There are certain perks to being the Pfister Narrator and having the opportunity to interview Milwaukee Ballet Company dancers is one of them. Last week, I attended a rehearsal at the Milwaukee Ballet to learn about the upcoming Genesis performance and international choreography competition. This competition only comes around every other year and brings some of the best talent from around the world right here to Milwaukee.
Because the Third Coast Digest shares the same commitment to the arts in Milwaukee as the Pfister Hotel, we partnered up to bring you a preview of the three dances that will premiere at Genesis on February 7-10. The winning choreographer will return to create a second dance for the Milwaukee Ballet’s 2014 series at the Pabst. Because of my affiliation with RadioMilwaukee, I will also be DJing the Pints before Points party this Thursday at 6 p.m. at the InterContinental (the modern step-sister to the Pfister) before the opening night of Genesis. See what the dancers have to say in the video below and hope to see you there!
Do you ever wonder if walls could really talk? Or if paintings, sculptures and chandeliers could too? These are the questions I ponder, as the Pfister Hotel’s narrator charged with excavating the memories and experiences of guests past and present that are steeping in every wall, carpet and object in this place. I want to write about them and Stephanie Barenz wants to paint them.
Already elbow-deep in pictures, paints and pencils, I sat down to chat with Stephanie in Timothy Westbrook’s studio as she was creating a painting of the Pfister Hotel’s lobby chandelier. I inquire why, of all the gorgeous relics, she chose the chandelier in the lobby. “It was a natural choice – it’s gorgeous and eye-catching, and it has the best vantage point. It’s the omniscient narrator, it sees and knows all of the happenings in the hotel.”
Stephanie is vying for the coveted title of the Pfister Artist in Residence to replace Timothy in April. She stood out not only for her outstanding credentials, but also because of her proposal to incorporate the Pfister Narrator’s stories into her paintings.
Travel is a big part of her life and work as she explores how art changes perception of a place. She speaks of travel, not just the international type, but any path from point A to point B. She paints about place – series like Middle West, City Middle and Middle Kingdom (i.e. China) all showcase places she’s lived. You’ll see images of houses, suitcases, bicycles and cars – all objects representing travel and place.
Stephanie knows a thing or two about travel. She grew up in Lincoln, Nebraska, moved to Wisconsin when she was 15, attended college in Minnesota, graduate school in Missouri, and lived stints in Italy and China.
“Culture shock hit me hard in China and it wasn’t graceful, but I grew so much and the Chinese people taught me so much about having a playful, whimsical nature that I’ve carried over to my work. They have an amazing outlook on life after going through all they did as a country.”
Stephanie admits that there were times when she took herself more seriously and then retracted: “Well I am very serious, so artwork is a way for me to get away from that.” She credits illustrators like Shel Silverstein for influencing her work.
“Matisse said something like ‘I want my art to feel like an armchair to a businessman at the end of the day,’ and that really stuck with me,” she reveals. Her muted color pallets are harmonious and quiet, subduing the flurry of activity often portrayed in her work.
Stephanie hopes to create a series of 20 to 30 paintings entitled “The Carriers” inspired from Pfister hotel guests and the stories that both she and the narrator uncover. She sees the objects in the hotel as carriers of the stories “silent witnesses to it all.”
We started to gab like two giddy schoolgirls dishing about their first crush. The prospect of collaboration excites me, though Stephanie’s potential tenure and mine would only overlap by one month. We envision a two-way process where the paintings inspire the characters and the characters inspire the painting. Stephanie also hopes to create a book with her paintings, with text written by the Narrator.
Find Stephanie and her work at Plaid Tuba (207 E. Buffalo Street, 6th Floor). And, be sure to vote here for your favorite 2013 Artist in Residence (whether it’s Stephanie or one of the five other amazingly talented artists) by February 14.
For the next three months, you can still find me pondering what lies beneath these walls.
There are two types of people in this world: those who hate being in the spotlight and those who love it. I am usually able to tell the difference within about two minutes of telling people that I am the hotel’s staffer dedicated to writing about guests.
“Oh I have a great story and I photograph well,” bragged John. Bingo! Here we have the classic extrovert who loves the spotlight. He was hanging out at the bar before heading out to a sushi dinner, resigning to his lack of self control and killing his appetite on snack mix.
His colleague Jay arrived just in time to catch his bold statement and we all began cracking up, knowing he was kidding.
Jay and John were both laid-back Chicago guys, in town for the Wisconsin Association of School Boards Annual Convention at the Delta Center. “So are you principals?” I inquired, not taking either for the authoritative type.
