A Room With a View: Afternoon Tea at Blu (Finally!)


(Suggestion: Play while reading.)

It is no wonder that Blu has been named the Best Hotel Bar in Milwaukee by OnMilwaukee.com.  But it’s not only their thirst-quenching selection of premium cocktails that earned them this billing–or their stunning views of downtown and Lake Michigan, or their bookings of some of the hottest jazz and other musicians in the city, or their BluTender fundraising events for local non-profits.

It’s The Pfister Afternoon Tea.  It took me and Artist-in-Residence Pamela Anderson almost a year to partake, but last Friday we did, on one of those afternoons when the crisp air and bright sun combine to showcase everything with diamond-like precision.

While many other hotels in the United States offer high tea service (we won’t mention their names), it’s safe to say that The Pfister is one of the only ones that doesn’t just hand guests a menu with dozens and dozens of teas.  Instead, Tea Butlers (or, as I like to call them now, “Tea Sommeliers”) offer guests tableside tea blending.  After guests are seated, a Tea Butler arrives with a gueridon service trolley and, like someone handling precious antiques, lifts each of thirteen beautifully jarred teas, expounds on each tea’s origin, unique ingredients and flavors, and other fascinating miscellany.  The thirteen selections are Rishi Teas, harvested around the world and headquartered in Milwaukee’s Menomonee Valley, which lends local flavor to the exquisite sensations of breathing in each tea’s aromatic subtleties.

Our Tea Butler was Juan Rodriguez, who has been amazing guests with his tea knowledge for eight years.  “I learned a lot from taking the [Rishi] tea vendors crash course at the beginning,” Rodriguez says, “but I also did a lot of my own research, went to libraries and book stores, read a lot about the history of tea, different kinds, and so on.”  His explanations of each tea’s nuances–and how they would pair with the selection of dried mangoes and plums, fresh apple, lemon, and ginger slices, and  cinnamon, mint, and dried hibiscus flowers–were as relaxing as the sunny heights from which we listened.

The exquisitely polished silver tea pots came one at a time (Juan indulged each of us with three different pots as opposed to the usual one).  My round began with the delicate 1893 Pfister Blend White Tea Rose Melange, was kicked up a notch with the Vanilla Bean Black Tea steeped with cinnamon, and was settled with the Tangerine Ginger.  Pamela enjoyed the Jade Oolong, Chocolate Chai, and the Tangerine Ginger as well.  And what an indulgence it was–that’s a lot of tea, that’s all I’ll say.  But before we could indulge, we had to let it steep for 3-4 minutes, after which we were instructed to hold onto the chain of the tea ball infuser so that it wouldn’t fall in . . . alas, someone didn’t hold onto the chain (hint: those aren’t my fingers in the photos).  And so commenced the Thirteenth Labor of Hercules:

Finally: success!

While I waited for the fishing expedition to end, a little research answered a question that was lingering on my brain: Why is it called “high” tea.  I assumed it had something to do with the level of upper-class distinction, with pinkies-in-the-air, with a British custom that I remember reading about and seeing in films in college (I was stuck on Edwardian England, as well as on a certain girl named Erin–Lucy Honeychurch to my George Emerson–who would lavish me with tea in her purple dorm room).  In fact, it was E.M. Forster’s Room With a View–which, come to think about it, is what Pamela and I were experiencing at Blu–that sparked my romanticism of old.  But Lucy’s view from the Pension Bertolini in Florence had nothing compared The Pfister’s view!

I was surprised to discover that the “high” part of high tea was originally a reference to the working men who took their mid-afternoon meal, standing up or sitting on high stools, eating cakes, scones, and cheese on toast with their tea.  It doesn’t seem like there was a cause-and-effect to what happened next, but eventually the upper class co-opted this practice (much like they did with one of my favorite Danish meals, the open-faced sandwich, or smørrebrød).  For them, high tea was a proper snack before hitting the town.  It is rumored that in the early 1800s, Anna, the 7th Duchess of Bedford, began using mid-afternoon tea and a snack to cure her “sinking feeling” (apparently, the British typically only ate breakfast and a late dinner).  More women began joining her for tea, snacks, and socializing.  And the rest, I guess, is history: Anna has tea, everyone wants tea; John Montagu, the Fourth Earl of Sandwich, develops the sandwich, everyone wants high tea sandwiches; the upper class needs a nineteenth-century version of a 5-hour energy drink before promenading in Hyde Park, everyone wants that boost (which is strange, because promenading seems pretty leisurely to me).

