#PrintMKE at The Pfister Hotel

The Pfister, along with the rest of Milwaukee, is exited to welcome the attendees of Print: MKE 2013.  What’s even more exciting, is that this year, Timothy and his friend and fellow artist, Erin Close are participating in their own off campus exhibit, titled Hurry Or Your Ears Won’t See What I’ve Made.

The exhibit, which is in Timothy’s Studio, is open from 7am-9pm daily from March 20th through the 23rd. With a reception on Friday, March 22nd, from 5-9pm.

Erin and Timothy’s official description of the exhibit is as follows

Both Erin and Timothy were raised around people with an absence of vision—Erin with her parents and Timothy with his grandfather. This instilled a heightened awareness of physical presence in them both. The pair has transformed this acuteness in their relationship with materials and tools. The tape of an audiocassette mirrors yarn as the starting point for a potential experience. Through the playing of the tape and the weaving of the yarn a sensory experience is performed. The repetitive function of a slate and stylus for writing Braille echo the marking on a plate in printmaking, both building to a completed sensorial language. Work will be created live throughout the conference. Erin and Timothy invite you to feel with your eyes and listen with your hands.

As Timothy wraps up his time as our Artist-in-Residence we invite you to stop in and experience him, and his work while you can including his Print: MKE 2013 exhibit!  You can find more info on the event on the official Facebook event page.

Winter Fashion, Westbrook Style

Since starting his residency, Timothy Westbrook has had Milwaukee talking. At 23, he’s the youngest of the Pfister’s artists in residence, the first artist from out of state (Timothy hails from Wanakena, New York), and the first fiber artist (all other artists were painters).

On Friday, January 18th, he had jaws dropping.

He presented his final fashion event to coincide with Milwaukee’s winter Gallery Night and it was spectacular, to say the least. Timothy showed 17 looks (Yes, that’s right, in only eight months he’s woven the fabric by hand and constructed 17 looks). The models were striking in both appearance and attitude. The bold makeup and hair styles were courtesy of students from the Academy of Waukesha, a Paul Mitchell partner school. All of the looks were for sale as well – wearable art pieces ranging from $500- $23,000.

copyright Zachary Seib
copyright Zachary Seib

A squabble of photographers, like geese, stood attentively with  lenses up, ready to shoot the runway that split the Imperial ballroom in two camps of fans from every walk of life. Timothy’s clothing was constructed from re-purposed materials like vintage curtains,  plastic grocery bags, upholstery swatches, bedsheets, green Pfister umbrellas, and his signature, cassette tape film.

Because he was feeling a little homesick and didn’t want his emotions to get the best of him,  he cleverly recorded his opening remarks on one of his beloved cassette tapes. It was an incredibly telling moment, especially for those who have yet the pleasure to make his acquaintance. He’s quirky and incredibly kind. He’s professional with very clear vision and high standards, making it an honor to work alongside him at the Pfister.

I am no fashion critic, but I know what I like when it comes to aesthetics and Timothy, along with stylist Alexis Rose Criscimagna, achieved a beautiful balance of Avant-Garde and Victorian. Imagine a punk reconstruction of  Susan B. Anthony. But rather than critique his work, I want to tell you about Timothy Westbrook the person.

Brimming with character, with a penchant for fantasy, Timothy reveals that all he ever wanted to do was tell fairy tales. And through his work, he is doing just that. He loves unicorns, gesticulates wildly when he gets excited and makes everybody feel welcome, all the time. Timothy even  displays other artists’ work in his gallery.

Timothy will be in residence through March. Don’t miss out on meeting him before he becomes super famous. I for one, feel so happy that he’s woven his way into the fabric of the Milwaukee community. Timothy will reveal his legacy piece for the Pfister Hotel on March 29,  at an event open to the public. Check back for more details and become a fan of Timothy’s  Facebook page for more event coverage.

 

Photos courtesy of Zachery Seib Photography.

Fred Pfister: Part 2 of 2

“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.

 

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Fred Pfister: Part 1 of 2

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 and his grandmother Margaret circa 1945.
Fred and his grandmother Margaret circa 1945.

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.

