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.
In three characters or less, can you connect yourself to the popular actor Kevin Bacon? How about if I give you six characters? Or, we can go back to the standard version of the game (that was actually made into a board game, by the way) and ask that you use six movie actors and their films to draw a line between Kevin Bacon and what ever actor whose name you draw.
The Pfister should design such a board game. They can give Mr. Bacon a run for his money as more than A Few Good Men have passed through these hallowed halls. I’ve met people in the hotel who have had life long experiences here—beginning as a child, they have had traditions built around pizza, the holidays, the lions (now available as stuffed souvenirs in the new gift shop), teas and brunches. I’ve met those couples who share a regular date at the hotel or who met there. Others are introduced to the space through work, and name badge still attached testify “oh, yeah, I’m glad they booked the program here! I’ve never been here before!”
But in conjunction with my plein air tribute to AIR Shelby Keefe, I have to say, my favorite “Six Degrees of Pfister’” comes when the six degrees unite Milwaukee, past and present, local and newbie, to the hotel from outside its walls.
Recently, I’ve met a young woman who just moved here from out of town. I invited her to join me at a dinner for a group of the oldest women in town—oldest women’s group in town, that is. Since 1894, the AAUW Milwaukee Branch has been creating historic moments and hosting speakers.
As this Newaukeean met with those steeped in the city’s history, recommendations for where to go, who to meet and what to join flew. As testimony to her own efforts at building roots, the Newaukeean explained she had participated with another professional organization she’d joined in town…at an event at Blu, “at the Pfister Hotel, have you ever been there?”
I couldn’t help but smile. I shared my Narrator card. We talked about the beauty of an event that starts during daylight hours and extends into evening and what happens to you when you witness that from 23 stories above the city. There are no Tremors up there, but great stories about times when Joan Rivers and the gang got Footloose. I explained my role and all that I’d seen so far in my tenure—I warned her “Many who report to you on Milwaukee are Flatliners, but don’t believe them. Sit at the Pfister and watch how much we love our community and how many people continue to return to it time and time again.”
I realized it’s not my new city anymore, it’s hers.
The Pfister has been my Kevin Bacon. Either someone says to me “hey, have you ever stopped for a drink at the Pfister? We were just there, it was great” and I have to explain it’s my home. Or, I become the lever for someone else, “You work with the Pfister? I was just invited to an event there and I’ve never been!” It’s the perfect connector in the city and it’s never had a flop. I dare you to play the game—are you at least three degrees from the Pfister Hotel? What’s amazing is, whether or not you’ve realized it yet, you are.
I try not to write about the staff. They’re an easy target—each is polished, ampoule professional and full of juicy bits of knowledge. They’re the eyes and ears. But we, the “in-residencers” are also staff in a way, but with the very specific charge to engage and make the hotel colorful.
So, what I’m trying to say is, pilule I have to tell you about hanging out with Shelby Keefe, the new Artist in Residence. A program different (and longer) than the narrator, Shelby’s work life will live at the Pfister for a full year. She has a giant, glass-walled fish bowl to work in and be ogled, which is why I thought it was charming when she said “Where is your office?”
And thus began the explanation of how I don’t have walls to paint or works of art to hang…and only for a minute did I feel a bit strange explaining my office was in the bar…because truly, it is. Have notebook will travel…but that’s not all that different from this woman who also conducts most of her art work in the outdoors.
Shelby was moving into her new studio and it’s a world apart from the life Katie brought to the space. You’ll notice immediately the change in subject matter and color. Shelby chose the same direction for her easel and stool, however, and I wondered if it was naturally feng shui or just the most convenient corner of the space.
What you need to know about Shelby, however, is how ready she is for this gig. She’ll be there late. She’ll be there often, she’s not afraid of the people, she can’t wait for them (or, so she thought until she gulped and realized the very next day they’d be arriving). Her work is full of color and the day we chatted her shirt matched at least three of the paintings on the wall, which made it feel like when I stepped in to introduce myself amid her hammering and unpacking, I had fallen into a color palette. She laughed at what I noticed, given what I suspect was a talented artist’s version of “oh, this old thing?”
