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.

Can Burning Man Balance the “Art” and “History” in “Art History?” Should It Have To?

This is a picture of the burning of Savonarola, making him a "Burning Man!" Get it? Get it? ... I should be ashamed of myself.
This is a picture of the death of Savonarola, which made him a “Burning Man!” Get it? Get it? It’s a history joke! … I should be ashamed of myself.

Though almost all the feedback I’ve heard about Burning Man’s 2016 theme (“Da Vinci’s Workshop”) has been very positive, I also thoroughly enjoyed art history Ph.D. student Stephen Mack’s critique in the Daily Dot: “Here’s Everything Burning Man 2016 Got Wrong About the Renaissance.”

Mack brings a careful, and quite accurate, level of complexity to the topic – although I can personally verify that when he asks questions like “does Burning Man know about Savonarola?” the answer is an unambiguous yes. (In fact, in my experience it’s easier to get Larry Harvey to talk about Savonarola than it is to get him to stop talking about Savonarola. Burning Man’s Chief Philosophical Officer is somewhat obsessed by the fact that Savonarola visited Lorenzo de Medici at his deathbed – a symbolically fraught historical moment if ever there was one)

It should also be noted that, as the text itself states (at the bottom), what Burning Man has written so far is intended to be the first in a series of posts about Renaissance Florence, not the last word.  The idea is quite definitely to delve into the complex reality of the historical situation.

As well it should be.  My very strong take is that the complexities inherent in this topic – and for that matter in any topic that isn’t bland and anodyne – are a strength, not a problem: to the extent that Florence was a democracy more in name than in practice, to the extent the rich were subverting art as well as developing it, to the extent that Florence was as much a fucked up cauldron of intrigue as a shining beacon for the future … does that detract or add to its urgent relevance for our own time?

If we can’t take the topics that our community has passion for and fear about – the place of art and artists in a world dominated by money, the role of governing bodies, the capacity of people to govern themselves – and use art and self-expression and community to discuss and play and advance and heal … well then, what are we doing here?

Let’s walk towards the taboo, and make art about it. Abso-fucking-lutely.

But if I have no arguments with what Mack has brought up, I do have a question. Implicit in his article is the critique that Burning Man – an art event – was inadequately representing history. It’s a fair critique: I’ve made a similar one in the past. But what responsibility to historical fidelity do people engaged in creating an artistic endeavor have?


Burners Giving Support to Syrian Refugees

Photo courtesy of Refugees Aid BCN IndieGoGo. Source: Anon Galactic News

On a recent trip to Greece with a group of European Burners, I witnessed the Syrian refugee crisis first hand. The stories about desperate families washing ashore had been splashing across the front pages for weeks before my visit and what I saw confirmed the utter enormity of the situation. Our group saw over 1,000 campers in settlements around Kos, a small beach town on the Greece shore, close to Turkey. As I walked near the camps, I never once felt threatened, only heartbroken, as the refugees waited for their relatives to come ashore and give them the assurance that they still had a family. In the midst of the chaos, I was particularly inspired by the actions of two friends and community members who showed me solid examples of love and generosity.

At the end of our Burner gathering, before we departed Kos, Nati, our Swiss Burning Man Regional Contact, offered to take up a collection of any leftover food, toiletries, medicine, and any other useful supplies from our group to give to the relief organization in Kos. Nati had done the research before our time in Greece and knew the appropriate local organizations to engage. We managed to pull together a lot of useful items, and Nati ensured that our supplies were delivered to good hands.

Nati put together a description of the experience in her own words for us to share:

“When we all got back to Kos at the end of our trip if was time to deliver all the donations. It was great to see that there were many different organizations present at the police station where many refugees were camped. There were some makeshift showers and some porta potties, but the situation was not great. It was scary to see some abandoned rubber dingies with tire inner tubing probably used as life vests, some with toys and baby blankets still in them. What I saw was like the pictures in the news. But that wasn’t where most refugees were staying.

We gave our donations to some volunteers that would take the things away to a big storage unit where everything gets sorted for redistribution. A volunteer told us that the situation was already a lot better than a few weeks ago where people had to wait up to two weeks to be processed before leaving on the ferry to Athens. They have a daily ferry now. But, they face some organizational problems like multiple relief programs distributing the same things very shorty apart and then nothing for a long time. We talked for a while and I could help out with some translations into Farsi.

It was nice to be able to help, but if felt like a drop on the hot stone. I guess every little bit helps though and there are many other sources of help. 

I take away from this trip an even larger gratefulness for my place in the world and a greater motivation to ask the question: “Who needs help where we are right now and how can we more actively have a positive impact?”

Like Nati, I left with a lingering sense that we, the Burner community, have so many resources, talents, skills, and love to offer the world and especially those in serious need. Turns out a dear friend of mine also had similar ideas.

After my time in Greece, I traveled to Spain and to my friend Sairica’s apartment in Barcelona. Sairica has hosted Burners and friends for many years in her Gracia apartment. I spoke with her briefly on the phone before I landed and she mentioned clearing out stacks of boxes from the guest room before I arrived but I didn’t know what she meant and nothing could have prepared me for the goodness I encountered upon my arrival.

