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

Optimization

“I don’t have the personality to keep asking questions that someone doesn’t want to answer,” Dustin says.  “I’m not imposing enough and I don’t like to make other people uncomfortable.”

Coupled with a dawning shrinkage of the newspaper industry, Dustin abandoned plans for a journalism career toward the end of college.

“I was too far along in the program to change majors and still graduate on time,” he said, “but I realized my interest in print journalism was going to be a dead issue.”

We’re sitting in the Café late in the afternoon. Only two other tables are occupied.  I’m grateful for the relative quiet. I sip my coffee but Dustin says he’s already hit his limit for the day. He’s affable, with boyish blonde hair, a scruff of facial hair and eyeglasses.  His ruddy cheeks dimple when he smiles, which is a lot, and I like him instantly.

Dustin has his laptop on the table in front of him, closed.  Maybe he was working on something before I arrived.  Maybe he wants to be prepared for an urgent Internet search while we’re talking. We’re supposed to meet about posting and tweeting and streaming and making things viral, all of which we cover.  The story of how he ended up sitting across from me in the Pfister coffee shop, however, was much more interesting.

Born and raised in Waukesha, every benchmark in Dustin’s life took place within walking distance from his childhood home: elementary school, middle school, high school.  Even his college years transpired a short two miles away.  He didn’t have any etched intentions on moving away.  Most of his neighborhood friends and college pals are still there.  Landing in Milwaukee–the “big city” by many Wisconsin accounts—has re-shaped him in unexpected ways.

“I kindof regret not traveling abroad in college now,” he says.  “I used to be the way my friends are now; the idea of traveling to Milwaukee was daunting. Moving to, maybe, London may be a bigger move for someone else.  For me, my apartment and my dog and my job, all in Milwaukee, has been the beginning of a new and exciting reality.”

Dustin earned his degree from Carroll College and set out to leverage his intrigue with news and words into a career course.  He worked odd jobs for a potato chip distributor, a grocery store and even a cemetery before brokering a post-graduate internship with a eCommerce company.  After a year, Dustin parlayed the gig into a full time job, plunking himself into a newly-formed position of Social Media Specialist.

“In high school, I would post a lot of personal, introspective material on Facebook back then,” he says. “And I blogged daily. When I look back at the things I wrote, I was a completely different person.  I’m much, much happier now.”

With only this pedestrian knowledge of social media programs, Dustin developed a consumer engagement strategy that grew the company’s social media community from 7500 people to nearly 150,000. He studied the trends, consumed news about new platforms and software enhancements and testing new campaigns to “engage clientele in their social spheres.”

Shop talk? Impressive.

“I totally made it up as I went,” Dustin said.  “They wanted to be more deliberate across their social platforms and I figured I was as good of a candidate as any to get it done.”

Dustin continued his career strides, recently securing a new job as Social Media Manager for Milwaukee’s Marcus properties, which includes the Pfister. He travels between multiple offices in the course of a day, working closely with marketing directors and property teams.

“I’m super excited about the work,” Dustin said.  “I’m up for the challenge. I realize, though, that I like having my space: sitting at my desk, with my pictures, my Hulk action figures. I’m getting the hang of all these new things. I’m getting used to being a nomad.”

Reflections of Remarkable Milwaukee

Last Monday January 28th an event was held at the historic Pabst Theater,which is just a stroll down the avenue from the Pfister and Intercontinental. The evening was titled Remarkable Milwaukee and gathered many of Milwaukee’s innovative business leaders, successful creative types, and championing envisionistas. The group relaxed on stage while seated on Victorian couches to discuss their visions for our city’s future over coffee and cocktails. The occasion was also a fundraiser for Historic Milwaukee, a non-profit whose goal is to both increase awareness of Milwaukee’s architecture and preserve our built environment.

In front of a packed house the participants discussed issues and positives within our city. Many issues which are not unique to Milwaukee. Ways to maintain our unique existing architecture while making it fit inside the box of modern use. How to attract and retain both businesses and skilled labor to the city. How do we make productive space out of industrial buildings which may no longer house the industry they were built by (This always makes me think of our enormous Cold Storagewarehouses sprinkled along the riverbanks). The urban education elephant in the room. How to rebuild any city’s areas of urban blight. The discussion was a unique gathering point for intellectuals who wanted to do more than demonize cities with a fast attack of scary soundbites. I gathered that they viewed cities were a gathering point of culture, art, work, and living and there was no need to work in an environment miles away from where one lives. That this city is a great trove of activity and history, which is and will be as fantastic as we decide to make it. Our quilt, per se. Within the hour of conversation nobody arrived at rushed conclusions, and I don’t think it was the goal.

The Pabst Theater was an entertainingly appropriate location to discuss Milwaukee’s health and future. Before existing as The Pabst the venue had been called The New German City Theater, and had been built by Frederick Pabst. However this structure burnt down in 1895. When word reached Captain Pabst he wrote back from a European vacation, “Rebuild at once!” and within a year the Pabst Theater stood.

It seemed serendipitous that exactly one week later I met a couple named The Williams’ from Philadelphia. We were sitting in the Pfister lobby lounge and a conversation struck up about beer. Talk regarding microbrews between a bartender and two fans of what made Milwaukee famous pours easy and quickly spills over into other topics.

