This backlit glass reception wall was created for the lobby of the Potawatomi Hotel & Casino in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Made of hand-painted glass, this 24′ w x 8′ h wall was inspired by nearby Lake Michigan. Unlike most other hospitality and gaming businesses, the Potawatomi Hotel & Casino serves a distinct greater purpose; owned and operated by the Forest County Potawatomi Community, it has provided a way for the Forest County Potawatomi to move out of poverty and improve the lives of others, preserving heritage and tradition while providing vital services.
Since 1991, the Potawatomi Hotel & Casino has expanded rapidly from a small bingo hall to one of the largest entertainment destinations in the Midwest, attracting more than 6 million visitors annually. The new 3 ½ star, 19-story tower hotel, designed by The Cuningham Group, opened in August 2014, integrating both traditional Milwaukee architecture and modern design while offering 381 rooms, a casual-dining restaurant, a lobby bar/lounge, and meeting space. In commissioning an art glass installation for the hotel’s lobby, the client wanted an iconic signature piece that would welcome guests, reference the area’s geography and culture, and reflect Potawatomi’s commitment to entertainment and innovation. We also aimed to subtly echo other contemporary design elements throughout the hotel.
This process was uniquely challenging and exciting in that it involved long-distance collaboration across several geographic locations. The client and contractor (Gilbane) are in Wisconsin, the architects are based in Minnesota, I’m in Rhode Island, and my fabrication partners (Derix Glasstudios) are based in Germany. The whole team worked closely together, but almost entirely via email, phone, and video conferencing.
I designed the work in close dialogue with the the architects based on architectural drawings of the space. We knew early on that we wanted to use painted glass tiles, which consist of glass paints fired onto (in this case) a non-reflective glass. Derix and I have worked together on many projects, so the fabricators there are very familiar with my approach and technique. I shipped samples and a mock-up to Milwaukee. Once our team had settled on a final concept, I sent renderings to Derix, which they carried out in glass and shipped to Wisconsin to be installed by a local crew. I didn’t see the physical work until it was almost done being installed! Yet, thanks to clear communication all around, it turned out exactly, if not even better, than we had anticipated.
The history of the Potawatomi tribe is rich in honor, tradition, and emotion. Tremendous suffering and loss due to the forced removal from their lands followed hundreds of years of self-sufficiency. Spirituality, perseverance, and love for all living things have enabled the Potawatomi people to survive, and in recent years, prosper. The glass installation in the lobby of the Potawatomi Hotel & Casino subtly references this journey by way of the shimmering colors of Lake Michigan. Just as the water has held strong over many generations, so has the Forest County Potawatomi Community.
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