'Staying curious': Pfister Hotel's Artist in Residence makes quilting into fine art

’Staying curious’: Pfister Hotel’s Artist in Residence makes quilting into fine art

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) – Quilting is a beloved past-time shared between generations, and an American tradition.

A Milwaukee artist has turned quilting into a form of fine art, and you can see her work at one of the city's most famous locations.

On the main floor of the historic Pfister hotel sits a bright blue studio, draped in color.


Heidi was chosen as the hotel's artist in residence in December and moved into the studio in January.

"I had been a finalist three times previously, in 2015, 17, and 18," Parkes said. "I just tried to let that dream back into my heart after having sort of sealed it up for a while."

Her unique style stands out boldly from the hotel hall.

"Initially, I kept asking myself this question of, what does a Heidi Parkes quilt look like," she said.

Art has always been a staple in Heidi's life.

"Pre-kindergarten I was excited about art. I have vivid memories of making things and crafting," Parkes said. "I did a report in 5th grade about how I wanted to be an art teacher when I grew up, and I made that dream happen. I was a high school art teacher for nine years."

In 2015, she moved to Milwaukee, cementing herself as a full-time artist with shows across the city.

"That personal freedom has been amazing for me to get to choose what I want to do, and has only grown in time, Parkes explained.

Most of Heidi's pieces are what she calls "Diary Quilts."

"It's a tool that I use to understand the current moment, to hopefully bring out my best self, to allow me to let go of things," Parkes said. "I think for me it feels exciting to tell my story in my quilts."

The imagery is broad in her embroidery: meaningful words, body parts, even furniture from her studio.

"It adds that extra level of self-inquiry and reflection, and thinking about, what do you want enough to sew it on a quilt," Parkes explained.

Her art teacher background hasn't faded; Heidi teaches quilting classes online, often from her studio.

"Allowing students of mine to learn about quilting, but then also getting to learn about dreaming big and telling their story, and noticing the little things and how important those are, that is something I love that thrills me," she said.

She calls quilting meditative, relaxing, and empowering.

"A lot of the quilts that I make take 200 hours to make, and so staying curious is a very important part of how I get the work done," Parkes said.

The Pfister is known for hosting VIPs, but Heidi says her favorite interactions are with everyday people.

"There was just a really special little girl who was about seven years old down from green bay with her family, and she was just hypnotized by me sewing and making things," Parkes recalled. "I get to see my little self who was so excited about art and curious."

With nine months left to make her mark inside the hotel walls, Heidi Parkes won't take a single moment for granted.

"It's always on my mind that it's just one really special treasured year that I get to be here, and I think I'll probably blink and it'll be over, and I want to soak up meeting as many people as I can," Parkes said.

Share this article: