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Niki Johnson

“The intimate setting appealed to me, and I suppose that’s what started it all,” recalled sculpture faculty member Niki Johnson.

The ‘it’ Johnson refers to is being named the Pfister Hotel’s next Artist in Residence – a prestigious post in the Milwaukee art community that has been recognized locally, nationally and internationally.

“When I moved to Milwaukee a year and a half ago, Timothy Westbrook was the Pfister Artist in Residence, and he was weaving Victorian dresses out of discarded materials. I thought they were beautiful, and really enjoyed the way the general public was encouraged to engage with him while he was working in the Pfister artist’s studio.”

Inspired by the studio space, Johnson submitted a proposal to become the sixth Pfister Artist in Residence, April 1, 2014 – March 31, 2015.

During her residency, Johnson will sculpt six child-sized bathtubs out of oil clay, and cast them in porcelain. “Each bathtub will depict heroines from fairytales by the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Anderson,” said Johnson.

Niki bathtub series

“Along with the bathtubs, I will create a series of corresponding limited edition commemorative plates,” she added. The plates and the bathtubs “will depict the stories of Snow White, Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, The Princess and the Pea, Rapunzel and Thumbelina.

“Visitors to the studio will watch me build and shape elements for the bathtubs, such as braiding yards of hair for the Rapunzel tub, dying feathers for Snow White and working with taxidermy wolf skins for Little Red Riding Hood.”

Though she will mold, cast and fire each porcelain tub in her home studio, she will document the processes with photos to be displayed on a television inside the Pfister Artist’s Studio “to provide guests with a holistic experience of my process.”

Johnson looks forward to the environment of the hotel and added it will “definitely be a generative force within my body of work. I will be looking to the ornamentation and Victorian art collection within the Pfister, as well as to the collection at the Chipstone Foundation for inspiration for the design of each object.”

While the residency process has been a whirlwind, Johnson added, “It was wonderful meeting so many people along the way. Stephanie Barenz, the current Artist in Residence, and Molly Snyder, the Pfister Narrator, were incredibly supportive and helpful.”

Johnson praised the additional Pfister finalists, Brandon Minga (2004 alum), Jeff Redmon, Richard Dorbin, Stacey Williams-Ng and Dena Nord, and said, “It was an absolute pleasure getting to know each of them. I am looking forward to working with all of them in the future.”

Thinking of this thrilling experience, Johnson added, “Being able to create this body of work in a supportive environment is the best thing I can think of. You never know where each opportunity will lead to, but I have a feeling that this one is going to be filled with surprises.”

Read about the Pfister Artist in Residence Announcement in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.