take a moment to think about race and gender because you pinch yourself and say, “Wait a minute…I’m somewhere where I’m not thinking about race and gender.”

That sort of Main Street, USA reminds me a lot of Sesame Street, a place where no one cared what you looked like, where you were from, or how fat your wallet was. I’ve met many spectacular individuals as I’ve enjoyed being part of the fabric of the Pfister, and I realize now that I’m struck by how little time I spent recognizing their differences but instead focused on all our shared similarities. The Pfister’s doors are literally open around the clock to anyone, no matter what step they take in the grand walk of life.

Pamela’s opera singer friends presented a showcase of mixed repertoire to kick off an evening of artistic joy, but I was really swept up by their opener, a German language version of “Happy Days Are Here Again.” Somehow it all seemed so right, a quirky mash up of something that was unexpected but familiar all at the same time. The tune had a “life is good in this place” sort of feel about it as the room filled with cheer. It’s a feeling that I have every time I’m at the Pfister, and one that I fondly carry forward into adulthood with a full heart of acceptance and appreciation that first started to glow in my youth when my some friends from all different walks of life told me how to get, how to get to Sesame Street. I never expected it, but I’m sure happy that I’ve stumbled upon Sesame Street at 424 Wisconsin Avenue in my dear hometown.

I hope you enjoy this musical ditty as much as I did.

Todd

And then there’s Todd.

Today is officially the final day of Todd Mrozinski’s term as the Pfister’s Artist-in-Residence. For me and others around the Pfister, this is the moment when Todd leaves us with one final everlasting shadow. His own.

Todd made his mark during his artistic residency by using the shadows cast from the light at the Pfister to capture the profiles of countless guests, associates and well-wishers with brush and paint. Sounds like a simple proposition, and you may be thinking, “I sort of remember doing something like that in grade school, right?” But you would be wrong. Todd is a magician of sorts, an artist of supreme talent who somehow is able to show more than just a profile with his paintings. I don’t know how he does it, but Todd is able to paint a person’s soul.

Todd has talents I’ll never know. There are the obvious ones with a paintbrush that he wields with devastatingly exciting effect each time he approaches a canvas. There’s also the unerring commitment to his work as I often stood gaping at the volume of what he has been able to create during his time as Artist-in-Residence. I think, however, that the thing the amazes me most about my new friend Todd is a heart bigger than seems capable of being held in one human being’s chest.

Todd doesn’t simply paint people. He loves people and must paint them. It seems like an understatement to say that Todd is a universally beloved man. Around the Pfister, the thing we fortunate ones who have gotten to work with Todd do the first moment we see him approaching is smile and breathe a little easier full of a special sort of feeling. You know that feeling…the one you have when you see your best friend coming towards you. When you see Todd, the world seems right and everything makes sense.

It would be hard to write any tribute to my fellow artistic colleague at the Pfister without also talking about his wife, the dazzling Renee Bebeau. Renee’s pure love of the world and her obvious deep connection to Todd has brought added joy to the Pfister, and everything she seems to touch turns to something golden and full of joy. Renee was Todd’s true partner during his residency, organizing the Pfister’s thrilling Holiday Artists Fair, helping to coordinate the many shows Todd curated over the past year, serving as model for some of Todd’s paintings, and creating her own stunning art side-by-side with her beloved guy.

Todd leaves the Pfister having inspired me as any great artist does. I think of his friendship, the feeling I had every time I saw a new piece of his artwork, and it makes me want to get about the business of dedicating myself even more to my own life’s passion. Todd is the greatest advocate the art world could ever ask for, but more than that, he is one of the greatest human beings I’ve ever known. I will miss him, and I know I’m not alone.

Goodbye Todd. You leave a long and beautiful shadow, my friend. Thanks for all you have given and all you allowed us to take away.

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The Only Problem Is That the Water Cooler Might Be Used to Wash a Brush or Two

How many times have you looked at a piece of art hanging on the wall and said, “My kid can do that?”

And how many times have you taken brush in hand to find out that kids are cute, but making art isn’t for the feint of heart.

It’s with this sense of awe for the process of creation that I come to the continuing confirmation that the people who work for and support the Pfister and its parent Marcus corporation aren’t just pros of the highest degree, they are artists. In the case of a current display of talents in the Pfister’s Pop Up Gallery, this statement is both literal and figurative.

