Shelby Keefe put on quite the show on Gallery Night on Friday, July 29 at the Pfister Hotel.
With a great display of a few of her current pieces and a live performance of a completed piece in 20 minutes to the tunes of a local jam band, Shelby put on quite a show.
From the Pfister Narrator: “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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
Floating around the room, dressed in white linen, her red curls a striking contrast to the layers of turquoise, jade and green crystal beads that encircle her neck and dangle from her ears. She slices pieces from two birthday cakes, after being serenaded by a gallery full of friends, new and old. Melodee, a masseuse and administrator for a healing arts education center, is in town visiting one of her best friends, who also happens to be the Pfister’s Artist-in-Residence, Shelby Keefe. Originally from Milwaukee, Melodee moved to Tucson four years ago to pursue a new life with her “beloved.” Everything about her is light and airy, yet warm and bright. Her hands gesture with careful deliberation, and everyone gravitates towards her when she laughs.
People like this tend to be a magnet for creative people, and the circles of artistic creativity have certainly overlapped tonight. For example, one of Melodee’s friends, the evening’s self-appointed photographer, Sandy, decided to invite another artist friend to tonight’s celebration in the Pfister’s artist-in-residence studio. What Sandy didn’t know was that this young artist was also already friends with Shelby, the evening’s hostess!
Tia and I sat in one of the high-backed wrought iron chairs with their animal print cushions, eating cake and talking about art. A former student of Milwaukee High School of the Arts, Tia was always a “drawer” but her dad, a painter and visual engineer, took her on as a student and encouraged, mentored, and inspired her, to become a more versatile artist. Though his creativity comes out in his engineering work, he most “lives vicariously” through her, she says. Her work, as she went on to college and participated in more art shows and honed her craft, is expressed in a variety of mediums: oils and acrylics, colored pencil, watercolors, even wearable art (though she primarily creates her jewelry for herself, not for sale). While not her favorite medium, Tia really likes an interesting technique known as “gouache.” She describes it as being workable and good for layering, like watercolor, but more substantive, like acrylics.
Drawn to the impressionists, Tia’s art displays a flair for magical realism combined with a strong nod to her ancestral background as a young African American woman. Her website features some incredibly moving portraits of black women in native dress, tribal patterns and color, together in dance, or celebrating children and family. There are some more impressionistic-inspired watercolors where the men and women in them are nearly in silhouette, but bathed in, and surrounded by, so much color. There are works that lend an air of “magical realism,” like the one where a woman’s streaming hair is adorned in flowers, pearls, and then the sun and moon. After the ones of African women bonding together, my favorites are a set of commissioned works that depict jazz artists and blues jams – you can practically hear the scatting, bass-thumping, and complementary audience murmur. I want to be inside these pieces.
As we talked at Melodee’s party about art in the community, Tia told me about the teaching she does in classrooms, after-school programs and Boys & Girls Clubs. As part of her art classes and talks, she incorporates “talking circles” to help her connect to the kids, and for the kids to learn how to better connect to themselves and each other. Tia says she doesn’t see a line between her artist self and her everyday self, and wants to help others be their authentic selves, too. Seeing her work makes it clear how actively true this principle is for her, as her art celebrates circles, connection, a “coming together” of friends and family. The peaceful joy that radiates from her person is the same joy that comes alive in her paintings and drawings – a joy expressed in movement, song and radiant, brilliant colors!
Who knows, perhaps Tia will apply for the next Artist-in-Residence year and you will get a chance to see her vibrantly joyous, inspiring work as it develops and grows. I know Shelby’s encouraging her to throw her paintbrush in the ring, so to speak.
It’s summer in Milwaukee. Finally. We know the calendar has said it’s summer for some time now, but the weather simply hasn’t cooperated, as evidenced by the city’s wavering between the wet, cold of March and the hottest, most humid dog days of August. Not only has the mercury risen and the sun come out to tan the hides of hundreds of folks cavorting on Bradford Beach, but the clearest sign of the season has begun: the fireworks have been shot off, PrideFest has passed, the festivals are here!
Boasting large cultural fests like the Lakefront Festival of the Arts, Festa Italiana and Irish Fest, street festivals like Locust Street Days or Summer Soulstice, and numerous church festivals across the city and its suburbs, Milwaukee’s self-appointed (and well-earned) nickname is the “City of Festivals.” And, currently in full swing right now, is the biggest festival of them all: Summerfest.
Centrally located to the Summerfest grounds means the Pfister is packed to the Jason-Mraz-fedora-brim with fest-goers. They group together with friends, and the children tag along behind their moms. Coolers are being dragged or carried, backpacks are stuffed with sunscreen. The ladies are (mostly) tanned and adorned in skirts and heels, summer dresses and wedge sandals, capris and flip-flops with glittery sequins or earthy embroidery. The men in tees and plaid board shorts, jeans and tanks, sunglasses (some still wearing them inside), but especially: hats. Besides the numerous summer straw fedoras made popular by the aforementioned visiting musician, there are black glittery cowboy hats, jaunty leather types, paddlesport visors, and fitted baseball caps. The variety in fedoras, however, is particularly astounding, and those wanting in on this fashion can find some splendid samples at the Brass Rooster, newly opened in Bay View.
