I have seen first hand how this program allows guests to get a hands-on experience of my work. I love to see guest reaction when they encounter my work up close and personal.
The best part of the studio is that you never know who will pop in. It continues to be one of my favorite parts of the experience.
Around the start of my second month, ed I had an epitomizing moment when Karen Walsh of the Geneva Lake Museum stepped into the studio. An instant friendship blossomed and a month later I showed an exhibit at their “History Loves Company Celebration.”
Not only were there replicas of 1900’s style Fire Stations, Law offices, buy viagra Schools, Farms, Kitchens, etc. but they also had displays of turn of the century home craft, photography equipment, dentistry, boating, and the military.
If you have a passion, obsession, profession, or hobby, they will have the turn of the century counterpart. It is worth it to see the history of your work in physical form. Google-ing it online can only take you so far, in the words of the new director of the museum, generic Karen Walsh, “If you touch history, history will touch you.”
Here are some of my favorite sights from the trip.
My exhibit for the “History Loves Company Celebration” was a miniature version of my studio in the Pfister.
My set up was a fun compliment to the fiber art display they also had in the museum.
On semi-permanent display will be an exhibit of costumes that I’m making in the studio.
It was a wonderful experience and I hope to share many more during my residence. And, as always, please stop in, my door is always open.
I will never forget the night I finished my first weaving. I was joined by a kind but quiet woman who was captivated by the process. She had seen every fiber process leading up to weaving. Her sister has sheep so she has seen sheering, carding and spinning (all processes involved in making yarn); after about an hour of vigilantly watching she shared that it was her birthday.
Sharing a special bonding moment with the birthday girl that night was fantastic. She cared as much about the weaving as I. And the next day, she continued on with her life but profoundly moved me in the moment that 28 feet of woven cloth escaped the restriction of the loom.
The following day a couple came in who had lived together in Milwaukee from the time they were born to the time they were somewhere in their thirties. It has been 26 years since they had been back and they said the Artist in Residence programs was one of their favorite changes to the city.
Easter was my day off. And by day off, I mean I only was in the studio seven hours instead of 10-14 hours and I was sketching and putzing instead of energetically sewing and weaving.
A very creative five-year old joined my favorite part of that day. We worked on some new sketches and her sense of positive and negative space with the use of neon pink was very inspiring.
A well known singer in her home town, Sherron, had a late flight into Milwaukee. Still awake from jet-lag, we took a midnight tour of the art collection. That night two weddings had happened. We enjoyed the view of the ballrooms as the clean up crew collapsed the tables and shared stories about the fun the bridal party had.
As I worked steadily the days leading up to my opening gallery night show, the studio was visited by high school guidance counselors, bankers, knitters, family members of people who once had a sewing machine, or once had a loom.
That “Big Night” came with my first visit of friends that might as well be family. My mother’s childhood friend stopped in with her partner and their child, who is now eleven. This was my first time meeting her. What an amazing event for a reunion.
After a wildly successful premier gallery night, HOW could this residency possibly get any better?
Easily. A lovely poised, elegant, woman whose great aunt was an on-call tailor in the early days of the hotel, walked into my studio. She shared stories of women who would tear their dresses when a miss step of the heel caught the hem of a train. A tailor would be on sight to quickly mend the tear then send them back to the dance floor.
Shortly after, a leading frame historian who also works in art frame restoration came in the space, sat down on the floor cross-legged with me and we discussed history, art preservation, textiles and museums. It was truly an honor.
My first month has gone faster than the dancers can spin. Just when I thought it could not get any better, late in the evening on the last day of April in walks the first opera singer into the studio. Thirty-six years ago, he performed as Papageno in a production of the Magic Flute in Milwaukee. What a magical way to end what has been an extraordinary month.
I’ve enjoyed it all, from every conversation to the few people that popped their heads in long enough to put a smile on my face. Even some of the late night wise guys quotes have been great. Some of my favorites have been:
“Can you make a jacket with bird cages on the shoulders?”
“What man, did you get in a fight with all your cassettes?”
“What looks better, country or rock and roll?”
Thanks for making my first month so memorable.
