The Student Whisperer

By all accounts, Timothy Westbrook is a cheerful guy.  He’s beaming whenever I see him: showing one of his fabrics to a guest, chatting with staff, carrying a cup of coffee through the halls or waving from behind the sewing machine in his studio.  Beaming.

His good mood radiates with a different frequency today. Three of us have joined him in the studio: a chick with a notepad (me), a guy with a video camera (Dustin) and the woman he credits for launching his weaving career.  I watch as he smiles and fidgets with papers on his work station and smiles some more. His professor, Sarah Saulson, is looking about the studio space, admiring his works. Timothy is glowing with unfettered joy.

“Sarah was one of the few professors who was able to tap into ‘what’s important to Tim?’ and encourage those things in me.  She was so nurturing and wonderful,” he said.  “She’s still wonderful.”

Sarah stands beside Timothy as he talks.  She is tall, roughly 5’11”, without being imposing. Poised but unassuming. She’s dressed in comfortable, asymmetrical layers of leggings, skirt, smock and cardigan.  Her ash blonde hair is also clipped into interesting angles.  Her face is kind as she watches her former student with an approving grin.

Then, I hear her speak.

It’s only halfway through her recounting of Timothy’s first classes with her that I realize I’ve been mesmerized.  Sarah’s voice is airy and measured.  Lithe and deliberate.  She speaks with the lightness of a kindergarten teacher at story time and the unwavering calm of a hostage negotiator. I imagine the gauzy softness of her voice uplifting Timothy as a frustrated student and even leveling a humbling critique.

Sarah has been a professional textile artist for more than 20 years.  Her pieces have been featured  in textbooks; she’s published articles in trade and consumer magazines; she’s given workshops and presentations at conferences and guilds across the U.S.; her work is widely exhibited and juried at craft shows; and she works frequently with elementary school classrooms, in addition to being a professor at Syracuse.

I ask about her markers to gauge new students’ weaving potential.

“I know by the end of the first class,” she says, explaining that the studio classes are once a week in a four-hour block. “That first day, I get observe their work habits, confidence in learning new skills, creative approach. It’s intense amount of contact.”

During her decade at Syracuse, Sarah’s classes have drawn students from fashion, interior design, industrial design, print making, sculpture, history, public relations and music composition.  She’s mindful that they all come seeking something.

“Teaching at an arts school is something of a tight robe,” she says.  “Students are searching for their own voice but, by necessity, I have a list of techniques and terms that I must teach them.  I try to keep the assignments open enough for them to bring themselves forward.”

Open enough for weaving cassette tape ribbon into a loom? Yes.

“Tim was a fiber arts major, I suppose I already had a few expectations,” Sarah says with a wide smile. “I had vivid recollections of a research project he had done involving historical gowns and dinosaurs.”

Timothy drops his head with a sheepish grin.

“He’s concept driven,” Sarah continues. “Weaving, on the other hand, is technique based. It’s labor intensive and step-by-step. I knew this class was going to stretch him.”

“It wasn’t until the very last minute that I realized I love weaving,” Timothy admits.  The passion Sarah ignited in him that last semester of college ultimately catapulted Timothy halfway across the country to become the Pfister’s Artist in Residence.

“It’s amazing that your journey led you here,” Sarah says.

Timothy looks to her with genuine adoration and says, “You are responsible for me getting here.”

I ask Sarah about her new work. She is preparing for an exhibit this fall, “Relics of the Twentieth Century,” where she explores the anthropological roles of textiles and weaving in the human experience.

“It was only until the Industrial Revolution that the typical home didn’t weave its own fabric or, in some cases, spin its own yard to make that fabric,” she says. “I find it equally interesting how many twentieth century items are already obsolete.  Once upon a time, women didn’t leave the house without little white gloves. Many of my students conceptually know about typewriters or rotary phones, but have never handled or even seen one.  Exploring the concept of ‘commonplace.’”