The abundance of exposed skin also results in a revelation of tattoos: colorful flowers on a lady’s back, a line of stars down the back arm of a man, a girl in a yellow dress with a variety of black & white/gray landscapes and portraits – one on her shoulder is a particularly stunning Marilyn Monroe.
There is a strong juxtaposition of summer attire with Roc’s tails and vest or Peter’s grand mustache and wide tie. This only makes the traditional, formal dress of the concierges stand out even more, creating an air of elegance that is nearly theatrical, were it not for their easy-going laughter or kind directions on how to take the trolley loop around downtown.
Of course, it’s also the Fourth of July weekend and guests have arrived from all over to spend their holiday here. There’s one guy who managed to bring all the summer fashions together. He stands at the check-in desk wearing all of the above: the t-shirt, plaid shorts, flip-flops, straw fedora, backpack AND has a cooler! I meet a fabulously flamboyant male ballet dancer from San Francisco who is here on a mini family reunion of sorts, a beautiful redhead from Tucson celebrating a hometown birthday with her longtime friend (and artist-in-residence) Shelby Keefe, and a couple from Illinois who has fled domestic festivities in favor of a holiday weekend away with their sweet, adorable 2.5yr old Basset Hound named Gertrude.
Gertrude is a charmer: her giant paws with exercise wristbands of wrinkled skin bunching around her ankles, pumpkin-fed soft fur, long and unbelievably silky ears, gorgeous tri-color markings, and those soulful eyes make a deadly combination. Her “parents” are thrilled to be able to bring her with them on their getaway. They even took her up to the seventh floor where, vacant of any conferences or group bookings, they found a veritable playground where they could play fetch with Gertie*, who normally would take off (as hounds are wont to do) and not come back as she followed a scent outdoors someplace. They loved that employees would walk by and smile, nod, say hello, maybe give Gertie a belly rub and go on their way. “It’s so wonderful to stay in a place where we can walk around with her inside, or play a little in a big, empty space and it’s okay!” Gertie shows her gratitude by licking my bare toes.
I think how it’s too bad that Gertie won’t be allowed in the one place everyone else is sure to be tonight between 11pm and 3am: in the Café at the Pfister, enjoying their inaugural ‘Summerfest Late Night Buffet’ for only $19.95. Who am I kidding? Gertie will be so tired from galloping around her new playground, she’ll be fast asleep on a big, fluffy bed next to a bigger, fluffier bed while the rest of Milwaukee listens to music, drinks, dances, and eats long into the holiday night.
*Gertrude has no idea how lucky she is, as she shares her nick-moniker with Milwaukee’s most famous animal: a duck, also named Gertie, whose bronze statue stands by the river, a symbol of hope.
Start and end your night at The Pfister. During our Gallery Night reception on July 29 at 9pm, for sale enjoy live music and dancing, complimentary snacks and a cash bar all while watching a painting performance by Shelby Keefe.
The weather in Milwaukee was (briefly) exquisite this week. Temperatures soared into the low 60’s, the breezes indicated Spring was finally here with their combination of warmth and lakeside coolness, and the sun was brightly shining. Perfection. The daffodils and tulips are in full bloom on, what feels like, every city block. In front of the Pfister’s Wisconsin Avenue entrance, tall, brightly colored pink and yellow tulips are ringed in the low, black, decorative iron that mark the corners of the sidewalk garden boxes. All of this belied the clouds that were moving in, ever so slowly, threatening rain.
It is 4pm inside the hotel and the Pfister’s current artist-in-residence, Shelby Keefe, is about to give a tour* of the Victorian art collection that adorns the public spaces. Starting from her studio, located just off the lobby, between the Pfister Cafe and Mason Street Grill, Shelby grabs the two tools of her tour: a slim paperback guide featuring a gilded frame on the cover and the words ‘The Pfister Art Collection,’ and a heavy-duty silver flashlight.
She starts off, right away, talking about how she dug out an old art history textbook from college in order to gain a refreshed perspective on the various styles and artists on display. One of the first things Shelby shares is her realization that while the majority of the art collected by Charles Pfister comes from the 19th century and is mostly from the classical romanticists, the realists and a fair number from the Barbizon, Millet schools – the impressionists were very active in those same years. By her own description, she is a “contemporary impressionistic painter,” and also a fan of much of the art being produced today that is very different from her own. “A reminder,” she says, “that it’s always been true that artists are not all doing the same thing at the same time.”
Popping from one painting to another, Shelby wields her flashlight like an enormous lecturer’s pointer, illuminating specific parts of paintings which beg her emphasis: the shell being held up to a beautiful woman’s ear in Lenoir’s The Shell (about which a young girl once inquired “Is she holding a cell phone?”); the flirtatious gentleman in L’Eternelle Pomme d’Eve, which hangs over the check-in desk, by Georges Achille-Fould; the gauzy lace dripping from the dress sleeves of Adolphe Piot’s The Rose; how the dress on Clairin’s Dancer practically undulates (“I love how he lets the paint do the work”); or, the ‘Roma’ notation beneath a painter’s signature indicating he had studied in Italy (something which 19th-century painters would tout as a sign of their artistic respectability).