Timothy Reflects: Part Two – On “Planned” Projects

Timothy’s time as Artist in Residence has since reached it’s halfway point.  And oh, what a marvelous 6+ months it’s been for Timothy.  I’ve asked him to reflect on some of his experience, and we’ve decided to break down his experiences into four parts, this is Part Two – On “Planned” Projects

“What makes you think of these ideas?” “How did you decide to use cassette tapes?” “He’s a genius!” “You realize you’re clinically insane right?” These are all comments and questions from various guests. ALL of them have been said or asked many times over. As artists we can materialize what inspires us, but what dives us and motivates us, what sparks the desire, is not always so tangible. In twenty-three years I haven’t left the country and I have only visited at length nine states.

Milwaukee has been indescribably inspiring. The Pfister has acted as a platform so many opportunities. It has come to the point that Milwaukee is offering the same satisfaction as traveling to another country. When inspiration in this deep you have to run with it to create your work. Before landing in Milwaukee my proposal was to create “six Victorian ball gowns” This has morphed to five vignette gowns from slightly different eras that act individually and together to tell a story. That story is of the fictional Mrs. Charles Pfister, as the hotel’s founder, Charles, was never married.

Then I found out that Miss Wisconsin was crowned Miss America 2012. This sparked my interest in the pageantry to discover that there is a Ms. Wheelchair Wisconsin a subject close to my heart.

With my large weavings I have been doing with them as much as I can, one in particular I threw into our swimming pool to conclude that unquestionably need to make a merman tail. But then you find out that people have their own relationships with cassette tapes and now I have guests requesting items made from their cherished tapes. Being raised catholic, the Fiddler on the Roof was my window into Jewish wedding traditions. Now being at the Pfister I have rediscovered incredible traditions specifically around the Jewish wedding canopy, the Chuppah. I am excited to begin work on a few.

To even begin to guess that you “know” what you’re going to work on is a drastic misconception. This has been an incredible evolving experience.

Steampunk Society Invades the Pfister

Just in case you had any preconceived notions about the Pfister clientele, allow me to challenge those. First, watch this slideshow:



These are steampunkers. What is a steampunker? Good question – I was also unaware of this counterculture until the Steampunk Society Milwaukee held their first Maker’s Fair last Saturday at the Pfister, organized in part by the gregarious Timothy Westbrook, Pfister’s Artist in Residence.

The group emulates the culture and costumes of the late nineteenth century and Victorian era. There is also a fascination with sci-fi elements and gadgets. Most people I talked with couldn’t exactly explain what a steampunker was, but described what drew them in.

Allizarin Crimson a.k.a. Kristin Poehls is a new member whose goal was to make just one sale at the fair. Jim Best has been involved for two years and started going to events something to do in his free time. For him, it was something more productive to do than playing video games. He uses old watch pieces to create pins and jewelry.

Clinger, adorned in a metal top hat and metal tie, calls it “A classy looking way to rebel.” He rode 10 miles to get to the Pfister on his ordinary bicycle. It’s his primary mode of transportation when the weather is agreeable. Anna Rodriguez sees it as a way to express herself. She loves the creative element and the costuming that goes along with it.

Bridget Sharon started the society in Milwaukee after seeing many of the same people from Milwaukee at the Chicago events. “I saw a lot of potential in it,” she said. “We used to do ‘invasions’ where we’d all decide to go someplace and show up in costume. Now, we hold monthly events to get together and grab drinks or socialize.” There are no requirements to be a member. Events attract anywhere from 20-40 people, but there must have been at least 100 steampunkers at the Maker’s Fair.

Bridget encourages everyone to check out a Steampunk Society gathering. I agree, you have to see this for yourself. For more information, click here.

Timothy Reflects: Part One – On “‘Studio’ Practice”

Timothy’s time as Artist in Residence has just about reached it’s halfway point.  And oh, what a marvelous six months it’s been for Timothy.  I’ve asked him to reflect on some of his experience, and we’ve decided to break down his experiences into four parts, this is Part One – On “‘Studio’ Practice”

During “Art-Making” I love to use the phrases “studio practice” and “art practice.” It describes the concepts and thoughts behind our methods.I enjoy how it can describe the meditative processes outside of the art itself. I set alarms on my phone for twenty minutes before I have to leave the studio. It allows me to get lost in the work and then a chime tells me when it is clean up time. Then on to dinner, a meeting, and art exhibit or even, rarely, bed.

When you’re working a part time job and trying to be a practicing artist, any spare minute of your day you’re working. Having the opportunity to create every day, all day, I have had the extraordinary opportunity to truly define what I need to create and environment most conducive to my art making. What does the environment need to have in it? The contents of my hotel storage space, the studio itself and the drawers of my sewing machine have changed dramatically since the first day of my residency.

