Employee spotlight: Taresa Burleigh
Taresa Burleigh, grain administrative assistant in Havre, Mont., poses with some of her artwork.
By Amy Sitze
For years, Taresa Burleigh drove past the CHS Big Sky grain elevator in Havre, Mont., when visiting the town to shop or visit friends and family.
"I always thought, ‘Someday I’d love to work there,’” says Burleigh, who started her role as a grain administrative assistant for the procurement office in Havre in 2020. “I never expected that I’d actually get a job here. It’s definitely a dream come true.”
Burleigh’s roots run deep in the region. She grew up on a ranch her grandparents purchased near Lewistown, Mont., on Big Spring Creek, a popular fly-fishing destination. Her family sold their previous ranch on Holter Lake after the famous Mann Gulch fire burned parts of their land in 1949. She spent a lot of time outdoors as a child, she says, learning about the plants, animals and geology of the region.
Those early experiences shaped Burleigh’s desire to work in agriculture. “It’s a rugged lifestyle and it’s not easy work,” she says. “Working at CHS, I’m always reminded of where I came from and how to take pride in that family legacy.”
Outside of work, she’s always been interested in art, going back to childhood days when her mother took art courses at Montana State University and brought Burleigh to class with her. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, painting and drawing helped Burleigh cope with the fear and anxiety, she says.
“I felt lost. I needed an outlet to be able to stabilize myself,” she says. “Art became therapy.”
Her artwork explores the people and scenes of Montana life: wildflowers, classic farm tractors, meandering streams, and ranchers wearing overalls and cowboy hats.
Her father and mother both fought to protect the natural lands and resources surrounding their family ranches from mining and development. Her art, she says, honors the land they nurtured and preserved – and helps her connect to the next generation.
“There’s flowers that I used to pick that I no longer see, and springs that ran out of the hillside that are no longer there,” she says. “I can share memories like that with my nieces and nephews by putting them into a piece of artwork.”
Burleigh uses a combination of technology and traditional paint on canvas to create her art, which she sells and also shares with friends and coworkers. She says she’s constantly learning new techniques and mastering new apps for her phone and iPad. “If I find something that’s difficult for me to do, that’s the thing I want to work on and try to improve,” she says.
She was heartened to receive an outpouring of support and encouragement from fellow CHS employees — most of whom she’s never met— when she posted her ag-themed artwork on the company’s internal social network. It’s one more reason, she says, that her job at CHS feels like a dream come true.
Check out samples of Burleigh’s art and her comments about what inspired each one:
2021 Mixed media: digital, acrylic and marker.
"In the CHS Big Sky office in Havre, Mont., we have an old Emerson dockage tester. I decided to put flowers in front of the tester and took several photos with the Bears Paw Mountains in the background. I was just learning how to play around with Adobe Sketch, where I could draw the tester and subtle details around it. I made the finishing touches after printing out the sketch work on canvas."
This enhanced photo of a grain car waiting to be filled, which was created in 2021 and is currently displayed in the Havre grain office, won a blue ribbon at the Blaine County (Mont.) Fair in August 2023.
"My mom often took me to art museums in the early 1980s. On our drive to Bozeman from Lewistown, I noticed the graffiti on the train cars and pointed out to Mom that it looked like a moving art museum."
This enhanced photo of the Havre grain elevator hangs in the Havre office.
"I worked on this through several Adobe creative apps to get a more artistic view. This was taken in the height of our 2021 snow season. As you can see, it was a drought year."
Nature's Bouquet, created in acrylic in 2021, won a blue ribbon at the Blaine County Fair in August 2023.
"I had started a series of paintings where I poured acrylic paint onto one canvas and pressed multiple canvases against it so that each canvas took on its own impression. From there, I started working on this painting without any form or idea in mind. Once I started to see something take shape, I did my best to bring it out a little further. The top right reminds me of the back side of a prairie crocus, which is my favorite flower. My father and I would race each spring to find the first bloom. The lower left reminds me of a shooting star, my mom’s favorite flower. There are strawberries from remembering grandpa’s small garden and raspberries that grew wild in the pine forest behind the ranch house. There is also a fish, snail shell, bee, snake, butterfly, robin egg, peacock feather that turns into a fishhook and lavender stems."
Lance Johnson’s Farmall tractor, created in 2020 for his birthday.
"Lance is our grain operations manager who keeps our patrons happy and coming back each year. His office is decorated with toy tractors of various makes and models. I cut and layered matting board scraps from the local craft store on top of one another. The acrylic paint soaks in and spreads but ultimately gives a unique flavor to an old tractor rolling down a grassy hill. I especially like how the exhaust turned out."