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Monday, July 16, 2012

Westbrook Creates Fiber Art at Pfister Hotel

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The Pfister Hotel's latest artist in residence, Timothy Westbrook, hails from upstate New York. In May 2011, Westbrook graduated from Syracuse University, where he majored in fiber arts and material studies because, he says, fiber is the foundation of everything. His innovative gowns, constructed from contemporary materials, hang on plastic models in the Pfister's first-floor studio where he weaves on his loom. Stop by to donate clothing or fabric and admire gowns constructed from squirt-gun-dyed hotel bedsheets.

What's the focus of your fiber project as the Pfister artist in residence?

I'm looking at the philosophy of Art Nouveau at the turn of the century—their rebellion in the rise of the Industrial Revolution. And then I'm focusing on rebellion in the rise of the Technological Revolution—specifically, through performance, costume and installation art. Costumes can be functional, and worn, or they can also be sculptural installations, or used in or as a performance.

Are you creating costumes from a specific era?

For the Pfister, I'm making Victorian ball gowns, and I've never had that opportunity before. The project's titled “The Femme Nouvelle,” or pre-suffragette characters that I'm creating from Pfister history. The first costume was dated 1902, when France funded and mandated that women go to college. I created a cycling outfit, where women would strap their gowns between their skirts into their belts so they could ride their new bicycles. The person who wore this costume rode a bike around the block of the hotel. That's part of the performance art.

What equipment do you use to make the Victorian gowns?

A boutique-style sewing machine, a higher-end version of a Singer, stamped United States and dated somewhere between 1885-1895. The [fashion industry] standard for sewing machines is they only go forward and backward. Everything else is hand-sewn. I weave the material on the loom using cassette tape and then add scraps of recycled objects or vintage material [to the garments]. The silver tops of the Pfister hotel pens—when sewn with a bead onto fabric—resemble studs that I'll use on one costume. I'm constantly looking for how to reuse objects and donations of recycled clothing or materials.

What's your biggest project to date?

This costume from Mozart's Magic Flute opera [he points to a black gown with a spidery, wing-like collar]—it's the Queen of the Night costume that I'm very attached to. For my senior thesis, I created 18 full costumes for the leads, two priests, and one dragon costume. I worked with someone who directed and produced the Syracuse student opera production for her senior thesis. It was a great collaboration. And that's why I work 10-14 hours a day in the studio here, to create another great collection of costumes.

Westbrook sells found-object earrings, scarves woven with cassette tape and vintage spray-painted shoes from his studio at the Pfister Hotel.