Breakfast

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“Breakfast, pharmacy ” by: Léon Francois Comerre (born 1850, died 1916), Oil on canvas, 48” x 28”

There is a woman who continually offers me breakfast as I type at my desk. She always hangs behind my chair, oblivious to my working status.  She is confident that I have just finished a long slumber and am now in need of some gastronomical vivification. The expression of her face is set into a gentle greeting, sovaldi as if she knows she is the first person I have seen today, and also that my hair is still snarled by the bed raggles. She is glad to see me in my most unrefined state once again. That’s my loyal servant!

I usually pay brief attention to my servant, but today two sisters asked me to write them a poem with her in it. The sisters, Jill and Judy, gave me these other facts to work off of: they both grew up in Peoria, Illinois, one now lives in Milwaukee and one currently lives in Portland (“Oregon, not Maine!”), both are staying at the hotel because the Portland based sister came to Milwaukee to attend the first birthday party of her granddaughter. Jill and Judy saw me just as they were coming back from a walk along the lake. They claim the status of being “exercise fanatics.” Additionally, they wanted to know why my servant wears a gold headdress that appears to be from somewhere in Asia and is, as my mother would tell me, “awfully fancy for breakfast time.”

The rest of this blog post is a digital transcription of what I spontaneously typed for Jill and Judy:

 

Sisters,

Here, eat your breakfast!

A quart of sugared buttermilk

served in a silver pitcher

that tinges the thick nectar within

with the substance of metallic

responsibility to the day rising:

one in which 73,482,551,232,473 strides

will be stridden besides your sister

hip-to-hip see-sawing in time to the waves

that know Portland, Portland and Milwaukee well

enough to know you’ll need this roll

and empty cup of coffee for strength.

There’s just one roll here though, so half it

and half this smile from the French

woman in orientalist headdress.

Baubels and rectangles of gold

parting the lace of her face

and confusing her time period

of 1900 with that of 2084

when such temple bling

will be all the rage

amongst Peoria’s android

house maids.

And if you were born a year ago today, you may just live to see this fashion.

 

sisters

 

 

 

 

Strangers become friends over food, paint and travel stories

[next_message styles=”2″ title=”Gathering of the Senses II”]We’re thrilled to bring our second iteration of Gathering Of the Senses on Saturday, March 15th at 5pm. Tickets are $95++ per person. RSVP by calling 414-935-5950 or emailing m1res@marcuscorp.com.

Find more information, including the full menu, visit here.[/next_message]

Last week, artist-in-residence Stephanie Barenz, executive chef Brian Frakes and I hosted an evening of painting, eating and travel story telling. Nine people attended the event, called “Gathering Of The Senses,” which took place in Stephanie’s studio.

Each participant submitted a photo from a recent vacation to trace onto a canvas and then paint after a brief instruction session by Stephanie. Sue’s photo was taken in Ireland; Grace’s in Istanbul; Erin’s in New Orleans; Cathy’s in Amsterdam; Randy’s in Gettsyburg; Hannah’s in Germany and Karen and Lori’s photos were from a trip they took together to Prague.

photo-11

Jenni’s photo was from Chicago, but then went on to say she actually had never been to the Windy City. For a moment I was perplexed, but then she explained she came to the event at the last minute with Erin, whose original date was ill and could not attend. (#goodsport!)

During the painting time, the participants told me the stories behind their travel photos / paintings. I felt moved by and connected to much of what they said, especially considering I have been to every place they were painting with the exception of Ireland and Istanbul.

However, both Istanbul and Ireland are high on my lists of places I want to travel.

Just last month, I met a friend in the Pfister’s Lobby Bar after her trip to Instanbul. It was the first trip she took without her husband who had passed away unexpectedly the year before. I was so enamored with her photos and travels I bought a book, “Istanbul” by Orhan Pamuk, and my partner and I vowed to go some day.

I have also always wanted to go to Ireland. I told Sue that even though my name is Molly and my beer of choice is Guinness, I am not Irish (even though people always ask) but I love all things Irish – including my partner who is 5/8th Irish.

Sue’s Ireland story was very touching because even though her mother passed away when she was 12, she felt her presence while visiting the same places she had been as a young girl.

