Welcome to the World of Burning Man Jewelry

When we think about the art of Burning Man, we think BIG, as in large-scale installations, which we enjoy for a week, then remember with the help of photographs and videos. There is another art form on the playa which doesn’t disappear post-event, but lives on, carried around the world by Burners who received gifts of jewelry. Twenty one years of playa jewelry is documented in a new book:

The Jewelry of Burning Man


Karen Christians, Author
Christine Kristen aka LadyBee, Editor, Curator, Historian
George Post, Photographer
Printed by Global Interprint, Santa Rosa

Facebook page, Jewelry of Burning Man


IMG_4084This glossy 9 X 12 hard cover volume, 192 pages, features 300 full color photographs exploring a collection of over 1000 works of Burning Man jewelry. Our book includes an introduction by Thomas Mann, well-known jeweler from New Orleans; a chapter on Karen’s camp, Oasis 47 and the jewelry classes she teaches there;  a chapter on materials and process; photos of LadyBee’s 20 year collection of playa jewelry; and a Maker section in which 52 makers tell us why they make and gift jewelry on the playa and show us their work. We knew our book would be an extensive document of this phenomenon, but it’s also a very good exploration of Gifting. After reading the makers’ stories one has a really good sense of our gift economy and why it’s so powerful.


I met Karen, the founder of the jewelry school Metalwerx in Boston, in 2009, when I saw the listing for her jewelry workshop at Oasis 47 in the What Where When guide. As a jeweler I was very interested in her offering, and I attended a class. Participants were given one of Sumner Silverman’s theme-based cast bronze pendants, and taught how to fill their sectioned backs with colored resin. After buffing them, we each left with a beautiful pendant. Karen’s friend Sumner, a self-taught wax carver and goldsmith, has been designing and carving these pendants since 2006, the first year these classes were offered. They are a lovely chronology of Burning Man themes; all are featured in our book. As of 2015, Karen and Sumner have taught hundreds of students and have gifted over 3000 pendants on the playa.   IMG_4073 (1)

A few years later, when Karen became aware of my extensive collection of playa jewelry, she approached me about creating a book, and our project began. George Post had published his own book of Burning Man photographs, Dancing with the Playa Messiah; as a professional craft photographer, he was Karen’s first choice to photograph the jewelry, and joined us in what would become a two-year adventure online and on both coasts. IMG_4092

We worked with many jewelers already known to us, and also put out a call for jewelry on Karen’s website, discovering other makers that way. We spent many hours in George’s East Bay studio, photographing 20 years of playa jewelry. Karen flew in from Boston several times to work with us, and she created a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for printing. George and I went to Boston for the public launch of the campaign, and we were treated to a weekend at Sumner Silverman’s house on Martha’s Vineyard. We’ve met many wonderful makers, whose stories are told in our book. I asked each maker why they make and gift jewelry on the playa and how this experience has affected them; their stories are moving and sometimes surprising.

IMG_4088At Burning Man 2014, we organized a Maker Reception at my camp, the Mansonian Institute, which proved to be a very popular gathering for many of the makers in our book. Everyone got to show off their jewelry, much gifting took place, and many friendships were born. You can view Debbie Wolff’s photos of the event here. By popular demand, we held a second reception at Karen and Sumners’ camp, Oasis 47, in 2015. At the second reception we were able to present the makers with copies of our book, published in the spring. George Post’s photos: (on Facebook, on Dropbox)


Working on the book has been a rich experience, and we’re extremely pleased with the result. There’s a world of playa jewelry out there, and each year this world gets bigger. I collected more jewelry than ever this year, and we’re hoping to produce a second volume of our book in a few years.


We are grateful to all of the makers in our community; thanks ever so much for your creativity and generosity. Please enjoy our book.

The Art of Burning Man Now in Libraries Around the World


Burning Man – Art on Fire

by Jennifer Raiser with Sidney Erthal and Scott London
Race Point Publishing

Art of Burning Man

by NK Guy


IMG_3315Hallelujah! At long last, the art has made it into print and into world consciousness via two extremely well done books which will be viewed worldwide.