It’s remarkable what else is illuminated in this adjustable circle of light. A painting by Eugene Fromentin, a Frenchman who painted in the “spirit and manner” of the Dutch, simply titled The Cows, instantly springs to the beautiful russet, deep green, and yellow shades of a field and stream on a perfect fall day. The colors are muted in the mood-lighting, but they appear like magic when lit up directly. The same thing happens with Louis Aston Knight’s gorgeous The Poppy Field, Daniel Ridgway Knight’s (no relation) The Rose Garden, and most spectacularly, Chianti by E. Giachi. This last one, features a serving woman being charmed by, or perhaps doing the charming of, a young gentleman with splendid white, floppy hat while two portly men doze drunkenly in the background. A large cask is set off to the right, a stone wall straw litters the ground where thatch-bottomed jugs are spread. It may not sound like a particularly colorful tableau, but the detail is astoundingly vibrant: golden threads, teal tights, pale green sheen on a wooden bench – each detail simply glows.
The tour wound its way to the seventh floor, where the ballrooms are located. A wedding and a school’s anniversary gala were both set and the halls were beginning to swell with guests. A young lady in layers of elegant, chiffon powder blue ruffles eased by, followed soon after by a suited man carrying a little blond girl wearing a sateen dress in bright fuchsia while groomsmen swam together, upstream, in their rose-red ties. Between the art and the events, every shade of every color of the rainbow was painted on the air tonight.
Later, a wander up to the aptly-colorfully-named Blu for a listen to Dr. Hollander’s delightful and charming piano playing results in a glass of the evening’s featured red wine: a velvety soft Domaine du Sac from nearby Wollersheim Winery. Two ladies sit at one of the window-side tables, admiring the view, pointing out landmarks, and sipping from aquamarine cocktails. Suddenly, they pull out cameras and wildly gesture from one side of the vista to the other. The rain had cleared some time ago, though the clouds had rendered the horizon a steel-grey, and a rainbow had appeared, stretching across the sky.
*Tours of the Pfister’s Victorian art collection are given by Shelby Keefe on Fridays and Saturdays, from 4 to 5pm.
Shelby Keefe put on quite the show on Gallery Night on Friday, here April 15 at the Pfister Hotel.
With a great display of a few of her current pieces and a live performance of a completed piece in 20 minutes on her first Gallery Night, buy viagra we are in for a treat this year with Shelby Keefe as our current Artist-in-Residence.
Listen in to hear about her approach and the culmination of her first Gallery Night as the new Artist-in-residence.
I try not to write about the staff. They’re an easy target—each is polished, ampoule professional and full of juicy bits of knowledge. They’re the eyes and ears. But we, the “in-residencers” are also staff in a way, but with the very specific charge to engage and make the hotel colorful.
So, what I’m trying to say is, pilule I have to tell you about hanging out with Shelby Keefe, the new Artist in Residence. A program different (and longer) than the narrator, Shelby’s work life will live at the Pfister for a full year. She has a giant, glass-walled fish bowl to work in and be ogled, which is why I thought it was charming when she said “Where is your office?”
And thus began the explanation of how I don’t have walls to paint or works of art to hang…and only for a minute did I feel a bit strange explaining my office was in the bar…because truly, it is. Have notebook will travel…but that’s not all that different from this woman who also conducts most of her art work in the outdoors.
Shelby was moving into her new studio and it’s a world apart from the life Katie brought to the space. You’ll notice immediately the change in subject matter and color. Shelby chose the same direction for her easel and stool, however, and I wondered if it was naturally feng shui or just the most convenient corner of the space.
What you need to know about Shelby, however, is how ready she is for this gig. She’ll be there late. She’ll be there often, she’s not afraid of the people, she can’t wait for them (or, so she thought until she gulped and realized the very next day they’d be arriving). Her work is full of color and the day we chatted her shirt matched at least three of the paintings on the wall, which made it feel like when I stepped in to introduce myself amid her hammering and unpacking, I had fallen into a color palette. She laughed at what I noticed, given what I suspect was a talented artist’s version of “oh, this old thing?”
She’s eager. She’s also ready to show you what her art means; she was bursting with energy as she explained how she enjoys people watching her art demos and what her performance painting would be like. (I got to see the special brushes. I’d say you could be jealous, but you can see them too—just stop in her studio).
Shelby was a lot like me. I felt that vibe, that readiness. I hope she knows just what she’s gotten into, because what she’ll get out of it is more than she’ll ever know.
In honor of Shelby, who I found has a friend in common with me—another unique performer in the Milwaukee area—I think I may adopt some plein air writing to match her painting. I end up having the best conversations with guests on the elevators and in the parking garage, why not out in front of the hotel on warm spring days? Come find me there next week and we’ll capture the open air joy of the Pfister and its amazing and colorful staff, and welcome, Shelby!