The Pfister Hotel Press Coverage

Art City Asks: Timothy Westbrook

April 20, 2012 | Jessica Steeber | Original Article

Gallery Night marks the debut ot the Pfister Hotel’s newest artist in residence, Timothy Westbrook. Westbrook started settling into his studio, just off of the hotel’s lobby, a few weeks ago. He’s the fourth artist to participate in the program and the first from out of state.

New to Milwaukee, Westbrook says the community support and involvement he’s getting is better than he could have imagined. Already he feels at home, he says.

As a case in point, he directs my attention to a piece of blue fabric at his feet.

“See, this was left for me by a staff member, isn’t it great?” As he tells me about the fabric and his planned projects, he references a painting in the Pfister’s collection. Soon after, the donator of the remnant arrives for what appears to be a daily chat and update on the projects.

Raised in a small town in the foothills of the Adirondacks, Westbrook has a keen appreciation for nature and the fantasy nature can inspire. Originally planning to study fashion design, he was turned off by the waste inherent in the industry, and looked to the fiber arts, performance and installation for a more meaningful practice. Sustainable methods are at the root of his work; a treadle (foot operated) sewing machine and handloom occupy each bay window in his studio. Floor-length gowns are displayed around the space, each in its own state of completion. Each envinces a romance and nostalgia not typically associated with sustainable practices. “I hope the elegance and craftsmanship is what people see,” he offers, “ and that the sustainable aspect is only a pleasant surprise.”

A craftsman at heart, Westbrook creates in the spirit of Art Nouveau, a time period that reacted to the mass production and lack of orginality in the Industrial Age. He hopes to return to a time of thoughtful elegance, when each object or item of clothing one selects is done with the care and consideration one gives to more significant items, such as a wedding dress.

For Gallery Night, Westbrook will be hosting a performance in celebration of the Femme Nouvelle, an independent, free-thinking woman from the turn of the century. Part of the aim is for the audience to experience a period-style daily dressing, he says. A corseting and dressing will begin at 5:30 in the studio gallery, followed by hair-styling at 6, after which the model will be biking around the hotel until dark. Westbrook will be rotating between the performance, his studio gallery near the lobby and the Rouge ballroom until 11 p.m.

As Westbrook prepared to be introduced to Milwaukeeans on Gallery Night, I asked him to answer a few questions for this edition of “Art City Asks.”

Jessica Steeber: What are you working on in your studio right now?

Timothy Westbrook: During my time at the hotel, I’ll be working on two main projects. One is to create about five fully styled period ball gown reproductions, and the other is to create a fashion collection. For both, I plan to weave cloth out of various organic and repurposed manmade materials, including items like cassette tapes, sculpting them into costumes and fashion while pulling from the inspiration of the hotel and the Victorian decorative arts period.

JS: What images keep you company in your workspace?

TW: To invite a broader audience to experience my process, my images are mostly virtual at Pinterest. Soon I will be adding detail shots of paintings in the hotel’s collection to directly inspire the dresses I’m creating.

JS: Tell me about a failed piece you once made and what you learned from it?

TW: Every piece is a failure in some way. That is what makes us practicing artists. If I don’t make mistakes, I won’t learn, and if I’m not learning about myself, then I’m not growing. The point of making art is to grow and learn.

JS: What music are you listening to?

TW: Dr. Jeffrey Hollander, one of The Pfister Hotel’s pianists, as much as possible. I also hope to play cassette tapes and victrola records in the space to heighten the atmosphere.

JS: What could you imagine doing if you didn’t do what you do?

TW: If the question is to mean, “If you weren’t making a living as a practicing artist what other interest would you pursue?” Then I would say, I have been figure skating since I was 3 and a few months ago I landed my first single axle. I would train to be a regular performer for Disney on Ice or Imperial Ice Stars in London.


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