For more than 125 years, the historic Pfister Hotel in Milwaukee has been celebrating local art. Each year, it hosts an Artist-in-Residence and a Narrator-in-Residence art program. The artists stay at the hotel to work on their respective artforms and interact with guests.
Rosy Petri became the 11th Artist-in-Residence starting in the spring. At Paradise Home Goods, the local boutique she owns, she sells heirloom quilts, handsewn accessories and dresses. With fabric portraiture, quilt making, photography and mixed media, her art showcases a passion for art, storytelling and social justice. During her residency, Petri will focus her art on the theme of “myths of creation” by interviewing guests and developing a collection of photographs and fabric portraits.
1. What’s it like to meet travelers in Milwaukee?
RP: I’ve always been an ambassador for Milwaukee. I love sharing exciting experiences and opportunities with out-of-towners. I value hospitality and know it can be overwhelming to find your bearings on the road. It’s easy to connect with travelers. The combination of road-weariness and an alternate timeline...when we travel, we step outside of ordinary time. It creates a very intimate connection more quickly. Folks are more open, receptive to new experiences traveling. While the city isn’t perfect, Milwaukee has a lot to offer if you know where to look.
2. How has your residency been at the Pfister?
RP: For the past few years, I have had a pretty monastic creative practice, working on my art in a home studio. Occasionally, to break up the monotony, I’d pepper in retreats, large-scale cooking and personal reflection. Now, I’m smack in the middle of a very beautiful and very popular hotel. Some days, the position can be quite demanding. There is so much activity and bustle. Long shifts of entertaining coupled with a demanding production schedule can leave me drained at the end of the day. I’m learning a lot about myself as an artist. The residency is making me practice disciplined focus, making me more creatively resilient. I am learning to be more ergonomic with my process and can challenge myself on my own terms. My husband summed it up beautifully. He said, “You were made for this. It is a combination of everything you love: art, hospitality and storytelling.” He thinks I may have found my vocation; I think he may be right.
3. What do you hope travelers will take away from your art?
RP: I hope people take a few things away from seeing my work and studio. First, I hope they find awe and reverence for the stories and culture. If that reverence can become a desire to respect and understand the importance of self-representation in marginalized communities, as well as an appreciation for creative expression in a variety of manifestations. My work is created with consideration of the historic, spiritual and cultural significance of the materials, histories and process. Inspired by the stained-glass windows and icons of churches and cathedrals, I understand that art is culture, and culture is art.
Bela Suresh Roongta will be bringing new experiences to the Pfister such as journaling workshops, henna demonstrations and “Chai at The Pfister,” where guests will be invited to share stories over tea. Roongta is a storyteller, illustrator and owner of belabela a Milwaukee-based boutique shop. She began her year-long residency in May and has been updating the Pfister blog along the way.
1. How have your guest interactions been? What stories have you heard?
BSR: My interactions with guests have been warm, friendly, inspiring and open to all possibilities. I have had the honor of meeting and slowly getting to know the kitchen staff who help me make homemade chai every Tuesday morning and the front and back of house staff, from management to all of those doing their part to make the guests’ experience as special and fulfilling as it can be including, but of course not limited to the front desk staff, the bellmen, security, the concierges, and the bartenders and servers throughout the hotel. I have also spent time with guests who come for a weekly massage at the spa or are out-of-town visitors on their way to coach a game or manage an event or talent. These interactions have taken place over a cup of hot chai, at the bar in the lobby lounge, in the Artist-in-Residence’s studio, and in the kitchen. Guests have tasted my homemade chai and I have taken someone’s hand and applied henna while they tell me about their day, what they do, and who they are. The stories start with why they are here at the Pfister and often end with something much more meaningful about their travels, history, joys and passions.
2. What's it like meeting travelers coming to your hometown of Milwaukee?
BSR: Meeting travelers is almost as good as traveling itself—their stories take you on a journey to places near and far. They are a reminder that the world is big, and there is an infinite number of amazing people and places out there. But simultaneously, they remind me that the world is also small—that we have more in common than it might seem at first glance—the same hopes, dreams, worries and fears. Finally, meeting travelers at the Pfister is an opportunity to share the best of Milwaukee and the details that make Milwaukee so special— the lakefront, the thriving arts and music scene, the festivals, the history and most importantly, the people. Milwaukee is still relatively unknown. So, to be one of the people that reveals it to travelers and guests is a true pleasure and privilege.
3. What do you hope your journaling workshops will offer guests?
BSR: Overall, I look forward to building on the strong legacy of the narrators before me—to continue to make the Narrator Residency program more interactive with a continued focus on storytelling and capturing the essence and spirit of the Pfister and its guests. And to do it with events and programming that continus to foster a deeper connection and not only give guests the opportunity to share their story with me but to learn more about my culture —to create and build a passageway between us and a new culture that they will want to come back to and never forget.