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In unusual pairing, Concord law firm Orr & Reno makes room for local painter

Melissa Miller is an artist in residence at Orr and Reno in Concord.
(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

Melissa Miller is an artist in residence at Orr and Reno in Concord. (JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

It’s a space any visual artist can appreciate: quiet, high ceiling, vast unadorned walls, windows that give way to a flood of natural indirect light. The studio equivalent of a blank canvas. And for Melissa Miller, a Concord-based painter, the location, overlooking downtown in the city she calls home, could not have been more ideal.

But there was a catch. Or so it seemed late last year as she wandered around an unfinished third-floor corner at 45 S. Main St. during an open house tour of the new law office of Orr & Reno.

“When I saw the space it was night, but I immediately thought, ‘Wow, this would be a great place to do large paintings,’ ” Miller said. So she mentioned as much to a higher-up at the firm. “You know, jokingly,” she said. “Seriously I thought it would be, but I was joking when I said it.”

Peter Burger, president of Orr & Reno, was more than amused. Not only did he and other executives lack an immediate use for the space – which is walled on three sides and accessible from an open loft area – but they also had factored people just like Miller into their decision to relocate from Eagle Square.

“We just felt like it was a perfect fit from the perspective of combining what our object was, which was to be involved in the redevelopment of a district in Concord promoted by the arts, paired together with a Concord artist,” Burger said.

And so, one of the more unusual of professional pairings – illustration and litigation – was born.

Miller, who moved into the space last month and will begin working there today, was perhaps a clear choice for the opening, and not just because of her personal ties to Concord. Much of her work centers on scenes downtown and in the surrounding area – rooftops in a winter sunset, a commercial building under a cloud-dense sky. And given the expansive view from her new space – it stretches from the Market Basket on Storrs Street to the food co-op on South Main – Miller intends to anchor at least some of her forthcoming material on the immediate surroundings.

“Concord to me is very interesting spatially,” she said. “Such a great combination of downtown city buildings and houses.”

For this de facto artist-in-residency to work, there would of course need to be some ground rules. For one, for reasons of client confidentiality, Miller is allowed in the building only during office hours. And should Orr & Reno ever need to expand or otherwise occupy her space, she will need to make way.

But beyond that, the framework is pretty loose, Burger said. There is no rent, no predetermined end date, no quota on the amount of work Miller must produce or pact by which she must produce it for the firm (though Burger said he may be interested in acquiring a few pieces; the firm already owns two).

For Miller, who lives only a few blocks from the office and typically paints from home, the setup is a dream.

“I’ve been wanting to do larger work for a while,” she said. “I would start to but it would always look huge at home.”

It also came at the right time financially, Miller said. Until recently she relied on freelance design work to supplement a bulk of her income. Since that dried up a year ago, the sales from her artwork have had to fill the void. Being given the space, time and motivation to create new pieces will undoubtedly boost productivity, she said.

There will be some adjusting, however. Miller, who has been painting professionally for 20 years, said she typically works at least partly at night, and often to the rhythm of music. But she said the time component may end up working in her favor.

“Then when I go home, I’m home,” she said. “Now it’s like, I’m here, this is what I’m doing.”

Both Miller and Burger noted that the setup is not simply for her benefit. Attorneys and other staff at the firm will at times have access to Miller as she works. She said she has considered setting aside a block of hours one day each week when they can come ask questions and watch her work.

“That way people who might feel concerned about bothering me can stop by,” she said.

Though the firm has no immediate plans to establish a lasting residency program in which artists would routinely cycle through the space, Burger said he and others there are for now thrilled to share what they have with Miller.

“We’re looking forward to seeing her more often,” he said.

(Jeremy Blackman can be reached at 369-3319, or on Twitter @JBlackmanCM.)

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