Last Friday the Pop Up Galley was the site of the opening reception of the Art of Marcus Show. This was no display of a group of disgruntled employees acting out their frustrations over a hostile work environment with tortured splashes of oil paint on a dirty cloth calling for overthrow of “the man.” No, indeed, the art on display showed that the concept of “Salve”, the motto of welcome hospitality for all prominently on display as part of the ceiling fresco art in the Pfister Lobby, has warmly wormed its way into the psyches of all the Marcus employees presenting art.

It’s not for nothing that a hotel that has its own Aritst-In-Residence and Narrator puts value on showing off the off hours talents of their staff. I get a kick out of the fact that the same bartender who mixes the world’s best Bloody Mary has an eye for landscapes. And this is no, “My kid could paint that,” kind of show, either. It’s a true celebration of how the people that make it their business to ensure a comfy stay for all our guests stretch their artist souls.

When, as a writer, I think, “Boy, I’m so busy…how can I produce anymore words?” I remember that Kurt Vonnegut sold Saabs from 9 to 5, Harper Lee punched a clock as an airline ticket reservationist, and William S. Burroughs was an exterminator. It’s my reminder to stop whining and sit down with pen in hand and start my real life’s work. Those notable writers didn’t just define themselves by their day jobs and clearly knew that being an artist meant more than dreaming about it—for all of them it meant showing up and simply doing the work.

Having seen the work of the Marcus employees, I will now take inspiration from their efforts and realize that while these hard working stewards could be kicking off their shoes and cracking a cold brew at the end of the day, they have chosen to take off their work clothes and put on that soft shirt that won’t suffer from a splotch of paint. I’m happy that visiting guests get to know our staff as more than champions of comfort and see that there are some real serious artists walking the halls of the Pfister.

I hope you enjoy these images of the Art of Marcus Show, and I hope you’ll stop by soon and experience these delights in person.

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Tickled Ivories and the Wisdom of Pearls

Sometimes when you think you’re part of the show, seek you actually end up spending some time in the audience. When you’re in the middle of performing and you get surprised by something that captures your eye that when things get real—and good.

I recently had the unique pleasure to visit with a group of journalists on a tour of Milwaukee who made a stop at the Pfister. Our Resident Artist Todd and I have a nice little dog and pony show worked up at this point for these types of occasions. Todd takes the lead with true aplomb talking about history of the art and architecture at the Pfister and I round out our talks with general information and some fun facts. Got a spare half hour or so? Todd and I would love to meet with you and gab on and on about the Pfister.

This was a particularly engaged group of journalists. They asked good questions, sovaldi sale had wide-open eyes, and were full of smiles. It felt more like an afternoon with friends than a tour with strangers.

We generally start in Todd’s studio and make our way across the lobby and then up to the second floor to look at the art collection. We stopped at the landing overlooking the lobby next to the elevators and Todd and I made the snap decision to head to the seventh floor with our group as we were having such a good time and none of us wanted it to end. We split up since our group was so big, and I headed up in the elevators first.

My small group arrived on the seventh floor and we were just chatting about all the fun weddings and luncheons and parties that happen there as we waited for Todd and the others to catch up. As we chatted I couldn’t help but hear a lovely lick of piano music playing behind me. I turned around and was instantly delighted to see that one of my group, an energetic and friendly lady named Rebecca, had seated herself at the piano and was tickling the ivories.

It was lovely, a real great afternoon treat.

Rebecca explained that in addition to being a travel writer and journalist, she is a professional musician who plays cello in her own chamber orchestra back home in Hot Springs, Arkansas. We all gave Rebecca the applause she rightfully earned for her impromptu afternoon performance and went about the rest of our tour.

As Rebecca jumped in with the group she said to me, “Oh, don’t forget to have me tell you about these pearls.”

In a matter of moments I had gone from leading a group of people through the Pfister to being led by a new friend. A really good performer knows a secret trick: leave them wanting more. I certainly could have listened to Rebecca play for the group the rest of the afternoon, and now she had me on the edge of my seat wanting to hear the story about her pearls.

Our tour ended, and I had my chance. I pulled Rebecca aside and reminded her that she had a story to tell me. She did, and it’s a good one, and I’m sure my new friend wouldn’t mind if I share it with you.

Rebecca told me that when she’s back at home in Arkansas she is often invited to a standing ladies luncheon. One day the group’s organizer, a grand dame of the local luncheon set, pulled Rebecca aside as she entered for lunch and said, “I would like to speak to you privately once lunch is done today.” Rebecca told me she gulped her way through her salad, fearing the worst from her intimidating hostess.

