Pfister hotel chronicles the history of everyday visitors


It's a veritable institution and has seen all the happenings in the city of Milwaukee for 125 years. The Pfister hotel was billed as the "Grand Hotel of the West". It was the most lavish hotel of it's time, designed with innovations like fireproofing, electricity through out the hotel and even individual thermostat controls in every room, in 1893!

With such a jewel in our midst, that history is sure to be collected somewhere.  Well it is... sort of.

Margaret Muza and Nicole Mattke are the Artist and Narrator in Residence at the Pfister and these ladies have had the honor of their positions for the last year. Their tenure is just about up.  But I was able to sit down and find out a little bit more about what they did this year.

It's more than just the history of Milwaukee, it's the history of people and getting their stories told.

As the Narrator in Residence, Nicole Mattke, a writer, handles the process of collecting random people's story. 

"I would just come sit here and we would just hope that someone random would walk in that hour I was here.  And usually they would.  Margaret would take their portrait and I would write up an accompanying story." Mattke explains.

The stories she collected can be read on the Pfister's blog and tell histories of people ranging from blushing brides to the very chandeliers dotting the lobby's ceiling and the hotel's staff charged with cleaning them. 

And Margaret Muza, a photographer and the Artist in residence, took care of the visual side of people's history through a special type of photography. 

"I use a process called the 'wet plate process' which came before film was invented and so these are tin types and ambro types, common that you would have seen during the Civil War, so the mid to late 1800's." says Muza.  

The walls are covered with her sepia and black and white toned photographs, each portrait is of someone not famous, but compelling none the less.  She uses large format cameras, antiques from the late 1800's to get an eerie yet beautiful effect.  She has to develop the photo right away and one at a time, but this process makes each photo that much more precious.

The two work together to compile a complete snapshot of history,  yours and mine.  Which is just as important as that of the big names.

Muza explains, "It is just everyday people that are really the most interesting.  That is the type of folks that are photographed on my wall, and that is the type of person Nicole writes about.  And that is so exciting.  So for us to get to put both of our skills together in that way was really cool."

"Another neat part of it was just getting the randomness of whoever came... just kind of getting the scope of who's here, who's in and out of the hotel and the stories that they bring with them, you just see the breadth of people and how beautiful their stories are when they really are totally unrelated." Mattke says. 

And how did the people react to what they were doing?

Mattke explains, "What I really drew from what they were saying was that they felt honored by the whole process. That them just wandering in here was important to us, and that Margaret would create art of them that was so beautiful that they weren't expecting, and that I would care about their life.  I think people need to feel that from each other; not even just from artists, but that we need to feel that we really value each other.  We just happen to have a way we created to be able to do that.  But it's important over all, I think."

Every day, history is being made in this city, sure, by the big names, but don't forget also by the "regular Joe".  And this year's Artist and Narrator in residence at the Pfister are here to make sure folks always remember.

This year's Artist in Residence has already been selected.  Think you have what it takes to be the Narrator in Residence at the Pfister Hotel?  Applications are being accepted through Friday, March 30th. More details on the Pfister Hotel website.

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