The Artist in Residence program at the historic Pfister
Hotel is one of the jewels in Milwaukee’s crown. By bringing in artists who work in a space that is literally
in the lobby of the venerable hotel, guests and city residents alike get the
unique opportunity to see the creative experience up close and personal. Nearing the end of his tenure as the
current Artist In Residence, I tracked down textile/fashion designer Timothy
Westbrook to ask him about the program, and how he got involved in the first
Tell me about your
background and where you’re from.
I grew up in the small town of Wanakena in the foothills of
the Adirondack Mountains in New York State. My parents both worked in forestry
and I was living in the middle of a land of imagination. When you live in a
place that looks just like Neverland of course unicorns can be real. My parents
were both very supportive of my artistic interests and rather than sending me
to boarding school my mother and I rented an apartment an hour north of my
hometown so that I could attend a school with a better arts program. My parents
didn’t permanently co-habitat for three years so that I could have a better
education. While at my new school I interned in the costume shop at St.
Lawrence University where I polished my sewing construction skills.
How did you get
My grandmother taught me how to sew when I was five, which
for a boy who loved to steal his sister’s Barbie’s opened a million and one new
doors. When I was nine my drawings tended toward fashion illustrations and then
I made my first dress for a Barbie. Shortly after it dawned on me while playing
dress up that I could make clothes for big people. Here is one of my favorite
videos of me paying dress up!
How did the
residency at the Pfister Hotel come about?
In October of 2011, I was at an artist residency in a
restored church built in the 1860s. It was my first experience of sewing on a
treadle sewing machine for an extended period of time. The interior
architecture of the church had a powerful connection with my Victorian sewing
machine. So I typed in “Victorian Artist Residency” into the Google machine and
found the Pfister’s program.
What drew you to
apply for the residency?
After doing some research on Milwaukee I discovered an
amazing artist community. The Historic Third Ward, the Milwaukee Art Museum,
Made In Milwaukee, Local Playlist, Art Milwaukee, Gallery Night, and the list
goes on and on. I was very interested in a smaller city, still the biggest I’ve
ever lived in. It proved to be a great fit for me.
purpose and ideas behind the residency.
1. To bring the preexisting art collection to life by
witnessing the process of creating art and by acting as a docent for the
2. To bridge the Hotel’s relationship with guests, locals, and
3. To support the success of artists. The hotel is very art
centric in their focus. In addition to the artist in residence the hotel offers
monthly public piano concerts, a narrator in residence.
How do you think
design and textiles affect the viewer of your work?
In my first day at school someone told me that they refused
to shop at thrift stores. This comment represents a large demographic of
people. My reimagined textiles allow people to forget that they’re wearing
“garbage” and it transcends into art and elegance. Same for the viewer. They
are intrigued and drawn in by the ornate patterns and glimmer of the materials
to late find it has been created out of refuse. The ingenuity and imagination
of that usually wows the audience.
Are you more into
art or fashion?
I often substitute the word costume for fashion. It admits
that we are all using fashion to make a costume for the character that we would
like to identify as. So when I am creating theatrical costumes it focuses on
the idea that they aren’t just magnificent creations, they are firstly an
identifier for the characters personality. With that in mind I’m very
interested in the intersection of performance and costume or fashion.
What artist or
designer has had the most influence on your work?
Timothy Walker is an editorial photographer with an
ephemeral, mother goose like perception of the world. He works with designers
who have rich colors bold expression and shapes.
Where do you see
yourself when this gig at the Pfister ends?
Wherever I am able to continue spending the majority of my
time creating art I will migrate to. There is an artist residency in Glacier
National Park in Montana that I’m very interested in. The Imperial Ice Stars in
London is an amazing Ice Ballet that I would love to design for. Shortly after
I landed in Milwaukee I received my acceptance letter for another residency in
Vermont, which I naturally deferred. I never would have guessed an opportunity
like the Pfister exists so I’m excited to see what surprises life has in store
for me. For now I am in love with Milwaukee and I have every intention of having
indelible memories this incredible city.
Everyone is invited to view his couture constructions on
Gallery Night, Friday January 18th, 2013 from 5-9 p.m. in his
gallery/workspace at the hotel. There will also be a special reception from 9-11 p.m. The fabulous
retrospective runway show, styled by Alexis Rose Criscimagna of
www.alexisrosestyle.com, will commence at 9:30 in the Rouge Ballroom. Be there and help a grateful city say
goodbye to this talented young man who has now become a part of Milwaukee’s
great tradition of bringing the arts to the forefront of our culture.