Lunch ended, and Rebecca hoped that she might be able to secretly slip out without the feared discussion that she had been invited to at meal’s end. But the hostess had not forgotten the invitation and pulled Rebecca aside privately as all the other guests departed.

Rebecca stood silently, her heart racing as the luncheon organizer produced a black velvet bag. Speaking with purpose, the hostess said to Rebecca, “When you first started coming to our luncheons there was something that began to trouble me. You reminded me of my daughter, someone who I have not seen for many years because of our estranged relationship. But I believe I have a chance to have a connection with you that I wish I had with my daughter.”

She reached in the black velvet bag and pulled out a beautiful strand of pearls and presented them to Rebecca. As she gave them to Rebecca she said, “I want you to have these. I also want you to remember each time that you put these on that each of these pearls started off as something hard and ragged and after being tossed and turned and ground down over time, they were transformed into something elegant, smooth and beautiful.” Rebecca took the pearls, thanked her friend for this extraordinary gift and story, and left utterly speechless. Not long after this special moment, the hostess passed away. Since then, the pearls have been a permanent accessory in Rebecca’s wardrobe.

I sure like telling stories, and there is a real joy in seeing people lean in and listen to something you are saying. But communication is a two way street. It’s mighty nice to take a pause in the middle of telling a tale or two to be reminded by new friends like Rebecca that turnabout is the sweetest of fair play.

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Art and Stuff? I Mean, What Do I Know?

I’m not a cultural critic. I mean, treatment what do I know?

I’m just a guy who hangs out in classy hotels with his mouth open in awe most of the time.

Case in point…at the opening of Biography of a Stitch, the first show in the Pfister’s brand spanking new Pop-Up Gallery welcoming the world through inviting windows on Wisconsin Avenue, there my mouth was open, dragging on the floor, fully in awe throughout the evening.

This isn’t some kind of critique, remember. I mean, really, what do I know? I’m just a guy with an open mouth.

But if I were a cultural critic and if I knew anything about things of beauty, I would give this past Friday night at the Pfister and the work presented by Todd Mrozinski (our current Resident Artist) and Timothy Westbrook (our fourth Resident Artist who returns for an inspired visit) a resounding rave.

But I’m not a critic, so what do I know?

If someone ever asked me to weigh in with a critical eye, I guess I would have to talk about things like texture and how Todd’s paintings of clothing have a vibrancy because of the dynamic layering of the paint he applies to canvas. I guess I would talk about how I love that he made an image of his dad’s favorite tie into a very personal work of art. I’d talk about how images that could verge on sappy sentiment never veer into that realm, but end up becoming vivid and uniquely personal stories for the eye.

If I had a critical bone in my body I would probably also be pulled into speaking about Timothy’s clothing designs. I might mention that Todd Mrozinski’s wife Renee Bebeau was resplendent in a Westbrook gown that seemed to be tailor made for her even though she had simply slipped into it earlier in the day upon Timothy’s urging. Perhaps it was because the designer intuitively knew that he had found the perfect model for that particular divine pearl colored frock. Perhaps it is because Renee’s joyful heart and easy, honest beauty make Timothy’s clothes soar when she wears them they way they are to be worn. Perhaps it’s a combination of all those reasons.

But what do I know? Right?

Maybe being a cultural critic would also require speaking about the stunning Westbrook combo worn by Deb, Timothy’s figure skating instructor. Maybe I’d write about the special alchemy Timothy seems to have as he weaves together the magnetic tape from old cassettes used in past figure skating routines, a retired scarf from a belly dancer, and someone’s recycled clothing from Goodwill into an ensemble fit for a rock star.

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Deb. Skating Instructor. Model. Rock Star.

But, I don’t know anything about clothes. I just keep my mouth open with wonder.

I’d also probably be asked to weigh in on the music, food and service as an opinionated cultural critiquer. But how many ways are there to say “stunning” about Janet Schiff and Victor DeLorenzo of Nineteen Thirteen providing the ideal musical track for the evening, a pitch perfect spread of gallery noshes, and smiling bar service that submitted to my request for extra cherries and grenadine in the sodas I ordered for the three children smacked with artistic wonder that I brought to the event? I’d struggle with how to address that, I’m sure, because, let’s face it, what do I know?

I guess I do know that Todd Mrozinski and Timothy Westbrook’s creations are on display in the Pfister’s elegant Pop-Up Gallery on Wisconsin Avenue right now. And maybe, just maybe, if you want to know a thing or two, you’ll stop by.