Shelby Keefe put on quite the show on Gallery Night on Friday, July 29 at the Pfister Hotel.
With a great display of a few of her current pieces and a live performance of a completed piece in 20 minutes to the tunes of a local jam band, Shelby put on quite a show.
From the Pfister Narrator: “I meet Deena who says, with the feathers in her hair catching the colors from the stage lights: “She has a way of looking at reality that is so colorful, with such an elegant spin.” And, in one sentence, she captures the entire night: a colorful reality with an elegant spin.”
Recently, I got to sit down and have a thoroughly engaging conversation with several people about the nature of art and creative economy, of how to meld creative non-profit ventures with for-profit results – as it pertains to the artist (and now writer) residencies that the Pfister hosts.
One of the things that came up in conversation was how things like the Pfister Artist-in-Residence program offer a chance for the public to get a look at the process of art creation: of how a painting comes together, or what inspires a sketch, and they can watch this process happen in real-time. This discovery of an artist in a public space strips away the intimidation non-artists generally feel when face-to-face with a completed work of art. As someone whose other job is hosting authors in public events where that exact stripping away occurs—bringing readers out of the intimidating space of a book’s interior and into a conversation with its creator—I know that this can be revealing, insightful, educational, or even inspiring.
However, unless you happen to be someone watching me make conversation while sitting at the lobby bar or standing in a hallway, you don’t get to see me actually create my art. The process for these blog posts is virtually invisible. So, as I struggled with the writing of a post, and bore out some conversation with writer friends about writer’s block, I realized that this was an opportunity to do just that: let you see into my process.
Just as each artist-in-residence here has had their own individual process in creating their unique paintings, so the different writers for the blog posts will have different approaches. This is, essentially, mine.
First, I simply spend time at the Pfister Hotel. This includes, but is not limited to, the following:
Make conversation with the employees, get a finger on the pulse and mood of the day.
Write down some notes (Uni-ball Jetstream pen, 0.7, black ink). Snap a photo (Olympus Stylus 770SW or smartphone).
Check out the happenings sheet at the concierge desk, see what’s going on in the ballrooms, up at Blu or over at Mason Street Grill.
Wander. Take notes on sights, smells, colors, sounds, etc.
Sit somewhere. Eat something. Drink something. Eavesdrop.
Catch someone’s eye, gauge responsiveness. If positive, engage in friendly conversation.
Scribble in notebook (red Moleskine, hardcover, lined).
Usually, at some point during the above list, something will have a light shone on it. Whether it’s a story a pianist shares, sounds I heard on a quiet Sunday night, a conversation with two out-of-town businessmen, or a morning in the Café – it’s really about drawing the lines, and connecting the dots, to create a story arc. So, what happens when those hours of time or pages of notes don’t seem to spawn anything? What then?
A writer friend replied to a recent complaint of mine about “writer’s block” by saying “Not. You’re just busy writing the wrong thing in the wrong forum.” Of course, what he meant is that as writers we sometimes get stuck staring at blankness, not feeling as though we have anything to say, despite having plenty to say. It’s a reminder that sometimes a writer simply needs to step away from the material and the delivery system, and try something different. It’s often about simply getting the juices flowing.
So, I will…
…drink my favorite coffee and nosh on mini peanut butter cups (fuel).
…read something else. Or lots of something elses: last week I read three whole books and finished a fourth.
…watch funny videos about kittens scared of apples, or upcoming indie movie trailers.
…call my mother.
…take Vito for a long walk through Lake Park or around the East Side.
Eventually I sit back down, upload the photos I took, stare at my notebook, flip through some pages, until something jumps out at me. I then like to write straight through, and prefer to not do too many drafts or major revisions. I put in links as I write, and add photos where they seem to fit the narrative. One thing is for certain: I’m never short of good material.
When a post is done being composed, I prefer to have a particular friend of mine read it. He points out simple mistakes, like grammar or punctuation, but also offers style observations and even corrects major errors (like one post where I—who knows how this got jumbled up—said that Shaq was retiring from the Chicago Bulls), while still giving the much-needed affirmations and compliments.
Then, up it goes, onto the blog.
It gets posted on Facebook, and tweeted on Twitter.
A copy is saved in a separate file for future archival use.
I close the computer, stand up, stretch, and…go do something else.