“Nope, we sell bleachers to schools,” replied Jay. Something I would have never guessed. “We’ve been coming to this thing for 20 years and we always stay at the Pfister, it’s our favorite spot in Milwaukee.” After a long day in a convention center with people hocking textbooks and rulers to basketballs and lockers, its no wonder they like to unwind in the lobby lounge.
We talked about music, Milwaukee, suburban versus city life, and pretty much everything else except for bleachers. Both Jay and John are two pretty hip bleacher salesmen, and it turns out, they do photograph well.
“My grandmother used to save this stuff and my mother was a saver too. Now that I am all alone in the house, rather than just throw it away, I wanted a way to preserve it,” Fred Pfister said about the beautiful handmade clothing his grandmother created. We couldn’t be more flattered that he has entrusted the Pfister Hotel to preserve his family’s legacy. Before we tuck away these artifacts for safe keeping, Timothy and I felt such unique, delicate garments deserved one more walk around the hotel. And lucky for me, they fit like a glove.
The maroon jacket, made from traditional linen with decorative, silk ribbon appliques, dates back to the early 1900s. The wicker boning on the inside was very rare for the time; most tailors used whale bone. Fred’s grandmother Margaret made the jacket for herself – she sewed all of her own clothes. Timothy helped me carefully place the jacket over my shoulders and immediately I felt like a character in a black-and-white photograph. The sophisticated bun perched atop my head, created by the WellSpa, solidified my look as a true Gibson Girl pin-up of the Belle Epoque.
The pink satin dress belonged to Fred’s mother, Helen. She loved to dance. The cool satin cascaded down my body, stopping to rest on each curve. As I slipped into it, I felt myself morph into Helen Pfister. Fred explained that his grandmother made the dress for Helen to attend a wedding party. The above-the-ankle hemline and flared bottom allowed for movement when she would glide and turn. Helen loved to waltz, but she didn’t care much for the flappers – she thought they were too risque. Helen waltzed right into the arms of her husband Fredrick Pfister at the Milwaukee Club (right across the street for the Pfister Hotel) and spent the next 60 years of her life with him.
Helen’s silk crepe blouse was originally black, but over the years, has faded to a rich olive hue. It’s embellished with iridescent glass beads and a high, pointed collar. Both the blouse and the dress date back to the late thirties, though paired with denim, the blouse looks contemporary and chic.
Thank you to Fred, who allowed us to revitalize these objects of art and preserve the memory of Margaret Faubel and Helen Pfister. Fred dutifully cared for his mother until she died in 2003 at the age of 94.
To see part one of the Fred Pfister story, click here. All photos courtesy of Carol Rice Kraco and Kraco Photography.
A man walks into the Pfister hotel and he sees a fashion designer hard at work. This man’s name just happens to be Pfister too – no relation to the hotel. As a way to preserve the legacy of his family, he decides to donate his grandmother’s handmade clothing from the early 1900s, hoping the young designer will find some inspiration.
In Germany, Pfister is as common a name as Jones in America. Pfister actually translates to “baker” in English, the same craft Fred Pfister’s father mastered back in Germany and practiced here in America. This is how our history lesson begins…
A towering stature, but a gentle demeanor, Fred has lived in Milwaukee all his life. He never married, and worked as a policeman for 28 years. There’s a hurried and syncopated cadence to his speech. Timothy Westbrook and I shared lunch with Fred to learn the story behind the marvelous clothing he donated.
History is Fred’s passion. He pulled out his detailed map of Germany to show me where his relatives hailed from in comparison to Guido Pfister’s, proving there was no relation. “It took my father ten years to become a master baker. He came to America and thought he’d earn $10,000 and go back to Germany, but then the depression hit and then the second World War – and no one was going to go back to Germany when Hitler was in charge,” he recounts. He even told me about how he dug up his father’s old recipes for the Milwaukee Journal to share with an interested reader who longed for his father’s famous cake from Militzer’s Bakery.
Fred’s grandmother, Margaret Faubel, came to Milwaukee in 1893 on a steamship from Speyer, Germany at age of 19. She worked as a cook for the Trostel family, six and a half days a week for 15 years. And she still found time to make all of her own clothing. She learned to speak English by singing the song “After the Ball” by Charles H. Harris.
Fred continues to pull out binders filled with laminated pages of black and white pictures of his family from generations past, preserved with the same attention and care a doctor would give to open heart surgery.
In 1908, at age 34, Margaret married a widower named Henry Lange. He was a plasterer and 11 years her senior. She lived in a house at 2542 N. 17th Street for the next 51 years.
Margaret passed away in 1959 at the age of 84. When I asked Fred what he remembered most about his grandma he commented, “She was a really hard worker. She didn’t smile a lot, but was a nice lady.”
