Rumpelstiltskin turned up at The Pfister demanding that Timothy
Westbrook, the hotel’s new artist-in-residence, spin straw into
gold, the young fiber artist wouldn’t even flinch. He’d just start
arrived at the storied hotel in April, fresh out of Syracuse
University. He has been weaving, sewing and constructing visually
arresting costumes from bits and pieces of inspiration ever since.
aesthetic was sparked by turn-of-the-century fashions in the movie
"Titanic." His methods, he says, are straight out of the
Disney classic "Cinderella" — the scene where cheerful
mice cobble together an elegant ball gown from scraps, odds and ends.
Westbrook does, too. He integrates strips of a white plastic garbage
bag into fabric for a wedding gown, and it gleams. For another
project, yards of audiocassette tape are pulled taut across Westbrook’s
loom, ready to be woven with woolen yarn into a length of cloth that
of the cassette tape gets me every time," he says.
So does the
story. Westbrook’s grandfather, who is legally blind, listens to
audio books. When he’s finished listening, Westbrook gets the tapes
to play with in his work. He likes the idea that an audio book is the
translation of something visual to something auditory; and, with his
art, he takes the tape back to something visual.
Syracuse, Westbrook created the costumes for an entirely
student-produced staging of Mozart’s romantic opera, "The Magic
Flute." A gown for one of its characters, "Queen of the
Night," is on display in his Pfister studio. Westbrook
deconstructs it: the spidery stand-up collar is an old pineapple
crochet doily and used millinery wire; the cape is made from a sheer
orange curtain dyed black; and the skirt is an amalgam of a discarded
prom dress, dyed bed sheet and silk. The bodice seems to be conjured
up from a constellation of shy stars, with sequins glimmering behind
Pfister, with the largest collection of Victorian art of any hotel in
the world, may be the perfect backdrop for Westbrook’s edgy ideas.
"About 25 percent of the staff here are practicing artists,"
family has always supported his artistic ambitions. From his sophomore
to senior years in high school, Westbrook and his mother lived apart
from his father so that he could attend classes in a school that
encouraged his talent.
The gold letters
on the sign above his door read, "The Westbrook Studio."
"I like to
look at that as the Westbrook family," he says, honoring their
contributions to his success. "When my family comes in, it’s
He will be
practicing his synthesis of fine art, fashion design and performance
art at The Pfister until March. In the meantime, Westbrook says,
Milwaukee reminds him of his hometown of Wanakena, N.Y. "And I
love how art-centric Milwaukee is," he says. The entire
experience, he says, "is all very magical."
Westbrook is one of several fashion designers (including popular
"Project Runway" alum Ra’mon Lawrence) showing their
wares at RunUp 2012: The Roaring ’20s on Friday, Oct. 5, at
The Historic Pritzlaff in downtown Milwaukee. Proceeds benefit
the Cancer TRU at Froedtert & The Medical College of
Wisconsin. Learn more at www.facebook.com/RunUp2012.
Or, buy tickets at http://runup2012.eventbrite.com/