Art on Fire came out last year in the U.S., and Art of Burning Man, published by Taschen, has just been printed in Italy for their global  market, in English; French and German inserts are available for those markets. For the non-Burner, both books give a clear sense of both the art itself and of one’s experience of the art in its unique interactive state of being on the playa. (more…)

Ladies and Gents, Step Right Up to the Midway!

credit: Vladimir Herrera
credit: Vladimir Herrera

This year, the Man will be surrounded by an interactive Carnival Midway, featuring booths created and staffed by 32 Regional groups and artists from the US as well as Taiwan, China, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Canada, Argentina, Czech Republic, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Japan and Russia. There will also be two performance stages and other carnivalesque art installations, completing this hyper-immersive center of burner-style Carny madness.

What to expect? Games of chance, cabinets of wonder, costumed characters, sleight of hand, lion tamers, showgirls, showboys, jesters, bearded ladies, bizarre creatures, mad professors, mysticism and of course, clowns! Enter at your own risk!! And be prepared for soul-baring, self-reflection, silliness and schtick.

Since 2011, we have engaged our Regionals at the center of the event. Over a three year period, in our Circle of Regional Effigies (CORE) Project, fifty Regional groups produced over seventy installations, placed around the Man. Each of the Regional groups involved worked intensely to create sculptures representing their regions, which were enjoyed by our greater community and burned. Last year we increased the Regional presence by engaging willing groups in the creation of the Souk, an interactive marketplace surrounding the Man, who stood on the ground, surrounded by an energetic round-the-clock pageant of interactivity and social engagement. The greater Burner community was able to engage directly with our Regional groups, as well as witness their creations.

This year we invite you to immerse yourselves in another collaborative environment, full of possibilities for creative self-expression and engagement with our Regionals. Identify your inner Carny, create your character and be part of this rich global stew.

Photo by Franco Folini, original art by Nina Kempf

Placing Art in Black Rock City

[Christine Kristen (aka Ladybee) was Burning Man’s art curator from 1999 to 2008, where she dealt with all things visual and aesthetic, including managing the art and the art grant program, photo-editing the Image Gallery, writing art content for the Burning Man website, working with the ARTery, managing the archives, and lecturing and writing about the art of Burning Man. She has a MFA in sculpture from the Art Institute of Chicago. This post is part of the Metropol Blog Series.]

Authorities are Baffled, by Vince Koloski
Authorities are Baffled, by Vince Koloski, 1993

Integrating hundreds of art installations into the layout of Black Rock City is a challenging task which has evolved over the years from very little management back in the mid-90’s, when art was scarce, to a complex system that accommodates all art installations on the open playa, installations with flame effects in theme camps, and art placed in the city infrastructure, including the Keyhole; the airport; the 3:00, 4:30, 7:30 and 9:00 plazas; the Man base; and the Center Camp Café.

The Bone Tree, by Dana Albany, 1999
The Bone Tree, by Dana Albany, 1999

In 1999, our theme was “The Wheel of Time,” and for the first time ever, the newly-formed Art Department decided to map the art in a theme-based pattern. We created a map that represented a clock face, with the Man at the center, and twelve major installations mapped at the hour locations just off the Esplanade. On Friday night we staged a series of performances, starting at 6 PM, at the 6:00 position. Dana Albany’s Bone Tree led participants around the clock face, where a performance awaited them every hour, on the hour. Of course by about 3AM it was freezing, and the weather put an end to our grand cavalcade of performances. We did learn, however, that arranging the art installations in some sort of logical pattern added theatrical significance and prominence to the art. In 2000, the art was mapped in the shape of a gigantic human body with the Man as its navel, to reinforce the Body theme. Russell Wilcox’s laser installation illuminated this body, although perceiving it from the ground was a bit abstract- aerially it would have looked like a large stick figure in laser beams.