Erin’s story of traveling in New Orleans with her sister was wonderful, too. She said it was during that trip that she and her sister evolved from siblings to true friends. This choked me up a bit as I am somewhat estranged form my sister for reasons that are unclear to me and I also have had some of my best life moments in the city of New Orleans.

The warm and adventuresome stories went on and on. Hannah reunited with family in Germany; Lori and Karen had the time of their lives in Prague despite the rain.

Cathy told us of boating atop the canals in Amsterdam and her husband, Randy, who is a history buff, had a fantastic time in Gettysburg.

photo-11

Chef’s dinner was truly a first for me – since I am not much of a foodie – but everything was absolutely delicious, from the firesalt kiln baked beef marrow (served in a bone) to the firecracker tempura mini flounder to milk chocolate malted mousse. The fact that all of the menu items were inspired by chef’s travels made the cuisine even more meaningful.

chef

The four glasses of wine that accompanied the meal got everyone even chattier and sharing more of themselves as the evening went on. This was my favorite part of the event, having the chance to connect with random, fun, interesting people whom I never would have met or gotten to know without the Pfister connection.

“When people come into my studio or to one of my gallery events I usually only get to talk to them for a few minutes,” Stephanie later said to me. “It was wonderful to spend an entire evening with a small group of people and really get to know them. I loved teaching them my painting process, learning about their personal travel stories and sharing a special meal prepared by our Executive Chef.”

A couple days after the event, I looked at photos of all of the finished paintings from the evening and wrote a haiku about each one. I then mailed the haiku on a postcard to each participant. When I dropped the postcards in the mailbox I felt a little wistful as it marked the end of a magical evening.

His shocking story sparks inspiration

Ranachith “Ronnie” Yimsut is a genocide survivor, an orphan and a refugee. He is also a brother, husband, father, architect, author, teacher and social justice activist.

But more than anything, Ronnie is an inspiration.

I met Ronnie in the Cafe at the Pfister and I don’t think I have ever said fewer words during an interview. All I could do was listen, nod and occasionally fight back a tear.

Ronnie was born in Cambodia during the early years of the Vietnam War. When the Khmer Rouge moved in, 12-year-old Ronnie and his family were forced into work camps.

Ronnie suffered two years of hard labor, starvation and warfare. He was the only survivor of a Killing Fields attack in December 1977 where he lost nine of his 12 family members, including his parents.

After fleeing the site on foot, Ronnie eventually reached Thailand where he was jailed. He was later moved to a “holding center” where he learned how to plant and harvest crops. He was finally able to eat more food, but still only weighed 80 pounds at the age of 16.

Eventually, news crews began to appear at the center and Ronnie told his traumatic story and showed his scars to the world. When a distant aunt, who worked for Voice of America in Washington, D.C., saw that he was still alive, she sponsored his emigration.

So Ronnie, believing at the time he was the sole survivor in his family, came to the United States just before his 17th birthday. He enrolled at a high school in Washington, D.C. and later finished up in Portland, Ore. He then got a degree in architecture from the University of Oregon.

While in college, Ronnie learned his oldest brother and sister had survived and were in a refugee camp in Thailand with their families.

“Overnight, I had 13 mouths to support,” he says.

For five years, Ronnie sent money to them while working two or three jobs and going to school full time. He also took out loans to help them and eventually move them to the United States.

Five years ago, Ronnie relocated to Milwaukee to accept a job as a senior landscape architect for the USDA Forest Service. He brought his wife and two children, now adults, with him.

But this is only two-thirds of Ronnie’s story. One-third of his life is dedicated to activism and giving back to his homeland.

In 1993, Ronnie envisioned a school that would train and empower rural villagers to live sustainable lives. Eventually, he designed and built Bakong Technical College in Siem Reap, Cambodia, where he is now the non-paid chairman of the board.

The college trains men and women a variety of skills including language, carpentry, construction, masonry, hospitality, food science, small engine repair, bicycle repair, clothing making and more. The students are also taught about the tourist industry.

Ronnie has written numerous books, including his most recent book, “Facing the Khmer Rouge: A Cambodian Journey.” He is also a human rights activist and has frequent speaking engagements about genocide.