Floating around the room, dressed in white linen, her red curls a striking contrast to the layers of turquoise, jade and green crystal beads that encircle her neck and dangle from her ears. She slices pieces from two birthday cakes, after being serenaded by a gallery full of friends, new and old. Melodee, a masseuse and administrator for a healing arts education center, is in town visiting one of her best friends, who also happens to be the Pfister’s Artist-in-Residence, Shelby Keefe. Originally from Milwaukee, Melodee moved to Tucson four years ago to pursue a new life with her “beloved.” Everything about her is light and airy, yet warm and bright. Her hands gesture with careful deliberation, and everyone gravitates towards her when she laughs.
People like this tend to be a magnet for creative people, and the circles of artistic creativity have certainly overlapped tonight. For example, one of Melodee’s friends, the evening’s self-appointed photographer, Sandy, decided to invite another artist friend to tonight’s celebration in the Pfister’s artist-in-residence studio. What Sandy didn’t know was that this young artist was also already friends with Shelby, the evening’s hostess!
Tia and I sat in one of the high-backed wrought iron chairs with their animal print cushions, eating cake and talking about art. A former student of Milwaukee High School of the Arts, Tia was always a “drawer” but her dad, a painter and visual engineer, took her on as a student and encouraged, mentored, and inspired her, to become a more versatile artist. Though his creativity comes out in his engineering work, he most “lives vicariously” through her, she says. Her work, as she went on to college and participated in more art shows and honed her craft, is expressed in a variety of mediums: oils and acrylics, colored pencil, watercolors, even wearable art (though she primarily creates her jewelry for herself, not for sale). While not her favorite medium, Tia really likes an interesting technique known as “gouache.” She describes it as being workable and good for layering, like watercolor, but more substantive, like acrylics.
Drawn to the impressionists, Tia’s art displays a flair for magical realism combined with a strong nod to her ancestral background as a young African American woman. Her website features some incredibly moving portraits of black women in native dress, tribal patterns and color, together in dance, or celebrating children and family. There are some more impressionistic-inspired watercolors where the men and women in them are nearly in silhouette, but bathed in, and surrounded by, so much color. There are works that lend an air of “magical realism,” like the one where a woman’s streaming hair is adorned in flowers, pearls, and then the sun and moon. After the ones of African women bonding together, my favorites are a set of commissioned works that depict jazz artists and blues jams – you can practically hear the scatting, bass-thumping, and complementary audience murmur. I want to be inside these pieces.
As we talked at Melodee’s party about art in the community, Tia told me about the teaching she does in classrooms, after-school programs and Boys & Girls Clubs. As part of her art classes and talks, she incorporates “talking circles” to help her connect to the kids, and for the kids to learn how to better connect to themselves and each other. Tia says she doesn’t see a line between her artist self and her everyday self, and wants to help others be their authentic selves, too. Seeing her work makes it clear how actively true this principle is for her, as her art celebrates circles, connection, a “coming together” of friends and family. The peaceful joy that radiates from her person is the same joy that comes alive in her paintings and drawings – a joy expressed in movement, song and radiant, brilliant colors!
Who knows, perhaps Tia will apply for the next Artist-in-Residence year and you will get a chance to see her vibrantly joyous, inspiring work as it develops and grows. I know Shelby’s encouraging her to throw her paintbrush in the ring, so to speak.
From the brass knocker that indicates a guest’s room number to the matching brass plate on the electronics charging box inside; from the intricate patterns of the stair railings to the wallpaper stripes; from the ever-changing flowers in the front hall to the roses on the carpet – the tiniest of details come together to create the Pfister experience. Most people come inside and are so mesmerized by how it all comes together in its final tableau, nurse the details are easily overlooked.
For example, the grand elegance of the lobby with its varieties of Italian marble, pink and gold coloring, wide-open space ringed by impressive pillars, and lofty ceilings that rise over two stories above to a colorful mural, store may be one fabulous picture. However, stop to take a closer peek: See how the carpet at the main entrance is blue and gold, but there’s a rug over it that has veins of aquamarine, cranberry and mauve outlining the dueling blues – all populated with verdant patterns of decorative botanic designs that mimic those ringing the pillars and wrought into the railings along the staircases. See how the gold is then subtly trimming the edges and knobs on the two black wood tables that proudly display petals and blooms of all kinds and colors.
Certainly the Victorian art that adorns the public spaces is noticeable, discount but it’s good to stop and examine them more closely, catching the way a painter labored over the softness on the chiffon sleeves that cloud the arms of the angelic model in Adolphe Piot’s The Rose. Or, catch how much a cherub looks like one of the Pfister employees*.