Looking forward to sharing my work with you! Stop by anytime, my door is always open.
It is the people who are the best at what they do who are the most difficult to write about. How do you document the seam which is so well constructed that it appears seamless? I’ve been trying to figure out a way to explain the concierge position for quite some time. Pfister Chief Concierge Peter Mortensen is a terrific storyteller, in addition to being an stellar concierge. Peter has a love for both the arts and Milwaukee history, both details which lead him to the story he tells below.
Peter and I traveled to record this piece in Milwaukee’s historic Turner Hall Ballroom. Since this is the place where his story resides, I felt it impolite to leave the topic of our conversation out of the conversation. You may notice Peter’s voice has a deep echo, and that’s because we were sitting in the middle of the cavernous ballroom on a quiet Sunday afternoon.
Below, Peter regales us with the story of how a man living in Milwaukee, in 1892, wrote the world’s first pop music hit. Here is an old video of the song After the Ball as introduced by the songwriter himself, Charles K. Harris. Then, to hear Peter talk about the music coming full circle one hundred years later with performers Joan Morris and William Bolcom was ice cream scooped onto the cake. Click play or download below to listen to these gems of Milwaukee’s past and present.
That’s the best way I can describe this Narrator experience. My last few posts will be going live over the next couple of days and my successor will be at work getting acquainted with the speed and rhythm of this sparkling old gal on Wisconsin Avenue. From an artistic standpoint it’s been like getting to eat chocolate cake for breakfast every day. The staff have been great. They’ve been generous with information, gracious in introducing me to guests and other coworkers, and ever tolerant of my constant game of 20 questions.
Every day I’ve arrived at the hotel the guests, employees, and structure itself have all been potential colors across my palette with which to paint this experience. So here we are, having arrived at the point of final conclusions.
Well, fellow writer, here’s what I have to leave you with. My two cents for you to take or leave. The rabbit hole is in front of you. Do you take the red or blue pill? This is your garden to till, and you determine how fruitful the result.
* Get a gym membership. There are pastries all over this place. They taste too good. Too good! Hopefully your will is stronger than mine in the face of bakery.
* Tip well. Especially in the beginning. You will be loved even more.
* Conversation is give and take. The first part of that is give. Most people aren’t familiar with being interviewed but most everybody knows how to have a conversation. For people to get comfortable enough to tell you the good stories it’s often necessary to offer something about your life, sometimes before they do.
* Don’t get too over concerned about the writing. They chose you for a reason. Write it. Post it. Exhale. Have a drink.
* Don’t be afraid to ask. The more you engage the staff the more they will engage you. The people who have been here a long time are a wealth of knowledge. Several people have worked at the Pfister longer than I’ve been alive! But if you don’t ask they won’t necessarily offer their information. Some of them have seen decades of faces working here and it might take a while before they recognize yours.
* The concierge has a list of events for the week. I liked to ask what was coming up to be present for the ones which sounded the most interesting to cover.
* I’m pleasantly surprised there was a job to do and that we (as humans) haven’t entirely traded our social skills for laptop computers and backlit telephones. I wonder if after book publishing became widespread, social types feared the world would shove it’s head in a book and never again converse.
* My favorite meal is breakfast. Any time of day, breakfast feels like starting all over again. The Cafe at the Pfister makes terrific breakfast until 2pm.
* Guests will expect you to know about the hotel’s history, art collection, and surrounding downtown area. The more information you can offer, the more credibility it will provide the ethereal Narrator title when trying to answer the question, “So, what is it that you do here?”
It’s been a great fun half year. The experience has felt akin to being a part of a theater production, or a circus. Except the circus is stationary and the carnival-goers are the travelers who come to visit you. Strap yourself in and take the ride up that first roller coaster climb…
This weekend marks the 25th anniversary of the Wisconsin Dancesport Championships. The company has a long history with the hotel as they’ve held the annual event at the Pfister all these years. This high-heeled party brings dancers from across the country to compete at their specialized steps.