She’s eager. She’s also ready to show you what her art means; she was bursting with energy as she explained how she enjoys people watching her art demos and what her performance painting would be like. (I got to see the special brushes. I’d say you could be jealous, but you can see them too—just stop in her studio).
Shelby was a lot like me. I felt that vibe, that readiness. I hope she knows just what she’s gotten into, because what she’ll get out of it is more than she’ll ever know.
In honor of Shelby, who I found has a friend in common with me—another unique performer in the Milwaukee area—I think I may adopt some plein air writing to match her painting. I end up having the best conversations with guests on the elevators and in the parking garage, why not out in front of the hotel on warm spring days? Come find me there next week and we’ll capture the open air joy of the Pfister and its amazing and colorful staff, and welcome, Shelby!
With Katie’s time with us at the Pfister Hotel coming to an end, we’re sad to bid her adieu. But not without the proper send-off.
Watch as Katie shares the legacy she leaves with us at the Pfister Hotel with her commissioned piece of Dr. Jeffery Hollander and provides some valuable insight for the next Artist-in-Residence, Shelby Keefe.
Thank you for gracing us with your presence this past year, Katie!
“Well, order everyone calls me Eugene,” he said, when I stuck out my hand to meet the now infamous subject of one of Katie Musolff’s paintings. I’ve seen Eugene before each time I pass through the Artist-in-Residence’s studio, but here he is, live and in the flesh and, he’s beaming.
Eugene is one of the partygoers at Friday night’s celebration of the Pfister’s second AIR and he’s a proud papa. He’s not Katie’s father, but it doesn’t matter. He knows Katie and her partner, Andy, from their time in Stoddard, WI—Eugene is a neighbor. “They’re just such good kids,” he says.
“Well, let me tell you…” he begins. Eugene describes what he calls his little “shack”—a three bedroom house that Katie walked through, exploring the best location to create the famous portrait. He says she hit the back bedroom and it was decided, “We’ll do it here. It’s the best light.”
And together, Eugene and Katie sat for days, working a few hours at a time until the work was done. “Oh, it was easy to chat with her. We always had things to talk about. It’s just so easy to talk to her.” Eugene’s sparkle isn’t from the champagne. It’s his fondness for this amazing talent, wrapped in the woman we came to know as the artist in residence, the art tour lady, “that girl in the studio” or just plain Katie.
I believe him not because he’s driven all this way to say farewell to her and spend his first night in the Pfister—a far cry from his “shack,” he says. I believe him not because he’s gathered his daughter, two granddaughters and his great grandson and great granddaughter to share in the celebration with his friend Katie. I believe him because I’ve met Katie.
Katie was my first interview at the Pfister. I walked into her studio and introduced myself as the nervous and eager finalist for the Narrator program and asked her point blank, “Any tips?” She spun on her stool, got comfortable and, despite having never met me before, began to tell me about the experience. I was enraptured with how she adjusted to being in “the fish bowl” to how she saw her role and the importance of her interactions with people, and how she was able to work among the press, the onlookers and the management. She was generous with her time, and had already gathered and measured the early months of her experience at the Pfister enough to turn it into wisdom worth passing down.
Katie also became my first story. You didn’t read a blog about it because it was the lever to the writings you see. When approaching strangers, talking with guests, and looking for common ground, Katie was where I began. “Have you seen the artist in residence’s studio? Or been on her art tours?” were my questions-as-answers to anyone who began their conversation with me by saying “It is so beautiful here!”
And that’s how most people talk about Katie—kind, engaging and willing to share and speak. That’s how she was reviewed in the press release that announced her residency. That’s how she floated through the room the night of her celebration.
That’s probably why Eugene sat in the good light and talked to her that week. That’s probably why her talent is so apparent and beautiful that he and his family took photos of the portrait and hung one in every room of his house—even though each child and grandchild had their own copies in theirs.