See the second half of this story at the end of the week in conjunction with Gallery Night, where Timothy Westbrook and I will reveal photos of Fred’s grandmother’s stunning clothing.
John Miller has been coming to brunch at the Pfister Café every Sunday with his family for the past eight years. It’s a post-church tradition that has continued to grow, along with with his family.
Henry Miller (the superhero-in-training, not the author) is 16 months old and Max is an outgoing and precious four. Superheroes are all the rage in their household. His brother Max led the way with his Spiderman fixation. “He pretty must just does what his brother does,” says John.
All the waitresses were cooing at Henry, playing with his wiry curls that shoot off his scalp like springs on a mattress. His Batman cape, carefully clinging to his tee-shirt with two fraying pieces of Velcro, has obviously been through a few rescue missions before.
He’s like a little celebrity at the café, aloof and unencumbered by the attention. The other Sunday regulars all know him too – they wave and comment on his growth and development.
Max sees me working at my computer and approaches to ask if I will take his picture too. I most certainly couldn’t deny him, so he races down the ramp, through the lobby like a true superhero responding to the call of duty, to pose with Dick and Harry, the gilded lions at the bottom of the stairs.
If you happen to be at brunch on Sunday morning, you might see them keeping a watchful eye over the cafe. Afterall, it never hurts to have a pair of superheroes around.
There was no dance floor so they created their own. Their dance moves were abstract, like the jazz. They were show stoppers – at just two feet tall. Who were these two little angels dressed in matching zebra print and ruffles at the Mason Street Grill? “People often mistake them for twins,” says Stacey, their mom. “They love to perform for others and make people smile and laugh. They are best buddies.” Elly is two and her sister Alivia is one – they are 13 months (to the day) apart and they’ve got serious rhythm.
Like trying to grab a slippery fish out of water, Stacey chased after her daughters as they continued to gyrate and giggle. She finally grabbed a hold so she could introduce me to these little dancing machines.
Goldberg Family lives in Chicago, but has been back and forth to Milwaukee ” so many times, we have stopped counting” in the past three and a half years. At just two years old, Elly has been to the hospital more than I have (and is probably a lot braver).
Because Stacey was 39 when she was pregnant with Elly, doctors recommended a more thorough “level two” ultrasound at 20 weeks of pregnancy. Doctors thought at the time that Elly would be born with a congenital lung disease referred to as a CCAM (congenital cystic adenomatoid malformation) so the pregnancy was closely monitored. There was a growth of unhealthy tissue mass in Elly’s left lobe of her lung.
“Prior to Elly’s birth, we met with specialists both in Illinois and Wisconsin. We were incredibly impressed with Dr. Casey Calkins at Milwaukee’s Children’s Hospital. His broad knowledge, experience with this type of condition, and wonderful ability to connect with the children and families made him, without doubt, the number one choice for Elly’s medical journey,” reveals Stacey.
Miraculously, Elly came into this world asymptomatic, but needed a CT scan shortly after birth to determine the specifics of the mass, which they determined was a pulmonary sequestration. “It is even more unique in the sense that it is a mass of nonfunctioning lung tissue that lacks normal connection with the tracheobroncheal tree and receives an anomalous blood supply and in Elly’s case, to the aorta,” said Stacey, although she might as well have been speaking Greek. She is no doctor herself, just (most obviously) an incredible mother committed herself to her daughter’s care.
Imagine being 40, four months pregnant and taking your 6-month-old baby to have the lower left lobe of her lung removed. Dr. Calkins performed a thoracic surgery that created just two small incisions on her left side of her body. Both the physical and emotional scars from the surgery are minimal and quickly fading.
Milwaukee has become a special place for the Goldberg family throughout their journey and tonight they are celebrating the holidays together as a happy, healthy family at the Pfister. Though they love Dr. Calkins, The Goldbergs were ecstatic to learn in July that Elly would no longer be under his care, without further follow-ups. Elly’s left lobe has been replaced with healthy lung tissue because the smaller the lung, the quicker it regenerates.
Stacey remarks, “We have found our new ‘home away from home’ at The Pfister. What a special place. The people in Milwaukee are delightful, warm, and so friendly. Milwaukee provides a big city feel, at a level that meets the needs of everyone.” The Goldbergs will most definitely be back to Milwaukee in 2013, under much happier circumstances.
I think most people who’ve hosted a large gathering will agree that not having to cook on Christmas is a gift in itself. Being able to celebrate with your family, minus the grocery shopping, prep work and dishes leaves you a lot more time for holiday cheer.