I’m not sure what Pamela did after our Pfister tea, but my niece came into town and we went out for tacos and tequila (for me–she’s only 20), a far cry from the goat cheese and watercress sandwiches; delicate cucumber sandwiches; dill-chantilly, curried quail eggs; chive and herb-roasted turkey pinwheels with red onion marmalade; Scottish smoked salmon rolls with roe; chocolate dipped strawberries with white chocolate shavings; freshly baked blueberry and cranberry scones; lemon raspberry mascarpone tarts; opera tortes; French macaroons; madeleine cookies; and lemon curd & strawberry preserves.

To top it off, the high tea harpist soothed us with songs as diverse as the symphonic version of Claude Debussy’s “Claire de Lune” and John Legend’s “All of Me,” her fingers strumming beautiful notes while Pamela and I talked about art and creative placemaking, photography and city-building, the upcoming Jane’s Walk and 200 Nights of Freedom, Black Power and the state of education in our country.

I guess even high tea couldn’t tame the artist and activist in us both.  In fact, what it did was both bring us back to a time when both the working class and the upper class shared a similar pastime and propel us forward into new ideas and hopes for the future.

Time to start drinking more tea–and the start of an annual tradition.

Getting HAPPY at The Pfister: A Story of Loss and Recovery

Suggestion: Turn up the volume on your device, click play, and prepare to get happy!

Photographs from Guillaume Duchenne’s 1862 book Mécanisme de la Physionomie Humaine

One of the many privileges of being human is that we experience emotions.  While some might argue that other creatures express emotions, too, or that it’s not much of a privilege that we have to experience the painful ones, no one can argue with the fact that we are indeed “moved out of ourselves” (Latin emovere – “move out, agitate”) by a myriad of complex feelings stemming from the four basic emotions of happiness, sadness, fear/surprise, and anger/disgust.  These emotions, each registered by different combinations of our 42 facial muscles, can cause us to love, cry, scream, or punch.  Sometimes we bottle them up or keep them hidden; sometimes we let loose and express them with reckless abandon.  And in our digital world, we don’t just register emotions with our faces: think of the billions of emoticons and gifs and memes that we use now to express our feelings.  Emotions are the stuff of our lives–and the building blocks of the stories we write about ourselves.  One such storythe directorial debut of Michael Patrick McKinley–hit the screens during the recent Milwaukee Film Festival.

While the festival is over, if you missed the Milwaukee premiere of McKinley’s delightful documentary Happy, don’t fret.  Just put on a happy face and head over to The Pfister’s Pop-Up Gallery for a glimpse into the sketchbooks of the subject of the film, Leonard Zimmerman.  Curated by Steven Uhles and hosted by Artist-in-Residence Pamela M. Anderson, “Don’t Erase Your Crooked Lines” features numerous prints from Leonard’s sketchbooks, an enormous collage of 32 photographs with Happy stickers in them, and an extended trailer of the film created just for this exhibit.  

20161004_140539Uhles describes Leonard’s art, with its whimsical robots and recognizable motifs, as “art as memoir.”  Even though this exhibit can only offer visitors a miniscule, microscopic fraction of his sketches, one can find even in it Leonard’s story of love and loss, depression and recovery–a story of falling in love and creating a life with Brian Malone, then losing him to cryptococcal meningitis.  The sketches depict Leonard’s subsequent depression and how his art became therapy, how it helped him hold on to his love for and memories of Brian and recover his capacity for boundless happiness.  Additionally, as with all good memoir, one can find in the sketches echoes of one’s own life events.  