Trust me, being a lived, interactive creative presence at the Pfister is an amazing blessing for the artists and writers, but as I was admittedly a little teary talking to Eugene, I saw clearly it’s really a gift to those we get to engage.
Home to more Victorian Art than any other hotel in the world, click the historic Pfister Hotel in downtown Milwaukee for the past two years has hosted a popular artist-in-residence program. The hotel and its selection committee has now chosen its third artist in residence, Shelby Keefe. She will move into the Pfister’s studio space in April 2011, sick replacing current Pfister artist Katie Musolff, and will remain at the hotel for one year.
“I am so very honored and grateful to be chosen as the next Pfister artist in residence,” says Keefe. “I am thrilled with the opportunity to focus on creating a body of work that reflects the beauty of Milwaukee and to work in the magnificent surroundings of The Pfister Hotel. I look forward to growing as an artist and sharing my passion for painting with visitors and guests from all over the world.”
Keefe was one of six finalists to have been included in the public voting period, try which ended earlier this week. In addition to the public vote via Facebook, Twitter, online and in-person ballots, a selection committee consisting of leaders in the local art community made the final decision on the next artist in residence.
A contemporary impressionistic painter, teacher and performance artist, Keefe was born in Whitewater, Wis., and graduated in 1981 from Cardinal Stritch University in Milwaukee. Since retiring from a career in graphic design in 2005, she has been operating her own art studio and exhibition space in Bay View. Her award-winning urban landscape paintings have earned her participation in prestigious national juried shows, plein air painting competitions and arts festivals, as well as garnering commission work for a variety of corporate clients and private collectors.
“I’m thrilled with the level of talent we saw in the applicant pool for our third year,” says Joe Kurth, general manager of The Pfister Hotel. “The overall ability within our region for artists as exemplified in our six finalists is a testament to the growing opportunity for us to continue to use this program as a way for the selected artist in residence to connect with our guests. I am very excited to see what Shelby will bring to our program given her diverse skills as a teacher, artistic coach and performance painter.”
The Pfister’s Artist-In-Residence Program
Entering its third 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.
Home to more Victorian Art than any other hotel in the world, the historic Pfister Hotel in downtown Milwaukee for the past two years has hosted an artist-in-residence program. A selection committee, consisting of members of the local art community, has announced the six finalists for the 2010—2011 term of the program. This year’s finalists are Shelby Keefe; Stephen P. Ohlrich; Jeremy Plunkett; Kate Pfeiffer; Anthony Suminski; and Jim Zwadlo.
“We’ve received an overwhelming number of applications for the program this year,” says Joe Kurth, general manager of The Pfister Hotel. “With great consideration, the selection committee has chosen six outstanding artists who remain in the running. Now it’s time for the public to help us decide who will be moving into The Pfister next spring.”
Public Voting Begins
Beginning today, members of the public will be able to log on to The Pfister’s Aritist In Residence voting page, to select the artist they’d like to see as the next Artist In Residence. Votes can also be cast via twitter (#ArtistInResidence) or by texting 22333 by responding with the name of the artist you’d like to cast your vote. Voting will end Feb. 14, 2011. The selection committee will announce the next artist-in-residence soon thereafter.
Take a look at this year’s finalists.
January Gallery Night
Work by the six finalists will be displayed at Gallerie M, inside InterContinental Milwaukee, for January Gallery Night, Friday, Jan. 21, 2011, where the public will be able to vote via ballet box, in addition to the other methods.
The current Pfister artist in residence, Katie Musolff, will be hosting her final Gallery Night at The Pfister Hotel the same evening. In addition to her work, guests will be able to view a slideshow of images from the six finalists for next year’s program and invited to vote on their favorite.
The Pfister’s Artist-In-Residence Program
Entering its third 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. The artist chosen for the 2010—2011 term will move in to the studio space in April 2011, replacing Musolff.
The Pfister is already gaining a reputation for supporting great artists. Tonette Walker, the wife of Governor Scott Walker, recently commissioned the program’s first artist in residence, Reginald Baylor, to create a portrait of him, which was presented earlier this month at his inaugural dinner.