One thing was also particularly evident this Christmas day at the Pfister – the hospitality industry never sleeps. Staff was bustling around through the crowd to accommodate each and every guest – over 500 for Christmas brunch in the ballroom alone. The lobby and the cafe were also busting at the seams with guests.
The Tamscin family spread out one of the plush velvet couches in the lobby, digesting after brunch. They looked right out of a J Crew catalogue – gorgeous, blonde, neatly groomed and amiable. Mr. and Mrs. Tamscin grew up in Wisconsin, but have been living in Arizona for the past decade or so. They came back to see their parents and agreed that a Wisconsin Christmas feels much more normal than Christmas in the dessert.
“What was the most delectable thing you ate?” I inquired. In case you missed it, I went on about the brunch menu here. “Pork roast, leg of lamb and gluten-free desserts” they chimed back in unison.
I snapped a few family photos in front of the Christmas tree for them and talked journalism with their daughter, a college student, before they were on their way.
No matter how you celebrated your holiday season, I hope it was merry and bright. And may 2013 bring you and your family much health and prosperity!
There are all kinds of relics to uncover here at the Pfister Hotel. With the holidays in full swing, food comes to my mind right away. In my home, food for any celebration is always given the utmost care and attention, like a newborn baby. As I was poking around last week, I hopscotched my way up the wide, coral marble steps in the lobby guarded by Dick and Harry (the bronze lions). Displayed inconspicuously, was the china used at Thanksgiving dinner in 1899 at the Pfister Hotel, complete with the dinner menu.
Blue point oysters, Little Neck clams; followed by consomme, whitefish, salmon, leg of lamb, filet mignon, young chicken, young turkey and haunch of antelope. I’m not quite sure about that last entree, but overall, that sounds like a way better spread than turkey, mashed potatoes and green bean casserole.
Luckily, this tradition of elegance and fine dining continues today with both Thanksgiving and Christmas brunch here at the Pfister. When I first arrived back in November, I marveled at the Sunday brunch service. Now, I see that truly, no one does the holidays like the Pfister.
Only one other holiday tops the decadence of Thanksgiving, and that is Christmas. At The Pfister, food is paramount. I made a special trip on Christmas morning just to see the spread for myself. A runway of tables split the grand ballroom in two, piled high with every kind of delicacy you could imagine. It was a sight for the eyes, as much as a treat for the stomach. The tables intersected another horizontal row of smiling, white-coated chefs eager and willing to prepare you a fresh omelet or a stack of malted Belgian waffles.
Features from this year’s menu were: juniper berry grilled quail with sun-dried fruit wild rice, traditional rosemary leg of lamb with mint pan jam, sea salt and herb crusted prime rib with thyme-garlic jus, Scottish salmon en croute with fennel, snow crab claws, shucked cold water oysters and lemongrass poached jumbo shrimp with cognac infused cocktail sauce.
(Is your mouth watering yet?)
Caramelized onion broth with parmesan croutons, citrus roasted chicken with rosemary polenta cakes, melted arugula, smoked tomato cream and winter squash ratatouille. I could go on all day…
The ballroom was packed with families smiling, laughing and enjoying their time together. I realized that although the food was spectacular, the more important function of it was bringing families together to share a meal and make memories on this most sacred holiday.
There are certain advantages to being from a small town. “Connection really matters in small towns,” says Phil Gerbyshak. Phil is from Crivitz, a popular summer destination with a rustic charm in Northwest Wisconsin. He’s built his own robust community and is passionate about helping people connect.
Phil was the featured speaker at an event Monday night for the Working Writers of Wisconsin. He is known for his no-nonsense approach to communication. He’s written five books (the first when he was only 26) and insists that good communication is always the differentiator in the room.
There was no need to warm up the crowd. His effervescent presence, neon yellow glasses and jazzy hand gestures were enough to immediately command the group’s attention. He introduced the idea of human connectivity and preaches: “If you build a community, each one commits to its success. You have to make people feel welcome and give them the space to be a part of whatever it is you’re doing.”
Writers create niches and now more than ever, have the power of accessibility when it comes to building communities through social networks. If you contribute to something – like good content – then you’ll have amazing reach. His advice doesn’t just pertain to writers though. Phil encourages everyone to cultivate their own community around whatever it is that you have to offer, and convert them by making them feel included. Give your community something they can’t get anywhere else.
This small-town concept of community has a very practical application in both business and communications. And how novel an idea that in the digital age you do something as simple as reach out to someone face-to-face to share ideas, rather than just Tweeting or Facebooking (Yes, they’ve now become verbs) back and forth. We are all guilty of getting stuck behind our screens, but it’s always a nice reminder to leverage those digital tools for real connections.