The voice. I’m nodding my head…

Timothy and Sarah trade stories about exhibit materials and memorable projects from other former classmates.  The sample list is intriguing: pantyhose, candy wrappers, film negatives, shredded paper, coffee filters, yellow pages, aluminum cans, pull cords from a ceiling fan.

“I had an intern for a few weeks this summer,” Timothy says, “and I was totally inspired by her use of rubber bands.”

“Timothy,” I ask, the notion in my head slowly shaping into a question. “Having had this powerful mentoring experience with Sarah, what do you want to be a part of how you mentor new artists?”

He  paused and says, “I have such a strong point of view, I want to be sure I’m motivating them to pursue their own styles.  I also want to make sure I explain the technical elements as thoroughly as I encourage the conceptual ones.  I’m still working on that.”

I turn to Sarah. “Who mentored you, Sarah?” I ask.

“I don’t even have a clear memory of it. I’ve been weaving since I was eight,” she says.  “There was a woman on my block. I might have gone to her house once, but I’m sure it had its impact on me. As an adult, I became friends with a woman who had been the first American weaver to travel to Finland in the 1950s.  I also learned that the weaving community is very warm and nurturing.  I’m fortunate for that.”

Timothy and Sarah slip into another conversation that has pattern counts, lace, artist communes, rescue dogs, the Adirondacks and loom maintenance.  Their exchange is easy, like a beloved nephew and aunt.  Like peers.  Like friends.

They both look wonderfully fortunate to me.

New Artist in Residence Timothy Westbrook Moves into Studio Space

Timothy Westbrook Studio

MILWAUKEE – April 6, 2012 – Emerging fiber artist Timothy Westbrook, along with his floor loom and antique sewing machine, has moved into The Pfister Hotel’s studio space, where he will create art and entertain guests for one year. The historic hotel, which is owned and managed by Marcus® Hotels & Resorts, has hosted a popular Artist-in-Residence program for the past three years. Westbrook moved from upstate New York to Milwaukee for the opportunity.

“Drawn to The Pfister by the artistic and historical reputation of Milwaukee, I’m eager to develop my artistic voice in this unique setting,” said Westbrook. “During my time at the hotel, I’d like to complete two main projects. One is to create about five fully styled period ball gown reproductions and the other is to create a fashion collection. For both, I plan to weave cloth out of various organic and repurposed manmade materials, including items like cassette tapes, sculpting them into costumes and fashion while pulling from the inspiration of the hotel and the Victorian Decorative Arts period.”

A recent graduate from Syracuse University in Syracuse, NY, Westbrook focuses on costume, performance and installation art. He uses fairytale themes as an environmentalist analogy. He implements his sustainable studio practices by using re-purposed materials for his work along with low-impact equipment. He has replaced 2011-2012 Pfister artist Shelby Keefe.

Timothy Westbrook

Accomplishments of Shelby Keefe

Last week, Shelby Keefe was honored at a public reception celebrating her time at the hotel. Known for her creation of colorful, urban landscape paintings, she unveiled her legacy piece, “Reflecting on the Day,” which has been added to the hotel’s extensive, permanent art collection.

During her time at The Pfister, Keefe created more than 100 paintings. Highlights of her year included the 30-day challenge, in which she created a painting a day for 30 straight days—all of which were featured at The Peninsula School of Art in Fish Creek, Wisconsin, at a show last Fall. More recently, she created 16 12” x 12” paintings portraying each of the United Performing Arts Fund’s (UPAF’s) 15 Member Groups and one painting representing UPAF itself, which will be auctioned off in June as a fundraiser for the 2012 UPAF Campaign.

For more information on the latest news and updates from Marcus Hotels & Resorts, please visit: http://media.marcushotels.com.

About The Pfister’s Artist-In-Residence Program

Entering its fourth 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.

