Photography 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 met Ellen and Rod Shafer. Because their home sits on Historic 8th Street, the Shafer family is used to opening up their doors for tours. However, this time they weren’t answering questions about the period-appropriate wallpaper. Instead, the Shafers showed us local and regional artwork that they’ve collected over the years.
Married couple Ellen and Rod Shafer purchased their 1905 home in 2002, where they currently live with their two sons Ethan and Angus. Ellen Shafer is originally from Kindred, North Dakota, while her husband is from Roseglen, North Dakota. We were introduced to the Shafers through Mark Weiler, director of Ecce Gallery.
The Shafers’ collection includes everything from an original Walter Piehl to folk art. However, they hesitate to identify as collectors because they don’t want to give the impression that you have to be an expert to own original artwork. When selecting a new piece, the Shafers’ only criteria is that they must like it. “Art doesn’t have to be period specific to your home. Your art should be anything that inspires you,” Ellen Shafer explained. “Your art doesn’t have to match your sofa,” Rod Shafer added.
“A photograph is a literal representation of where you were, but your artwork gives a sense of what emotions you were going through at the time.”- Ellen Shafer
On the mantle, the Shafers display blown glass sculptures by Jon Offutt that they have purchased at annual FMVA studio crawls.
This corner features various works by Randy Rick, Steve Knutson, Darcy Simonson, and John Borge. The Shafers have acquired a number of pieces, including the piece by Steve Knutson through the Community Sponsored Art (CSA) program, which is organized by The Arts Partnership.
The dining room features a large winter scene by Dan Jones (left), a piece by an unknown artist (top right), and “The Commuters” by Deborah Mae Broad (bottom right).
In the piano room, the Shafers have a print by Eric Johnson (left), a piece by Deane Colin Fay (top-right), a photo by Terry Gydesen (bottom-right) and a sculpture by Guillermo Guardia. Ellen Shafer said that she is fond of the sculpture because it reminds her of her two sons.
Similar, but Different Taste
Ellen and Rod Shafer have similar taste when it comes to art. In fact, they once unknowingly bid against each other at an auction. However, Ellen Shafer is drawn toward pure abstract, while Rod Shafer sometimes prefers realism. “Our paths cross, but I gained a lot of my appreciation for art from traveling and going to museums, while Ellen’s was really cultivated out of the local art experience,” Rod explained.
This corner of the dining room includes a CSA collaboration by Kent Kapplinger and Eric Johnson (center bottom) as well as two fine art photographs by unknown artists.
In the kitchen, the Shafers feature a metal piece by Jeff Johnson.
“Art collection locally is how we, as a community, will grow. You can live anywhere, but if you truly want to have a sense of community, your art and culture lets you know who you are, gives you a sense of place, gives you an identity and that’s the same thing that art will do in your house.”- Ellen Shafer
Behind their stovetop, the Shafers commissioned a backsplash featuring pounded tin by Elizabeth Shwankl and tile from Brad Bachmeier.
Undeniably the most high-impact piece in the Shafer’s collection is a cardboard gun suspended above their staircase. This senior project by former NDSU art student, Kelly Cantrell, was originally displayed at the Plains Art Museum. Though Cantrell herself has no stance on the issue, she wanted her sculpture to be a platform for the community to start having conversations about gun control.
When the exhibition closed, Cantrell had planned to dispose of the large sculpture. “She called and said, ‘I’m moving to Omaha, and I’m going to burn it unless you want it,'” Ellen Shafer explained. The Shafers did not want to see the sculpture burn and happened to have the perfect space for it, so they came to an agreement with the artist.
Before they had it installed in their house though, they had to make sure that its hanging apparatus would be secure. “It hung out in the garage all summer,” Ellen Shafer said. After the cardboard gun sculpture passed this test, it took two people on a ladder to hang it in the stairwell. “I wouldn’t be here because I didn’t want to see them go through the glass or the railing,” Rod Shafer joked.
Also above the staircase, the Shafers have pieces by various artists including Sheila Reenders, Julia Suits and Marjorie Schlossman. They even have a few framed posters from Rod Shafer’s travels. “I went to museums and got posters, but I didn’t buy a real piece until after we got married,” Rod Shafer explained.
Next to the gun sculpture, the Shafers decided to hang a photograph by Yvonne Dennault. “Because of the heaviness of the piece, Rod had the great idea to hang Sabrina next to it to add some levity,” Ellen Shafer said.
While attending their wedding, Dan Jones sketched the couple’s wedding cake on a piece of scrap paper, which they now have framed.
In the master suite, the Shafers have four pieces by Eric Johnson that show his evolution as an artist.
Tips from Ellen and Rod
To this family, their art collection is a representation of their life. By sharing their story, the Shafers want to communicate that you don’t have to be an expert to purchase local art. You just have to know what you like and what your budget is. “It all comes down to what you like,” Ellen Shafer said. “Buy what you like. Then you’ll always be happy with your investment,” Rod Shafer added.
Ellen Shafer received this Garfield piggy bank at her bridal shower from her coworkers at the Plains Art Museum where she worked at the time. For many years, the Shafers used it to collect change, which they would then put toward a piece of art. “Rod and I decided that we would never keep change. The change would go in there and then we would put it toward a piece of art. When we first got married and money was tight, we stayed true to that for years. Now we buy it when we see it,” Ellen Shafer explained.
In the master bath, the Shafers commissioned Ann Leclerc and Sheila Sornsin to create a mosaic installation around the standing shower.