They were well-versed in restaurants around the Downtown area, microbreweries, the East Side, Bay Vew. This lovely retired couple was already familiar with nearly all over my favorite corner establishments. I finally asked how they’d become so acquainted. “Oh we own a condo over near Brady Street. We come here several times throughout the year for a week or two at a time. Milwaukee’s our retirement city.”

I asked what drew them to Milwaukee as a retirement town. They don’t have any family ties and neither of them had spent much time working in Wisconsin. It was more simple than I might have guessed. They’re big baseball fans so they come in to watch games and like to ride their bikes to the stadium. From Brady Street they can take the Lakefront trail through Lakeshore State Park (the park between Discovery World and Summerfest grounds) and bounce around to connect with the Hank Aaron Trail just across from the Harley Davidson Museum, which heads straight by Miller Park.

Ms. Williams explained that they’d shopped around in Florida and Arizona but they found that although those states offered Baseball’s Spring Training the climate was too harsh for any daytime activity other than sitting and watching baseball. Plus, when they do have to get in the car Milwaukee is an easy and quick place to navigate.

In addition we have restaurants and night spots offering a level of quality to which they’ve grown accustomed on the East Coast. Galleries, museums, other sporting events, music festivals. Culture, I suppose, if you want to boil it down to one word.

After shaking hands and saying good night talking with the Williams’ made me chuckle. It seemed they epitomized many of the points this discussion panel had been trying to touch on the week previous.

In the early 1960’s the Pfister Hotel reached a crossroads. After years of neglect and mismanagement the landmark was scheduled for demolition. To the chuckling whispers of many Ben Marcus purchased the Pfister. He saw the value in this building and decided to not only save the structure, but invested in the future of the location. To him the Pfister Hotel was more than a stack of bricks and a number on paper. It represented a potential. Now here I am sitting in the lobby lounge. Talking with a couple of transplants who enjoy remarkable Milwaukee as their retirement playground.

All these years later it appears that if you build it they will come.

The Next Pfister in Residence Finalists

Gallery M in the Intercontinental. Patrons get to know the finalists and their work.

This January’s gallery night tested the courage of every driver. The six finalists for the Pfister Hotel’s next Artist in Residence displayed their work in Gallery M at the Intercontinental. I braved the seven block walk from my Wisconsin Avenue home base and spent an evening taking in the feel of a different hotel in the Marcus family. Please help us by voting for our next resident artist on our Facebook Page. For anyone not on Facebook, you can enter your ballot in person at Gallery M, or email amyhansen@marcuscorp.com with your selection. Below is what I was able to briefly glean about the artists and their work, feel free to click their names and see more. For larger views of any photo, click on the picture and then click the image again after the photo opens by itself. Vote early, vote often!

 

Hal Koenig

Hal Koenig's wall display at Gallery M.

Hal is an architect who studied at North Dakota State University and with further study at UW-Madison. He grew up on a North Dakota farm and now lives in Bay View. Hal enjoys highlighting the juxtaposition of nature in urban environments, of which Milwaukee has an unending supply.

Hal Koenig's painting Dusk.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pamela Anderson

Works on display by Pamela Anderson.

In Pamela’s paintings she utilizes acrylic, oil, and watercolor to represent emotion. Her work can be classified as abstract expressionism. Ms. Anderson has studied at the Minneapolis Institute of the Arts and MIAD. She previously curated the Underwood Gallery in Wauwatosa. Pamela has since taken the plunge and is working as a full-time artist.

Two works by Pamela Anderson.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Matt Duckett

 

Examples of Matt Duckett's work.

Matt’s trip from LaCrosse took 6 hours in the snow but he did make it to Milwaukee. Unfortunately I’d already taken off for the night so the following information comes from his webpage.  Matt studied both Art and English at UW LaCrosse and UW Stout. His work has been shown and commissioned all over Wisconsin and Minnesota. Matt is the founder and director of Vitamin Studio, a standout in LaCrosse’s developing arts district.

My favorite of Matt Duckett's portraits, The Turn.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Albin Erhart

Albin Erhart's display chronicles his experience applying for the Artist in Residence position.

Albin is an exuberant ball of energy. His works on display chronicle his attempt at becoming the Pfister’s next resident artist. Each work represents his experience and emotion throughout the process of applying all the way up to being selected as a finalist. His toolbox is not limited to paint and brushes, for example he explores with markers and sometimes even re-purposing thrift store canvasses. Albin is originally from Southern Germany but now lives in Hartland.

Detail of one of Albin Erhart's marker-based works

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Brandon Minga

Brandon Minga's work relaxing with champagne.

Brandon is a designer by trade. Web design, clothing design, footwear, tattoos, album covers. The guy keeps busy. Brandon is a graduate of MIAD. His work on display in Gallery M features paint, digital prints, found objects, drawing, and most works are encompassed within unique custom frames. He works in a collage style, which is sometimes three dimensional.

Detail of one of Brandon's 3-D collage pieces.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Timothy Westbrook

Two of Timothy Wesbrook's creations.

Timothy is the first artist to apply from outside of the immediate Milwaukee area. Having recently graduated from Syracuse University, Tim is looking to stretch out to new locales to further his form. Tim’s work can be most easily described as costume design. His garments are created from a combination of common fabrics (wool, for example) mingling with uncommon threads such as cassette tape. Tim discussed his work with gallery attendees while dressed in a tuxedo of his own creation.

Two more of Timothy Westbrook's works.

 

 

 

 

 

Detail of one of Timothy's garments. This piece was commissioned for a theatrical production.