The collage of Happy stickers–created by the Coalition of Photographic Arts–speaks to the participatory nature of Zimmerman’s art: the ubiquitous stickers of his Happy campaign, with the endearing smile and flashing bulb that people all over the world have attached to parts of their cities then shared with Leonard through social media.  While the yellow smiley that appeared in 1963 stares blankly ahead, this smiley tilts its head, its eyes have life, its bulb flashes a message of happiness.  Anyone can get free stickers by sending Leonard a self-addressed stamped envelope.  

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Gallery visitors consider the Happy collage.

One of the first things we hear about Leonard in the film comes from Alex Wier of Wier/Stewart, the branding, advertising, and graphic design company where Leonard is a designer.  Alex says, “Leonard comes from a different planet.”  Yes, Leonard’s infinite number of smiles and laughs are contagious, and yes, he can bring “childlike enthusiasm” to seemingly bland ad campaigns like ones for banks.  Yes, Leonard loved Christmas so much as a child that his tinsel and light displays rivaled, surely, Clark Griswold’s, and his parents even wondered, “Where does this child get all these things?”  But I have an inkling that Leonard is not really an alien from outer space, that his story is the story of being human on this planet.  One of wonder and delight, and one where there’s room for pain and suffering.  

We embrace our pains in different ways.  Leonard seems to have embraced it in every way possible.  In the film, we hear him embrace it with raw honesty, as when he describes for the camera the spinal fluid from Brian’s first spinal tap.  He describes how he embraced it with confusion and disorientation after Brian died, as when he would walk into the grocery store only to abandon it in tears because Brian usually did the shopping–he didn’t know what to buy.  He embraced it with self-medication, too, (“I didn’t think I would hurt”) and eventually had to move back home to Augusta after he lost his job and the house that Brian and he had bought together in Savannah.  

20161004_140530“My best friend was my notebook,” Leonard says in the film.  His sketches, some of which can be seen in the Pop-Up Gallery, allowed him to express his early love, the loss of his love, and the love that remained after his loss.  What emerged were lovable robots, some distinctly Leonard and Brian, others distinctly masculine or feminine, but more often than not, his robots eschew gender or race or sexuality.  Which brings us back to memoir as art: he has interpreted his life for himself, then shared it with us so that we can interpret it and interpret ourselves into it.  As one guest at the gallery’s opening night says, “His art is refreshing.  It makes you think about your own emotions, where you go through break-ups, life, death.  This one is about holding in that bad and not wanting to release the negative energy.  And in this one he has an indifferent face–but he has a bag puppet which suggests that he still has emotions.”

When people like his sister and old art teacher got him canvas, encouraging him to take his sketches one step further, he started painting again and Leonard was born again.  His paintings became a timeline of his emotions and experiences, his process one that echoes his own life: “I always paint messy, then clean it up along the way.”  

One of the best sequences in the film, for me, is one in which we watch Leonard painting in his studio, a soft spotlight on him and his easel in the middle of the room, the background darker.  With headphones jamming–probably to Sam Smith or Telepathic Teddy Bear, both featured heavily on the film’s soundtrackand red Chuck Taylors on his feet, he swoops around his painting with gusto and giddiness, with bright, broad brushstrokes and thick black outlines.  We see his messiness and what he does to “clean it up.”  Ane we can only imagine what he’s thinking as he paints.  Probably something like the quotation from Mother Theresa that he used during a TEDX Talk in 2014: “Every time you smile at someone, it is an action of love, a gift to that person, a beautiful thing.”

Seeing the TEDX Talk for the first time brought director Michael McKinley to tears.  He says that something stuck with him, until six months later, while he was in Las Vegas and had his “epiphany”: to make a documentary about Leonard’s story.  An audience member at the film’s showing that I attended asked Michael why directors don’t make more inspirational movies instead of ones that leave viewers feeling ambiguous about their feelings or just plain empty.  He replied, “There need to be more movies that do the opposite of movies that make you feel sad and crummy.  Now I’ve got the bug.”