When he paused to take a sip of his drink and a bite of his sandwich, I was speechless, humbled, inspired. I cannot imagine experiencing so much violence and hardship and culture shock and to come out of it so strong and smart and committed – without debilitating anger, without hate.

“I shouldn’t be here,” said Ronnie, whose given name, “Ranachith,” means “undefeated warrior” in Sanskrit. “But I am. And so, I am making the most of my life.”

Update: Ronnie also took some time to speak with Artist-in-Residence, Stephanie Barenz during his visit to The Pfister. Stephanie has since created a painting inspired by his story.

October Gallery Night and “The Art of Marcus”

This October’s Gallery night was a particularly special one, not only for Timothy and The Pfister, but for associates across all three properties owned by our parent company, Marcus Hotels.

“The Art of Marcus”

Some incredibly talented artists from here at The Pfister Hotel, The InterContinental Milwaukee & The Hilton Milwaukee City Center gathered together on Friday, October 19th in the Rouge Ballroom for a special exhibit entitled “The Art of Marcus.” Featuring twelve artists, and over 40 pieces of work, this special exhibit curated by current Pfister-in-Artist, Timothy Westbrook.

Featuring work across numerous mediums from fabric, to ceramics to painting, photography and more – Associates had a chance to display an often hidden and unknown side of their talents beyond their roles as hotel employees and members of the Marcus Hotels family. We posted early about all of the participating associates here.

As part of the event, Timothy created 5 awards in the following categories that were announced by Marcus President & CEO, Greg Marcus towards the end of the post-Gallery Night reception:

  Viewers Choice –
 Best in Show, Pfister Hotel –
Best in Show, InterContinental Hotel –
Best in Show, Hilton Milwaukee City Center –
Best in Show, Overall –

Best in Show, Overall winner, Charles Nickles will have his own exhibit at Gallerie M in the Intercontinental Hotel in early 2013

Sponsors of the event included Utrect Art Supplies and Digital Edge Copy & Print Centers.  Prizes across the categories included a Utrect supply bag, gift certificates to Digital Edge, Profolio Art Portfolios and more.

In all, four individuals were thrilled to have been recognized in the award categories, including the Pfister’s own Alison Barnick as Best in Show, Pfister Hotel and Charles W. Nickles as Viewers Choice and Best in Show, Overall.

As part of his Charles’ awesome honor (and probably the part we’re most excited about), Charles will have his own exhibit hosted at Gallerie M in the InterContinental Hotel.

Joshua Hunt took the award for Best in Show, InterContinental Hotel and Daryl Stoll won Best in Show, Hilton Milwaukee City Center. 

Timothy Westbrook, Artist-in-Residence

All the while curating and coordinating the “Art of Marcus” event in the rouge, Timothy’s studio was jam packed through much of Gallery Night as visitors stopped in to see his progress to-date.

Featuring several of his dresses from the RunUp 2012 event at the Pritzlaff Building a few weeks earlier, and his in-progress unicorn costume for Halloween, there was really no shortage of conversation to be had for visitors to the Westbrook studio.

A personal highlight by many were the awesome PBR shoes that Timothy had made for a PBR Art Show that occurred on the same night as RunUp 2012.

 

All and all the evening made for a fantastic turnout, with arguably the best Gallery Night reception we’ve held at the Pfister yet.

You can check out our full gallery of photos from the “Art of Marcus” event over on our Facebook page (and you don’t need a Facebook account to see them). 

The Great Conversation

 

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.

 

Timothy Westbrook rendering at his hand and foot powered loom.

The art created

these many human years

 

the sculptures

composed symphonies and jazz,

finger paint family portraits.

All of our literature,

film and photography

dance and theatre and

elaborate costume

 

The Dadas, the punk rockers

the Impressionists

and the Rococo

 

Even cave paintings and

Damien Hirst too

 

Every work

is a flare shot into the clouds

of a dark star-speckled sky, a prayer,

a boomerang flung quietly in to the ether,

 

Hopeful

 

that on the other end

they make contact

and are returned

by someone who

grins and responds,

 

“Me

too.”