One of the most profound revelations was the use of audio books as a therapeutic device. Being that some of the cassette tapes that I’m weaving into cloth are various publications on tape you would think this would have been obvious to me. It took a severe boredom of my iTunes to make the discovery. I do not read. I weave, I make lists, and I imagine. I am far too distracted to sit still and look at words to build images. But I love stories. I love listening to epic tales of the mountainous shelf dangers of hunting for groceries at a supermarket. I had a terrific library teacher in elementary school. I specifically loved her reading of “The Mouse and the Motorcycle” and “The castle in the Attic.”

Being read to by audio books has been one of the most soothing studio practices I’ve ever experienced. AND so relevant! I’m weaving books on tape! It is inspiring my use of these books and how I treat the tapes before I weave with them. I hope to soon give all of the tapes one final play before they land at their final destination as fabric. Audio books are the best “Television Series” imaginable because hour-long episodes never end. There will always be another book, another voice, and another story. I am easily bored with music and it is crucial to be listening to music that inspires the projects I’m creating. A costume can be influenced by what is happening during its creation.

 

And So It Begins…

First day on the job as the Pfister Narrator and I feel like I’ll get used to hanging around this place pretty quickly. Greeted by the bubbly Timothy Westbrook concocting another masterpiece in his studio, I walked in on what I thought would be a quiet Sunday because of the Packer game. I was mistaken. Brunch –the most extraordinary brunch I have ever seen–  was just wrapping up and sure enough, there was a TV hidden in that stately armoire, so the lobby lounge comforted a roaring chorus of Packers fans.

Within minutes of cozying up to the bar, Val asked if I drank alcohol and if I wanted to try something delicious. Two questions I rarely say no to. This was apparently a holiday tradition and a rite of passage for new employees. “Must try the Glog,” advised Timothy. It was warm, smooth and strong. Be sure to ask Val for a glass next time you are in.

I was happy to run into Ed Makowski, the third Pfister Narrator, and his adorable offspring Edmund. He recounted every detail about their trip to the art museum, but acted uncharacteristically shy when I asked to take a picture. Ed shared suggestions for getting to the good stories a few hidden spots in the hotel.

As you can imagine, the Pfister has been heavy on my mind the past few months, and by pure serendipity, I came across this article in the Shepherd Express. (I got my first break as a writer in the Shepherd.) It’s a quick read about the history of this gem and its founder, German immigrant Guido Pfister. It got me thinking about the modern application of this Historic space. I will be studying these paradoxes as they unfold and seeking out the characters passing through.

By all means, if there is something you are dying to know or some secret you’d like me to uncover – let me know via the comments or directly at jlkashou@gmail.com. More to come!

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.

Timothy’s 2nd Gallery Night + “Wedding” After Party

Photo Credit: Alison Barnick (who also happens to be a Pfister Employee)
http://www.flickr.com/photos/fotobug8/

Pfister Artist in Residence, Timothy Westbrook’s second gallery night took place on Friday, July 27th. With the intention of creating a piece that referenced Elizabethan, Timothy decided to tell a story with his second gallery night piece.  Using guides from the 1890s, he created a piece that reflects Queen Victoria’s popularizing of the color white in wedding gowns.

Much like his first piece, Timothy’s fiber art is composed of re-purposed materials, and this piece was no exception.  Utilizing white plastic bags, Timothy weaved a fantastic  Wedding dress – a dress that tied in surprisingly well with Art Milwaukee’s “Wedding”, a Gallery Night after event that was held in the Pfister. But don’t take our word for it, hear Timothy’s thoughts about his second Gallery Night and the privledge of being involved in the event in the video below.

Timothy also used the Gallery Night event as an opportunity to exhibit some of his dyed gowns from earlier in the summer with the help of some local models, and the help of Botique B’Lou.

After Gallery viewing ended at 9pm, the evening commenced upstairs with Art Milwaukee‘s “Wedding” in the Pfister’s Imperial Ballroom.

Artists from throughout the city were on hand to ‘live paint’ through the evening while mock wedding events occurred throughout.

“I have a Much larger sense of accomplishment…” 

Check out some of the great photos from the evening below (for a full gallery, visit us on Facebook)…