20161004_140548Another audience member wanted to know when she could see the film again so she could share it with her family and friends, but Michael reminded her that releasing a film to DVD or streaming while it’s still going through the film festivals gets tricky.  It could be another year, he said, to which she replied, with an apocalyptic tone, “The world doesn’t have twelve months.”   

Well, you’re going to have to wait awhile before you can see the entire documentary, though, because Happy is indeed enjoying the film festival circuit.  It premiered at the Historic Imperial Theater in Augusta, Georgia, delighted viewers at Milwaukee’s festival, and will soon show at New York City’s Chelsea Film Festival as one of only 24 North American films selected.  It will also appear, so far, at the Savannah Film Festival later this month, and the Southern City Film Festival in Aiken, South Carolina, in November.  Its likely that Happy will make it into other festivals as well.  So you could hit the road and head east or south–or be satisfied for now with the “Don’t Erase Your Crooked Lines” teaser, which will remain popped-up in the gallery through October 23.

And in the meantime, do as Leonard does: “You can make the choice to be happy, because happiness matters.”  And visit Leonard’s website and Facebook page to follow his adventures.  And don’t forget: self-addressed stamped envelope sent to him will get you four Happy stickers all your own!

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Michael Patrick McKinley (l) and Leonard Zimmerman (r)

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2013 Artist in Residence Finalist – Pamela Anderson

Pamela Anderson – Wauwatosa, WI

 

Proposal: As the 2013 Pfister Artist in Residence I will engage Pfister visitors in dialog about the correlations and contrasts between Victorian Art and my style of painting, the Abstract Expressionist style.

Victorian Art’s vibrant colors evoked high society during the 19th century.  Brighter emotional colors and dynamic strokes were used to record the culture of the time.  The Abstract Expressionism movement was the first Art Movement formally developed in America. Exiled European artists and young American Artists found themselves conversing about the times. This stimulating dialog resulted in creation of dynamic, vibrant artworks.  The Abstract movement began as the last of the art movements of the Victorian era were ending.  I feel that the technological advances that the Victorian era made allowed the way scientists, artists and the public viewed art and aesthetics.  This began to pave the way for a new art period to begin. The visual appeal of my canvasses recognizes this through intense use of color. I have been studying the Abstract Expressionist Artists, developing my own techniques and interpretation of their artistic style.

My plan is to select 8 works from the Pfister Victorian Art Collection to study and paint my interpretation of the motions and colors used in the collection.  I will display artwork from the Pfister Collection that inspired me and explore the poetic interchange of color and emotions with the visitors in the gallery.  My legacy piece will be a work created from expanding on the possibilities of this medium and approach.

I am looking forward to my growth and education if honored to be the next Pfister Artist in Residence.

The works that speak to me for this exploration and dialog are:

  1. Incense – Roberto Bompiani
  2. Grecian Girl – Antonio Torres
  3. Music – Cesare Auguste Detti
  4. Flirtation – Georges Achille-Fould
  5. The Rose – Adolphe Piot
  6. A View of Venice – Charles Clement Calderon
  7. The Poppy Field – Louis Aston Knight
  8. Confidences – Federigo Andreotti

Pamela’s work will be on display at Gallerie M in the InterContinental Hotel beginning on January 18th, 2013 through February 14th, 2013.  The public will be able to vote for Pamela & the other 2013 Artist in Residence finalists through the Pfister Hotel Facebook page beginning on 1.18.  Fans will be able to vote once per day through 2.14.  (Please note that the public vote only counts for one chair on the final selection committee).

Starting at Noon on January 18th, you can vote for your favorite artist by visiting the voting tab on Facebook right here.

You can find bios for the other finalists by clicking their names below:

Eddie Villanueva
John Kowalczyk
Stephanie Barenz
Sue Lawton
Tonia Klein

Finalists Exhibit Artist Profile – Pamela Anderson

As part of the Pfister’s ongoing commitment to the arts and those incredibly talented artists who’ve taken the time to submit their candidacy for our Artist-in-Residence position, we’ve put together a fantastic evening at the Sharon Lynne Wilson Center for the Arts to highlight Artist in Residence finalists from the first four years of the program. The show, debuted as part of the Hidden River Art Festival on Friday, September 14th from 5.30-8.30pm.  You can find an photo album of the show here, on our Facebook page (a Facebook account is not necessary).