 

 

9 o’clock on a Saturday

While the evening was waning for most of Gallery Night attendees in the Third Ward — and elsewhere around the city — in the main ballroom off the Pfister lobby, Rouge, the party was just beginning.  In the center of the room, quite literally taking main stage, was a set-up ready for a rockstar.  Elevated dais, multi-colored lights on metal scaffolding, a screen to the left featured a close-up of the canvas and easel standing center and a screen to the right featured a close-up of a paint palette.  The canvas center stage was awash in colors – shaded in diagonals, melting into one another, from the left corner down to the bottom right.

Taking the stage

The contrast was striking: flashy, rainbow-colored lighting in this techno-savvy art presentation vs. crystal chandeliers, huge mirrors and gilded edging around the room where the ceiling meets the walls.  It was old meets new in spectacular fashion.

A woman steps up onto the stage and people, many with wine glasses or beer bottles and plates of appetizers, all hush as they turn to face the stage.  Even those looking at the paintings hung on the back wall turned around to pay attention to what was about to happen.  The woman was slender with bobbed blonde hair and dressed in all black – cropped pants, comfy black sandals; a collared shirt, and loose vest swaying with her movements.  It was clear she wasn’t dressed to be the main attraction, though she was the reason everyone was here – even the band, set up to the side of the room adjacent to a dance floor where some people sat so they could have a clear view of the stage.

Shelby Keefe, the current Artist-in-Residence at the Pfister Hotel, announces what she’s going to do: For the next twenty minutes, she’s going to paint, to music, an entire scene on the canvas set up for this purpose.  She’s never painted this scene before and is using a photograph to work from.  A computer screen offstage left is set up with a counter on it – 20:00.  Shelby introduces the band: the Mali Blues Group, and begins.

20 minutes to go.

Initially she starts out painting white, and then teal, circular strokes in the upper left corner of the canvas.  Less than four minutes in and she remembers to put on her painting smock.  More color – browns and tans, followed by black lines with reading glasses at the ends – no, wait, not reading glasses: it’s a streetlamp!  The painting is coming to life and it feels like Pictionary while everyone buzzes to their neighbor about what they think they are seeing.

The band grooves away on their instruments: a drum set and guitar with African percussion and a wooden, stringed instrument called a kamelon ngoni.  Their “One Love” banners are draped on either side of the stage, at their feet, and the love is definitely in the air as several people move to the dance floor.

Shelby bobs to the beats and rhythms put out by the band, while her hands move floridly with such smooth, practiced motions that the effect is as incongruous as patting your head and rubbing your belly at the same time.

12 minutes left on the clock.

Buildings are taking shape.  Rome wasn’t built in a day, but this Milwaukee streetscape is being built in less than 20 minutes.  Now half a dozen dancers are on the floor, sashaying and spinning.  Shelby glances at the photograph in her hand as she swashbuckles paint onto the canvas.

9 minutes remain.

A dancer whips her ponytail around while lifting her knees high to the beat of the percussion, her Chaco-clad feet are barely on the ground for any length of time as the music picks up.  There are several pairs of bare feet and one guy is even in socks.

3 minutes.

The tension has been building, the music matches the pacing, more dancers arrive, and the painting is really coming together now.  There’s a clear depiction of flowers in purples and pinks, and a distinct red canopy that is clearly the Wisconsin Avenue entrance of the Pfister.

0 minutes.

Color on the dance floor

As the timer ends and the music winds down, the grand final flourishes are applied to the painting and the room is filled with applause.  Shelby takes a moment to thank everyone, and says “I’ll be out there dancing!” and when off she goes to the floor, the party goes with her.

Back at the bar on the other side of the room, 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.

Shelby’s First Painting as Artist in Residence

We’re honored to have such talent within our midst. Shelby is not only a very talented painter but she’s also pretty quick at it, too.

So we asked Shelby if we could set up a camera in her studio to capture one of her pieces from start to finish.

Take a look at her first completed piece with the Pfister Hotel, Milwaukee Blue. Don’t blink, you might miss it.

Visit thepfisterhotel.com/​artistinresidence to learn more about Shelby Keefe.