A Fond Farewell, and a Beautiful Hello, to Margaret Muza
As each Pfister Artist in Residence finishes their residency, they choose a “Legacy Piece” to leave behind, something that will commemorate their year and become part of the hotel’s permanent art collection. These works fill the hallway between the lobby and the studio, and each is a showstopper.
I asked Margaret Muza many times in her final weeks what she was planning to leave as her legacy. What portrait could encapsulate her remarkable year here? What does she want to be remembered for?
Margaret says that when she looks back on her year at the Pfister, the people who go mostly unseen by guests are some of those she’s felt luckiest to meet. Only her role as the Artist in Residence afforded her the chance to get to know them, to chat around the coffee station in the employee area downstairs or share a meal together on a break, and she calls that “her true privilege”.
Because these employees are some of the hardest workers she’s ever met, Margaret wanted to make sure they were represented in the “front of the house”, honored as her legacy. When I saw the tintype she’d chosen, I felt the rightness of it. Margaret is an artist and a person who isn’t dazzled by glitz, who sees the inherent value in every person who enters her studio and showcases that worth in her portraits. Her work has tremendous heart because she does.
Margaret’s legacy piece is a portrait of Anthony and Dennis, Pfister stewards who are responsible for some of the most physical and unglamorous work in the hotel: set up and tear down of events, cleaning and custodial work. She got to know these two men this year and was proud to tell them that they’d be honored in this way, representing the many people who work hard every day to make the Pfister the extraordinary place it is.
I ask Margaret, on the day she needs to pack up the hemlock-hued studio that’s been home, how she feels when she looks back on this year as Pfister Artist in Residence. Without hesitating, she rattles off, “great and excited and grateful and pleased and fulfilled.” She often says that this has been the best year of her life.
As an artist, this residency has given her the gift of “worry-free time”. She’s been taken care of here so well, with meals provided, a storefront studio space in a hotel she’s always loved, the freedom to devote her full-time efforts to only tintypes, and time to practice, make mistakes and struggle. She’s learned things about her chemical process through trial and error that she knows would have taken her many years to learn without the stability this year allowed. Because the Pfister offered her “security and support in the struggle”, she had the creative freedom to push herself through the unknowns in her work, and she can see the definite growth in her photographs as she takes them off the walls and wraps them up to leave.
It’s not all loss for Margaret today, though. The leaving makes her melancholy, but she’s also restless. She will return to her personal studio in Bayview full-time, but before then she has something special planned.
Margaret has always wanted to travel alone, to be spontaneous and photograph from the road. In just a few days, she’ll pack up her metal and glass plates, her large format cameras and the supplies that turn her car’s trunk into a dark room, and head out for a two month long road trip. She plans to take tintypes through Utah, New Mexico, Texas, New Orleans, Miami, the Florida Keys, North Carolina, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and New York.
On this trip, Margaret will spend a few weeks as the resident photographer of the ghost town of Cisco, Utah that her sister has rebuilt into a tourist destination. She’ll visit friends along the way and also spend some time alone to remember the momentous year she’s had at the Pfister. This will be a trip to meander, to linger and to savor being on the cusp of what comes next as an artist. She doesn’t plan to take the highway; it’s the beautiful back roads from here.