Photos by Hillary Ehlen
Ecce Behind Closed Doors is a series that demonstrates how anyone can purchase local art regardless of space and budget. This month, we visited with Melissa Burkland and Grant Syverson who have seamlessly integrated local and regional artwork into their 1898 home. Join us as we paint a picture of the story behind each piece they have been drawn to over the years.
Meet Melissa & Grant
Melissa is a Fargo native, and Grant is originally from Jamestown. The two met through a mutual friend while at UND. A few years later, the couple relocated to Wisconsin for work where they enjoyed living in Milwaukee and Madison. In 2017, Melissa and Grant moved back to Fargo. Today, they have settled into the historic Hawthorne Neighborhood with son Isaac (8), daughter Lauren (6) and their sweet rescue dogs, Charlotte and Atticus.
Also in the foyer, you will see a family portrait by Micah Player, an illustrator who lives in Utah.
How They Got Into Art
Although neither Melissa nor Grant has a background in art, they both appreciate and try to support local art. “I’ve always loved art,” Melissa said. “We don’t have any background in art. Neither of us has a degree in it. We just really enjoy it and tend to plan our travel around visiting different art museums,” she revealed. For Grant, his love of art began to show itself in Milwaukee. “When we lived in Milwaukee, we lived across the street from the Milwaukee Art Museum. For me, that’s probably where I first started getting into art,” he shared. The Milwaukee Art Museum is an architectural landmark off of the shore of Lake Michigan that houses nearly 25,000 pieces of art.
When you walk into Melissa and Grant’s foyer, you are greeted by an energetic painting by Andrew Stark. “It’s such a bright and cheerful welcome into our house,” Melissa said. This is one of the pieces the couple found through ecce gallery.
Art As A Way Of Feeling Connected To The Community
Melissa and Grant were excited when they learned that Melissa’s childhood friend, Mark Weiler, had opened ecce gallery. “I grew up with Mark Weiler, so I was really excited when he opened his own gallery,” Melissa said. They started visiting the gallery just for fun and were drawn to the work of Andrew Stark. “Andrew Stark’s mother was one of my favorite teachers in high school. I didn’t know him, but she was really special to me. It was neat to have something I felt like I had a connection to. Even in Wisconsin, we tried to get things from local artists just because there’s something meaningful about having art that was created in your community.”
“It was neat to have something I felt like I had a connection to.” – Melissa Burkland
At the top of the staircase in the foyer is a painting by Walter Piehl. “I remember seeing it, loving it and not being able to stop thinking about it, so I knew I really wanted it,” Melissa shared. Luckily, she and Grant have similar taste in art. “Wade Square Skirt” was also one of their finds from ecce gallery.
Directly across from their Walter Piehl is Grant and Melissa’s newest piece. It was made by Eric A. Johnson during his artist residency at West Acres. “Grant and I saw this separately and both used the same word to describe it: happy,” Melissa divulged. The couple faced some challenges as they installed it above their staircase themselves. To anyone in a similar situation, they would recommend reaching out to a professional for help.
This piece was shown at Jessica Wachter’s #nowords solo exhibition at The Capital Gallery in Bismarck last year. “Jessica was another artist I had loved for a long time, and I was excited to see this piece. It’s on linen, not canvas, which I think makes a really neat background, and I love the color, movement and brightness of it,” Melissa said.
Melissa and Grant have been longtime admirers of Warren Kessler’s artwork and were thrilled that he was having a show at the new ecce space last May. “We loved everything in the show, but ‘Space Adventures’ stopped us in our tracks. When you see it in person, you have a greater appreciation for just how technically talented he is; I love to tell people that it’s not framed. He actually painted the wood that makes it look like a frame,” Melissa said. Grant has been a fan of Space Ghost ever since he was a kid, so the couple just knew they had to add this painting to their collection.
This piece by Andrew Stark actually weighs more than any of the larger pieces they’ve acquired. “This little guy has so much paint on it that when we got it, it wasn’t even officially dry yet, but l love the color and the texture on it,” Melissa said.
“Reminiscence” was one of the first larger pieces that Melissa and Grant ever bought. They were surprised when they brought it home because it looked much larger in their dining room than when they saw it on display at the gallery
The couple found this print at the 2018 Unglued Craft Fest, which was held at the Plains Art Museum.
“Mother Earth” was the very first piece that Melissa and Grant bought from Mark Weiler at ecce gallery. “Big Sky” is also one of their purchases from ecce gallery. Melissa enjoys listening to Isaac and Lauren’s interpretations of this piece, which is on display above their velvet sofa. Melissa and Grant also have a few CSA pieces in their living room.
CSA, or Community Supported Art, is a program organized by the Arts Partnership. Melissa and Grant found out about it through the second installment of “Ecce: Behind Closed Doors,” which was published in our February 2018 issue. When describing the experience for us, Grant said: “It is a combination of a musician, a chef from town and a local artist.” According to The Arts Partnership, the program has 50 shares available per season, and one share provides access to three parties per year. At each party, you and a guest enjoy local cuisine, view an area performance and have the option to take home a piece of visual art made by a local artist. “We love being a part of this and tell everyone they should become shareholders. All of what we’ve experienced has been a mind-blowing treat,” Melissa explained. CSA pieces they have acquired so far include an encaustic work by Dennis Krull and two little houses by Nicole Gagner painted to represent the North Dakota sky on different days.
Melissa and Grant also got this piece by Jesse Suppa at the 2018 Plains Art Museum Spring Gala.
For the most part, Grant and Melissa have very little art on their second floor. They are very intentional with hanging things, so it can take them years to make decisions. “We have a lot of stuff stashed in our basement but no imminent plans to hang anything,” Melissa shared. The only exception is “Together,” a smaller Andrew Stark painting that the two have hanging in a corner of their bedroom.
Along with a piece called “Learning the Backstroke” by Chris Bruno (not pictured), these four pieces out of a set of 100 were from the Milwaukee Lakefront Festival of the Arts. “We have dear friends who have other pieces from the 100, and I love that we both have sets from the whole,” Melissa said.
Along with the works of local and regional artists, Melissa and Grant love to display Isaac and Lauren’s artwork in their home. “They’re our favorite artists. We have their work on display everywhere,” Grant said with a smile. This corner of their kitchen features frames double as storage. “These are great because you can switch out the pictures and keep the archive in the back,” Melissa explained. Melissa and Grant are a wonderful example of how to get involved in the community through local art. Not only does the artwork that they have purchased over the years look great in their space, but each each piece really does resonate with the homeowners on a personal level. We believe that your space should be a reflection of your personality, and this couple has created a beautiful home and an art collection that does just that.
208 Roberts Alley, Fargo