Margaret Muza has been the Pfister Hotel’s artist in residence since April, and already she’s seeing an improvement in her skills as a tintype photographer.
The increased exposure of being associated with the city’s premier hotel hasn’t hurt either, and she’s had steady business from Pfister guests and others for the vintage portraits she makes with photo technology from the mid-19th century. (Not to mention a monthly stipend.)
On Thursday, June 22, her exposure is going to increase even more, when Bay View’s landmark restaurant Three Brothers presents an entirely new menu for one night while Muza takes photographs out back.
The event is a collaboration between Muza, a Bay View native, and Milunka Radicevic, a third-generation chef at her family’s Serbian restaurant at 2414 S. St. Clair St. Radicevic is creating Thursday’s menu from her own family’s and Muza’s family’s favorites, and other recipes Radicevic has found and “Serbianized,” she says. The two say the event, in the works for a year, is the first time the venerable eatery has presented a totally new menu for one night only.
Meanwhile, writes Muza on Facebook, referring to Radicevic: “I’ll be taking tintypes in the backyard underneath the apple tree that her father planted decades ago.”
“Margaret and I have a love affair with both Bay View (and) Milwaukee,” Radicevic writes in an email to me. “We are both of Slavic descent, and Margaret has deep historical ties to the Port of Milwaukee.”
Muza, who grew up in Bay View and Oak Creek as one of six kids of a mailman and a full-time mom (both very good artists, she adds), dined with her family at Three Brothers on special occasions. She traces her father’s roots back to Jacob Muza, the leader of a fishing village that thrived more than 100 years ago on Jones Island, before the city’s sewage treatment plant was built there. The village was made up heavily of Kaszubian immigrants – members of an ethnic group from along the Baltic coast of what’s now northern Poland, many of them fisher-folk. Jacob Muza was a Kaszube.
Radicevic is the daughter and granddaughter of immigrants from Yugoslavia who emigrated to Milwaukee after suffering in Europe during World War II; her grandfather Milun founded the restaurant in the 1950s, and her father, Branko, ran it from 1972 until his death in 2014.
Margaret Muza has always been fascinated with history, she said in an interview at the Pfister last week, and it was this fascination that brought her to start experimenting with tintype photography about three years ago. She especially loved the images from the Civil War era, of soldiers and of Abraham Lincoln, images from the very early days of American photography.
Tintype photography is one of the earliest forms of the art, in which images are created on a metal plate coated with a dark lacquer and bathed in a chemical brew called collodion. It was first used in photo studios, but later the process became so portable that photographers could produce portraits on the street in just a few minutes.
“I was just interested in what made those pictures look so different to me,” Muza says. “I also have a love of things that were made a long time ago,” she adds.
Muza’s had a varied work life since she graduated from Oak Creek High School in 2005, working as a nanny, in coffee shops and for years filleting fish at the Sweet Water Organics fish and vegetable farm in an old factory building in Bay View. The place closed in 2013.
About three years ago, she and a friend read an article about tintype photography, studied briefly under a photographer in Brooklyn and then taught themselves through trial and error, eventually opening a studio in Bay View. One of the most striking images they took there was of Milunka Radicevic in a Serbian costume.
Muza was chosen as the Pfister’s ninth artist in residence over the winter, out of a list of six finalists. She loves what the gig has done to her work.
“Being here every day means I’m practicing every day and having the time and space to be able to have this be the only thing I do,” she says. Does she think her work is getting better because of this? “I do think so, yeah,” she says.
Muza also says she’s loved getting to know the many Pfister guests and others from the community who have dropped by her first-floor studio these last few months to be photographed (a 4-by-5-inch portrait costs $90, an 8-by-10, $150) or just to talk. And she says she’d like people to know they can stop in anytime, “and they don’t have to be guests at the hotel.”
Or they can see her Thursday in the courtyard behind Three Brothers, under the apple tree planted long ago by Branko Radicevic. Doors open at 5 p.m. on June 22, and reservations are recommended.