It is interesting to see the dancers’ posture and gait change depending upon which dance is announced. For example, to an untrained eye (mine) the tango appears stiff and exacting. The foxtrot takes on a more sly, playful, and sensual body movement. During waltzes dancers’ bodies become languid and graceful, flowing toward the next position. Dancers are on display everywhere across the 7th floor in varying stages of preparation, warm-up, cool down, and rushed focus to perform last minute wardrobe alterations. There are rumbas, cha chas, jazz dances, solos, the jitterbug, salsa dances. The list goes on to nearly every dance you’ve ever (or some, in my case, never) heard of. During competition fellow dancers between heats applaud and cheer for their friends and colleagues.
Between competition dancers relax and recharge throughout the cafe and lobby lounge. The women wear makeup which reminds me of my theater days and the men stand at attention as suitors with impeccable posture. Coaches critique improvements necessary before the next time they hit the floor. The vibe is that of a large extended theater company from all walks of life.
One can’t help but wonder about the impact shows such as So You Think You Can Dance have had on these competitions. I would imagine the larger exposure of dance offered to the modern lexicon has brought an influx of new blood in to the dance community.
I tried to imagine any other environment where an event such as a ballroom dance championship could be held that would be as fitting as the Pfister Hotel. Nothing came to mind, except possibly some fantastical land which exists only in a poet’s imagination. Standing amidst the assembled bustle of thoroughbred peacock dancers which have taken up residence inside of the crown jewel of the Marcus family, the two feel so fitting you wonder where the dance stops and the hotel begins and vice versa. The delineation between stage and spectator blurs to a point that the fray is as much a part of the experience.
A brick and mortar structure can be lovely standing by itself but without the people to breathe a kiss of life into it’s hallways, it is just a pile of well placed bricks, doors, and floors. The unique events and personalities passing through these doors create the personality of the Pfister Hotel, possibly even more so than this lovely house which Guido and Charles built.
That was Joe’s answer when I asked how old he was. His response was shared with a grin in that adorable way that only people up to a certain age are excited to tell you how old they’re going to be.
Joe started with the Pfister as a busser at the ripe young age of 18. After time spent cleaning tables Joe moved on to being a food runner and from there he has become a bartender. Joe bartends upstairs in Blu on occasion but most nights you can find him downstairs in the lobby lounge. This is where he prefers to spend his workday, as he prefers the relaxed vibe and the ability to spend time getting to know his customers.
To be fair; calling Joe a rookie isn’t entirely accurate. He has worked at the Pfister Hotel for 4 years.
The other day Joe and I were discussing houses. I just bought a fixer-upper in the Harambee neighborhood and Joe asked about my buying experience and challenges faced thus far in remodeling. Joe said that he’s thinking about buying a house. Maybe a single family, maybe a duplex. Something that a couple of handy buddies can move in and help him fix up in exchange for cheap rent. He gets that far-off glassy gaze while describing his house. “Somewhere that can be my own place with a pool table and a garden and I can make it my own.”
“How old are you anyway, Joe?” I finally asked him. That’s when he told me he was going to be 22.
“How many 22 year olds who want to buy a house and put roots down?” I found myself thinking. This is the biggest reason I waffle on whether or not to call this guy a rookie.
Joe is the youngest bartender currently pouring drinks between the Pfister’s lobby lounge, Mason Street Grill, and Blu.
Possibly as a result of being a young he is interested in discovering new things. Joe is always quick with the best place to get a bite of food, try an innovative cocktail, or find an under-the-radar music venue. He knows who has the best hot wings, and where the burgers only cost a buck on Thursdays. He’s got his pulse on the city and it would be a traveler’s loss not to ask this young man his recommendation. I call Joe a rookie not because of a lack of experience, but because of the youthful excitement we all hope to keep fostering as we grow older.
It’s true that at 22 he may not yet be a walking recipe dictionary for every variety of fruit juicy martini, or ironically named shaker filled with frou frou creamy sweet shots. But his youthful manner is very much a boon to the young man. Joe doesn’t lean behind the bar with the sneer of a bartender who has “seen it all,” and as such hasn’t developed a bedraggled ambivalence to the world. Joe hasn’t seen it all. The world is still relatively new to him. He hasn’t heard it all, and he’s not developed the presumption to assume how your story is going to end when you’re in the middle of telling it. This guy is interested in hearing about your hometown, your last vacation, or an artist whose work he hasn’t previously been exposed to. Joe has the current experience which one cannot buy, the experience of being in the middle of one’s glorious youth. But for the mere cost of a glass of beer, you can enjoy Joe’s company. Which is almost as good as being young again yourself.