The pieces will be on display at the Sharon Lynne Wilson Center through October 17th. Participating Artist in Residence Finalists include: Albin Erhart, Anthony Suminski, Brandon Minga, Bridget Griffith Evans, Hal Koenig, Jeremy Plunkett, Kate Pfeiffer, Katie Musolff (former Artist-in-Residence), Matt Duckett, Mutope Johnson, Pamela Anderson, Reginald Baylor (former Artist-in-Residence), Sara Mulloy, Shelby Keefe (former Artist-in-Residence), Steve Ohlrich, and current Artist-in-Residence Timothy Westbrook.

Through the months of September and October we’ll be highlighting Artist-in-Residence finalists here on the blog. This week we’re featuring Artist in Residence Finalist Pamela Anderson.

Name: Pamela Anderson
The year you applied to be AiR: 2012
Genre of your work: Abstract Expressionism
Medium of choice: Acrylic, Spray Paint, Watercolor, Paper and Oil Pastel
City of Residence: Milwaukee

“Dreaming” by Pamela Anderson

Q: What inspired you to become an artist?

A: Some of my earliest memories are of me coloring for hours on the back stoop of our house. When I was in school we had art included in our curriculum and I could take art each semester. I did…That is all I wanted to do. It’s that simple. I lived, breathed art. Visiting Art Museums as a child stimulated my desire. I don’t feel that I had good direction back then or encouragement to become a working artist.On graduation from High School my Guidance Counselor encouraged the women in our class to become Nurses or Teachers. My Dad told me that he had only saved money for my Brother to go to College. He told me I wasn’t worth educating as I would only get married and have babies. I got sidetracked for a number of years. I worked in the corporate world of banking, mortgage banking and made a very successful life for myself. I raised a family. Then one day I recognized that I had never followed through with my dream. I started painting again with a new passion. I value my story…I feel it has shaped me as a person and brings meaning to who I am and my work.

Q: What piece of art (or artist) are you most inspired by?

A: This is a hard question. There are too many that inspire me! I love Calder, Miro, Kandinsky, Diebenkorn, Picasso. Frankenthaler, Mitchell, Cabrera Moreno… I could make an endless list. Locally here in Milwaukee I have studied with and have been mentored by Terrence Coffman, Reginald Baylor and Thomas Kovacich. There are aspects of all of their work that I study. Their use of color, placement, strokes…application.When I started creating again I left my traditional methods behind and began to explore Abstract Expressionism. I experiment based on my thoughts or feelings as I look at their work.

Q: What have you been working on in the time since you applied?

A: I have been experimenting with my processes at Plaid Tuba where I work as one of the Artists in Residence. Having the freedom to be able to create in an environment where imagination is nurtured has opened many windows of opportunity for me professionally and emotionally. This is an essential for an artist. Inspiration can come from many sources…but having the ability to actually work and to be successful with that inspiration is deeply gratifying and validating.

The Votes Are In…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Your votes are in and tabulated. On behalf of all the Artist in Residence candidates we want to thank the community for there overwhelming support via the online and paper voting.

Voting is just one of the final steps to becoming Artist in Residence at the Pfister Hotel.  Today the Artist in Residence Committee will convene to deliberate the votes and discuss the candidates. “I am very excited to see the committees conclusion on deciding who our next Artist will be, seek ” says Joe Kurth, General Manager of the Pfister Hotel.  “It’s really great to see all of the community involvement in this annual campaign.”

The final votes from the online campaign were as follows…

Pamela Anderson – 1,359

Brandon Minga – 764

Timothy Westbrook – 588

Hal Koenig – 398

Matt Duckett – 321

Albin Erhart – 100

Again, we wish the best of luck to all candidates. The committee will announce the next Artist in Residence, on or after February 14th, 2012.

Please feel free to cheer on your favorite Artist in Residence candidate by visiting the Pfister facebook at www.facebook.com/PfisterHotel

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.