When walking the halls where the rooms are located, simply look up. While you may take note of the lighting’s luminescence, have you considered the luminaries themselves? These brass fixtures with white shades also mirror the rounded, petaled designs strewn throughout the entire hotel’s décor. However subtle and simple, their classic appearance hearkens to that lamp you remember from your grandmother or great-grandmother’s parlor room, the electrical wires woven through golden chain links.
Each guest room door (even they vary in style—look for some with oval, some with rectangular cutouts, some with trim and some without) features a golden knocker with the room number etched into the brass in a deep, contrasting black.
Take the elevator to Blu. Notice the numbers? What’s missing? Ah, yes, the superstitious “thirteen.” I, of course, always think that just makes floor 14 really 13, and so on up to the top until the 23rd floor really becomes only the 22nd. But, I do love it when a building skips the thirteenth floor when numbering their levels. It creates a bit of a literary history note, some flair that creates a connection to the time when the building was erected.
Of course, the carpet outside of Blu is…well, BLUE! An exquisite navy blue is primary, overlaid by more contemporary floral patterns of the palest shades, bordering on cream or white. Braided throughout are curlicues – as if an artist patiently drew their finger in linking circular patterns while the carpet was being dyed, and this solo-digit trail was all that was left behind.
Speaking of the elevators, have you seen the star-shaped compass design that is inlaid into the marble outside the 7th floor doors? With forest green, pale mauve, and white points set on a cookies-n-cream ice cream floor, it stands out while being stood upon.
And, standing out is precisely the purpose of every one of these minute details. Each tiny component of aesthete sets out to complement its neighbor in a way that renders each nearly invisible. Take the time to stop, look closer, and you might be even more astounded by what you find.
*Which painting and which employee isn’t a secret, but you’ll have to come visit and ask around to find out!
The weather in Milwaukee was (briefly) exquisite this week. Temperatures soared into the low 60’s, the breezes indicated Spring was finally here with their combination of warmth and lakeside coolness, and the sun was brightly shining. Perfection. The daffodils and tulips are in full bloom on, what feels like, every city block. In front of the Pfister’s Wisconsin Avenue entrance, tall, brightly colored pink and yellow tulips are ringed in the low, black, decorative iron that mark the corners of the sidewalk garden boxes. All of this belied the clouds that were moving in, ever so slowly, threatening rain.
It is 4pm inside the hotel and the Pfister’s current artist-in-residence, Shelby Keefe, is about to give a tour* of the Victorian art collection that adorns the public spaces. Starting from her studio, located just off the lobby, between the Pfister Cafe and Mason Street Grill, Shelby grabs the two tools of her tour: a slim paperback guide featuring a gilded frame on the cover and the words ‘The Pfister Art Collection,’ and a heavy-duty silver flashlight.
She starts off, right away, talking about how she dug out an old art history textbook from college in order to gain a refreshed perspective on the various styles and artists on display. One of the first things Shelby shares is her realization that while the majority of the art collected by Charles Pfister comes from the 19th century and is mostly from the classical romanticists, the realists and a fair number from the Barbizon, Millet schools – the impressionists were very active in those same years. By her own description, she is a “contemporary impressionistic painter,” and also a fan of much of the art being produced today that is very different from her own. “A reminder,” she says, “that it’s always been true that artists are not all doing the same thing at the same time.”
Popping from one painting to another, Shelby wields her flashlight like an enormous lecturer’s pointer, illuminating specific parts of paintings which beg her emphasis: the shell being held up to a beautiful woman’s ear in Lenoir’s The Shell (about which a young girl once inquired “Is she holding a cell phone?”); the flirtatious gentleman in L’Eternelle Pomme d’Eve, which hangs over the check-in desk, by Georges Achille-Fould; the gauzy lace dripping from the dress sleeves of Adolphe Piot’s The Rose; how the dress on Clairin’s Dancer practically undulates (“I love how he lets the paint do the work”); or, the ‘Roma’ notation beneath a painter’s signature indicating he had studied in Italy (something which 19th-century painters would tout as a sign of their artistic respectability).
It’s remarkable what else is illuminated in this adjustable circle of light. A painting by Eugene Fromentin, a Frenchman who painted in the “spirit and manner” of the Dutch, simply titled The Cows, instantly springs to the beautiful russet, deep green, and yellow shades of a field and stream on a perfect fall day. The colors are muted in the mood-lighting, but they appear like magic when lit up directly. The same thing happens with Louis Aston Knight’s gorgeous The Poppy Field, Daniel Ridgway Knight’s (no relation) The Rose Garden, and most spectacularly, Chianti by E. Giachi. This last one, features a serving woman being charmed by, or perhaps doing the charming of, a young gentleman with splendid white, floppy hat while two portly men doze drunkenly in the background. A large cask is set off to the right, a stone wall straw litters the ground where thatch-bottomed jugs are spread. It may not sound like a particularly colorful tableau, but the detail is astoundingly vibrant: golden threads, teal tights, pale green sheen on a wooden bench – each detail simply glows.