Over the past few years, The Pfister has received national attention for its Artist-in-Residence program. Since 2009, the hotel has been a member of the Alliance of Artist Communities, www.artistcommunities.org, an international association of artists’ communities and residencies featuring a diverse field of more than 1,000 programs worldwide. In 2011, The Pfister’s residency program was highlighted at the organization’s annual international conference.

Past Pfister artists include Shelby Keefe (2011-2012), www.studioshelby.com; Katie Musolff (2010-2011), www.katiemusolff.com; and Reginald Baylor (2009-2010), www.reginaldbaylor.com


Shelby Keefe reflects on her time as the Pfister Hotel’s resident artist

Shelby Keefe has been the Pfister’s resident artist since April 2011. As all great things eventually come to an end, her studio torch will be passed to Timothy Westbrook in April 2012. Shelby and I had been trying to get together and talk for a few weeks and it turned out to be a good thing we couldn’t meet until this past Monday. When I walked in to her studio Shelby was standing in front of a painting. She had her hands on her hips and kept shifting her weight from one foot to the other. Then she’d cross her arms, and “hmm,” before returning the hands to her hips.  Her head tilted slowly from side to side, and alternated between looking above and through her glasses. The painting she contemplated was the largest I’ve seen on her easel.

It turned out she was at work on her legacy piece, the one which will join the Pfister Hotel’s vast permanent collection. The painting was complete, but was the painting FINISHED? Was it ready to be signed? The artist was still deliberating. I don’t want to ruin her unveiling by telling you what the piece looks like, but I will tell you the unveiling party is scheduled March 27th (more details to come). Until then you’ll have to stop by and try to figure out which canvas in her studio will rest for all time next to works by Reginald Baylor and Katie Musolff.

While Shelby contemplated the piece we talked about her time as the Pfister’s resident artist, and by the miracle of modern technology you can listen in to our conversation. Simply click the Play button below. She discusses her process of creating a painting, how she knows when a work is finished, and her experience while working as an artist on display.

If you’d rather download the piece and listen on your mp3 player, smartphone, etc. simply click the DOWN pointing arrow on the right side of the player and the Download option will appear.

Shelby Keefe reflects on her time as Pfister Hotel resident artist by Ed Makowski

The Pfister Hotel Names New York Fiber Artist Next Artist in Residence

Timothy Westbrook

MILWAUKEE – Feb. 21, 2012 – Historic tradition meets today’s talent with The Pfister Hotel’s Artist-in-Residence program. Home to more Victorian Art than any other hotel in the world, the historic hotel, which is owned and managed by Marcus® Hotels & Resorts, has hosted a popular artist residency program for the past three years. The Pfister’s selection committee has chosen Timothy Westbrook, an emerging fiber artist from New York, as its fourth artist in residence. He will move to Milwaukee for this opportunity and will work in The Pfister’s studio space beginning in April 2012, replacing current Pfister artist Shelby Keefe. Westbrook will remain at the hotel for one year.

“Drawn to The Pfister by the artistic and historical reputation of Milwaukee, I am honored by the invitation to spend a year developing my artistic voice in this unique setting,” says Westbrook. “While at The Pfister, I plan to weave cloth out of various organic and repurposed manmade materials, including items like cassette tapes, sculpting them into costumes and fashion while pulling from the inspiration of the hotel and the Victorian Decorative Arts period. I am excited to watch my weaving and costumes evolve under the inspiration of the artistic energy in Milwaukee and in the hotel.”

A recent graduate from Syracuse University in Syracuse, NY, Westbrook is a fiber artist who focuses on costume, performance and installation art. He uses fairytale themes as an environmentalist analogy. He implements his sustainable studio practices by using re-purposed materials for his work along with low-impact equipment; his favorite is a non-electric treadle sewing machine.

“We’re thrilled to welcome our first out-of-state artist to the program,” says Joe Kurth, general manager of The Pfister Hotel. “The program has been gaining national attention in the last couple of years and we’re proud it has attracted talent like Timothy’s. Selected through the juried panel process based on his impressive skill, engaging personality and unique point of view, we’re eager to introduce him and his work to our guests.”