Timothy Westbrook, Pfister Artist in Residence, celebrated his first gallery night Friday, April 20th 2012. The event was a great success. Here’s a glimpse into Timothy’s rationale behind “The Femme Nouvelle” piece and the evenings events.
The show began around 5:30 pm with Timothy reenacting a turn of the century dressing with his model Rose.
Timothy walked through the process of tightening a traditional corset and discussed his use of recycled fabric. Both the corset and the prototype skirt were fashioned out of recycled Pfister hotel bed sheets that he had dyed a beautiful deep purple.
Over the corset and prototype skirt, Rose donned a Timothy Westbrook original jacket.
Timothy specializes in weaving with recycled materials. The fabric used in the jacket was hand woven by Timothy with both wool and the cassette tape. The shimmer of the cassette tape reflected the light wonderfully.
Timothy then fashioned the jacket from this woven material. The details on the sleeves and lapels were exquisite.
There were some friendly faces in the crowd. Last year’s Artist in Residence, Shelby Keefe, came out to support Timothy and couldn’t help touching the fabric.
The night was full of art, cheese, wine and conversation. Timothy is already preparing for his next gallery night to be held in July.
Thanks to everyone who came out to support our 2012 Artist in Residence and please stop by the Westbrook studio in the Pfister to see more of Timothy’s work.
We are proud to introduce Dasha Kelly as the fourth ‘Pfister Narrator.’ In the role, she will spend time in the hotel’s lobby, speaking with visitors and guests and sharing their stories right here on the Pfister blog. As narrator, Dasha will be posting blog entries at least twice-per-week over a six-month period.
“It’s an honor to be entrusted with a tradition that captures people’s extraordinary and everyday stories,” said Kelly. “I’m excited to join the history of this landmark as the new Pfister Narrator.”
Kelly is founder and director of Still Waters Collective, a Milwaukee-based outreach initiative utilizing the transformative power of the written and spoken word. She has performed and delivered workshops to writers, youth, educators, co-eds, executives, inmates and artists throughout the U.S. She is also an HBO Def Poetry alum. As a poet and novelist, Kelly’s writings have appeared in anthologies, textbooks, magazines and online. Her latest collection of work, Hershey Eats Peanuts is available through Penmanship Books. She is currently working on her second novel and a new collection of essays.
Kelly was chosen to serve as narrator based on her writing style, experience and personality, from a significant pool of qualified applicants by a review panel consisting of local writers and editors, and representatives from the hotel. She will be replacing Ed Makowski, who has been blogging for the hotel since November 2011.
“Although we’re sad to see Ed leave, we’re thrilled to add Dasha to our team,” said Joe Kurth, general manager of The Pfister Hotel. “I’m confident our guests will appreciate her enthusiasm, as her extensive writing experience promise creative, captivating blog entries.”
There tend to be patterns of why people live where they live. Often times they got a job nearby, or that’s where they went to school, or possibly their spouse’s family is from the area.
Roc is a concierge at the Pfister and his path to Milwaukee definitely did not follow any of these typical routes. Roc and his Quaker lineage hail from Northwest Indiana. In his home state Roc had been a teacher of Latin, German, and English before becoming involved in starting non-profit organization. The organization provided the beginnings of what we now know as head-start programs, urban transit and information offices, and elderly health care programs. This would have been a fulfilling enough life for most, but Roc was then made aware that a member of his family was in need of serious help. Already in his 50’s Roc up and moved to Milwaukee to try his hand at parenting for the first time.
If you’ve ever met Roc behind the concierge desk you know that the man is a terrific storyteller. Below I’ll let you hear his story as he tells it. Click Play or Download below to hear Roc’s experience of arriving in Milwaukee and his sentiments on how invigorating later-life parenting can be.
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.