The tour wound its way to the seventh floor, where the ballrooms are located. A wedding and a school’s anniversary gala were both set and the halls were beginning to swell with guests. A young lady in layers of elegant, chiffon powder blue ruffles eased by, followed soon after by a suited man carrying a little blond girl wearing a sateen dress in bright fuchsia while groomsmen swam together, upstream, in their rose-red ties. Between the art and the events, every shade of every color of the rainbow was painted on the air tonight.
Later, a wander up to the aptly-colorfully-named Blu for a listen to Dr. Hollander’s delightful and charming piano playing results in a glass of the evening’s featured red wine: a velvety soft Domaine du Sac from nearby Wollersheim Winery. Two ladies sit at one of the window-side tables, admiring the view, pointing out landmarks, and sipping from aquamarine cocktails. Suddenly, they pull out cameras and wildly gesture from one side of the vista to the other. The rain had cleared some time ago, though the clouds had rendered the horizon a steel-grey, and a rainbow had appeared, stretching across the sky.
*Tours of the Pfister’s Victorian art collection are given by Shelby Keefe on Fridays and Saturdays, from 4 to 5pm.
Shelby Keefe put on quite the show on Gallery Night on Friday, here April 15 at the Pfister Hotel.
With a great display of a few of her current pieces and a live performance of a completed piece in 20 minutes on her first Gallery Night, buy viagra we are in for a treat this year with Shelby Keefe as our current Artist-in-Residence.
Listen in to hear about her approach and the culmination of her first Gallery Night as the new Artist-in-residence.
I’m a Libra. Some of you may have already guessed as much. One of our best qualities is indecision. Our symbol is the scales because we try to be fair and just.
I was happy to share indecision Thursday with my colleagues at the Pfister as we looked at the six finalists for the Narrator position to begin in May.
Choosing your replacement is a difficult task. Many of us would choose…well, medicine us.
But I’ve heard, and believe it’s true, that “if you’re not replaceable, you’re not promotable.” But of course, this is where our debate formed. Who is promotable? All of the candidates were writers, storytellers and engaging people, illness in a word, all could narrate. Who should get promoted to Narrator, however, was the big question.
There were so many amazing things to see and read. I loved the videos of the candidates, not just for their film quality (thanks April and Pete; and by the way candidates, they made you look fantastic) but because for weeks, we’ve only known these people on paper. We’ve conjured images of them in the lobby, we’ve envisioned them drinking one of Val’s bloody Marys, retelling (or trying to) her amazing recipe. We’ve seen them on the threshold of a summer wedding gala, documenting it all.
But we never saw them in person. Here they were, up close, chattering, nervous, excited and to their credit…bursting with ideas. That alone became a fantastic qualifier for each of them. Do we choose based on who is bringing profile-writing experience, literary experience or pure unadulterated energy to the position? Or should we evaluate based on how they talked about the hotel? Do they like the art, the history, the beauty or the things it houses?
I think the committee members should each be responsible for a blog too, or we should have been filmed (I’m cringing as I say this… unsure if I’ll keep my new friends when this gets published). Facial reactions, oohs and ahhs, “great idea” “I didn’t think of that” “oh, I like her” and more resonated from our select corner of the newly remodeled café where Starbucks flowed among us but the really energy came from drinking in the vibrant options before us.
We just couldn’t choose.
That’s a compliment, candidates.
For me, listening to their plans and ideas was rejuvenating and hard—there’s so much left to tell and my time is growing short. That’s the beauty of it though, there’s no shortage of stories. The Pfister provides: in every guest a novel, in every event a sense of scene.
We did choose. We chose well; and we considered the charming smile, the great colors, the wonderfully themed sample piece, the pictures, the youth, the wisdom, the experience, the salesmanship, the recommendations, the effervescence, the technology, the reading list, the Pfister favorites, the drive, the energy…the embodiment of a Narrator.
This Libra is proud to say her scales of indecision, out of balance all afternoon, finally teetered into agreement. Soon, you too will meet our Narrator and see just how decisively she will compliment the hotel and document its story.