Westbrook was one of six finalists included in the public voting period, which ended last week. In addition to the public vote via Facebook, Twitter, and in-person ballots, a selection committee, consisting of leaders in the local art community, made the final decision in choosing the next artist in residence.

For video slideshow of some of Timothy’s portfolio please visit: http://vimeo.com/37191257

About The Pfister’s Artist-In-Residence Program

Entering its fourth 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.

Over the past few years, The Pfister has received national attention for its Artist-in-Residence program. Since 2009, the hotel has been a member of the Alliance of Artist Communities, www.artistcommunities.org, an international association of artists’ communities and residencies featuring a diverse field of more than 1,000 programs worldwide. In 2011, The Pfister’s residency program was highlighted at the organization’s annual international conference.

The program’s current artist is Shelby Keefe (2011-2012), www.studioshelby.com. Past artists include Katie Musolff (2010-2011), www.katiemusolff.com; and Reginald Baylor (2009-2010), www.reginaldbaylor.com.

 


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.

Final Deadline For Our Next Artist In Residence

At the Pfister, we’re known for our expansive Victorian art collection,  but we are also very proud of the continued evolution of our Artist In Residence program. We have been fortunate to have such talented artists like Reginald Baylor, Katie Musolff, and currently Shelby Keefe, create amazing works of art within our own walls.

Now heading into our fourth year, we are on the search for the next great artist to continue the great tradition. We are looking for artists to work in the studio and gallery in the hotel lobby, interact with guests and visitors, and have others witness the evolution of each piece first hand.

If you are interested, applications must be submitted by December 1st and can be downloaded at our Artist In Residence page on our website.

 

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.

The Pfister Crossroads

I come from a very small town. Pick just about any country music ditty and the lyrics describe something I grew up with. What’s inevitable about a small town is the odds of bumping into someone you know anywhere you go. My luck was always just after I’d thrown on grubby, see weekend clothes, I’d run into people in the grocery store.

When I first moved to Milwaukee, however, I longed for these moments of happenstance—it’s a sign you’ve lived and circulated somewhere long enough to actually have people to bump into.

The Pfister Hotel is its own small town. On a weekend, seek walk in through the parking garage and see the mounted windows advertising all that you can buy or eat at the hotel. Walk past the artist-in-residence’s studio and see Katie there with an art tour and passersby just popping in, viagra interested in why the group is gathered. Walking past the curious lunch crowd, you can absorb the Gilmore Girls’  Stars Hollow or even imagine one of the Ingalls’ girls about to come running up with saved pennies for candy at the mercantile.

Stop into the café and sit down to eat, and there it is, your happenstance. Someone from somewhere else in your life is having brunch with their family—you’ve “bumped into.” Of course you’d run into them here, who isn’t at the Pfister?

But it’s no longer a small town mercantile when you’re in the café. While you chat with your colleague from weekday work, you’ll notice the table of international businessmen next to you and the young athlete being recruited to our city at the tables in the window. The Pfister has mastered the small town pedestrian mall feel within its hallways, and then once your nostalgia and comfort kicks in, you realize you’re in a worldly place, as big and far-reaching as you can imagine.

Stroll out from lunch to the lobby to see what the weekend hustle and bustle brings. Convention goers, with their nametags and lanyards tangling in their winter coats, are zooming through the hotel, absorbing its wares and there it is—the ultimate “I really live here” moment. You’ve heard all along one of your work colleagues is a cherished and frequent guest of the hotel. She comes in often to enjoy its amenities and the staff. They all know her by name, by her class, grace and polite sophistication. And as you breathe in this world within a world, a weekend marketplace, a city unto itself, you bump right into the honored lady enjoying her brunch in the lobby bar. Here is your old acquaintance chatting with your new one (Valerie). Sit down, have a toddy to celebrate the winter thaw and work out whether this nexus of characters means you now really live in Milwaukee or at the Pfister.