About six months ago, Liza and I were lucky enough to score some time with Michael Burcham, CEO of the Nashville Entrepreneur Center. In case you haven’t been keeping up with business news lately, Michael took the reins of the Center nine months ago and turned it into a new business factory, meeting with people who have good ideas and helping them see how to turn those ideas into real businesses.
As we zoomed downtown in our vans retrofitted for three kids, we were giddy to share our concept of the blog and our goals for the future. We came away from our meeting with Michael not only feeling validated that we were on the right track, but with some incredible ideas to gnaw on. (In fact, our weekly Faces profile was inspired by this meeting.) Our session with Michael gave us a glimpse of the energy and passion he brings to his job.
Toward the end of the meeting, our conversation turned to personal passions, and we started talking about his art collection. We were surprised that this dynamic business mind loved collecting religious icons.
Having attended Catholic schools for 14 years and serving as the self-appointed teacher’s pet of numerous nuns, I know a little about statues and icons. To this day, I feel a sense of soberness and tranquility when I walk into churches adorned with statues of saints, grottos and intense murals–the more garish the better.
But what intrigues me most about collections, I have to say, is the collector and the personal reasons that drive their interests. Driving up to his dramatic, yet welcoming house set in the rolling hills of Williamson County, I couldn’t help but wonder what inspired Michael’s interest in religious art. The answer, I discovered, is rooted in his childhood. And his vast collection vividly demonstrates what happens when great passions are followed by great pursuits:
Michael grew up in Booneville, Mississippi. His father was a Baptist minister and his mother a devout member of the Church of Christ, and in 1960’s Booneville, those were profoundly different denominations. When Michael was very young, his mother left and his parents separated. Reverend Burcham gained custody of Michael and his brother, a move that was not only scandalous, but also highly unusual for that day. The episode challenged religious, cultural and family values in the community in ways that were reminiscent of the story in To Kill A Mockingbird, and the trial that ensued rocked both the town and the Burcham family.
Through many trials and tribulations in his own life, Michael realized how much courage it took for his Dad endure all that he did. “Coming to terms with that experience and my life with my father has been, in many ways, my life’s work,” he says. “Among other things, it has given me a strong personal sense of the role religion plays in people’s lives, and from the first time I saw these iconic images I was captivated by their spiritual essence.”
For all of his entrepreneurial firepower, the mysterious connection between Michael Burcham and his art may be the most fascinating thing about the man.
A huge thank you to Ashley Hylbert for her contribution to this post. For more information about Ashley Hylbert’s photography, go to www.ashleyhylbert.com