When Sairica saw what was happening in Greece and Hungary and other parts of Europe with the refugees, she didn’t just contemplate helping, she actually started helping. Immediately. Her apartment became one of the first drop-off points for supplies to aid the refugees and she, along with other local residents, created an organization now called Refugees Aid Barcelona. Having collected over 20,000 boxes of warms clothes and other supplies for the Syrian men, women, and children, Sairica and her Barcelona team are raising funds via IndieGoGo to get trucks to Greece where supplies can be distributed. After the initial supplies are distributed, Sairica and the team will organize further shipments to refugee camps worldwide. I find their efforts truly inspiring.

I welcome other Burners reading this blog to list any similar efforts. If you’re so inclined, Refugees Aid Barcelona would welcome anything you can contribute to the cause. If you have a desire to start up a similar initiative, I invite you to get in contact with Burners Without Borders to start a conversation.

Refugees Aid Barcelona's boxes of supplies. Photo courtesy of Refugees Aid Barcelona.
Refugees Aid Barcelona’s boxes of supplies. Photo courtesy of Refugees Aid Barcelona.

While the refugee situation is grave (it’s said to be the biggest refugee crisis since World War II), I found some solace in seeing humanity in its purest form during my time in Greece. I saw mothers gathered in groups nursing their babies, teenage boys chasing teenage girls, and men playing chess in the middle of their camp. Somehow life goes on. Even in the worst times, we, as humans, inherently seek love, companionship, and even play.

My time in Greece will be etched into my mind forever and has significantly altered my perspective. The Syrian refugees and refugees worldwide need a tremendous amount of support. We as a community have a great deal to give. Let’s give.

Burning Man 2016: Da Vinci’s Workshop

“I have been impressed with the urgency of doing. Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Being willing is not enough; we must do.”  – Leonardo

Burning Man’s 2016 art theme is inspired by the Italian Renaissance of the middle fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, when an historic convergence of inspired artistry, technical innovation and enlightened patronage launched Europe out of medievalism and into modernity. Our story will focus on the republic of Florence, for it was here, in a city-state of about the same size and population as Black Rock City, that humanist ideals, a rediscovery of science, and funding from a newly moneyed class of entrepreneurs fueled a revolutionary cultural movement that redefined Western civilization. Five centuries later, we will attempt to recreate this potent social alchemy by combining Burning Man art, maker culture and creative philanthropy to make Black Rock City the epicenter of a new renaissance.

Turning Man illustration by Andrew Johnstone
Theme and text by Larry Harvey and Stuart Mangrum. Illustration by Andrew Johnstone.

The parallels between these two precocious cities are remarkable. Of all the cities of the Renaissance, Florence is perhaps most notable for a new kind of social mobility; not only was it governed democratically, it was also possible for artists to rise through the ranks of society by apprenticing in workshops led by master craftsmen who belonged to guilds. Botticelli was the son of a tanner, and any persevering artist might ascend from humble origins to gain the status of a culture hero, one whose work might be commissioned by the wealthy Wool Guild or be paid for by princes or popes. In the name of art, class barriers were cast aside.

Florentines were famous for their love of beauty – not only for the value they attached to public art, but for their love of costume, pageantry, and an idealized admiration of the human body as a measure of all things. Florentine artist Leonardo da Vinci sketched what is perhaps the definitive icon of this era. Inspired by his study of the Roman architect Vitruvius, he mapped the ratios of the human body to produce the image of a man, his limbs outstretched to span a universal circle. This year’s Man will emulate the symbol of Vitruvian Man. As nearby bell towers toll the hours, we will invite participants to operate an elaborate system of human-powered gears and pulleys that will slowly rotate Burning Man a full 360 degrees on the vertical plane, as if it formed the axle and spokes of an enormous spinning wheel.

The creation of a giant Turning Man is especially appropriate, since many famous Florentine artists were also civil engineers. Filippo Brunelleschi, originally enrolled in a guild and trained as a goldsmith, went on to design and construct the city’s cathedral – an unprecedented structure; it became a wonder of the world. Tasked with raising and assembling four million bricks in order to complete its egg-shaped dome, he invented dozens of diverse machines. Likewise, the notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci are replete with engineering sketches – including the prototype of a helicopter. This fusion of art, science and technology also characterizes Black Rock City. In 2016, the Burning Man will be surrounded by a public square, a piazza lined with workshops, each representing a guild. Our guilds, unlike the traditional guilds of Florence, will be self-invented and devoted to the interactive manufacture of whatever participating artists and inventors can imagine. We will again invite our regional communities to join in this effort, and will reach out to members of the maker movement to help create this interactive environment.

Florentine guild ensignia
The Medici Lion flanked by insignia of the Merchant, Wool, Silk and Stonemason guilds

The signature of Florence was its civic pride. As much as this was marked by popular participation, it was also manifested through philanthropy. Lorenzo de Medici was a leader of Florence’s first family. A poet, a banker and a politician, he was famous for befriending artists and advancing their careers. This same pattern of philanthropy has long been a part of the little-known history of Black Rock City. Over many years, private donors, with a remarkable lack of fanfare, have quietly funded some of the most beloved artworks that have honored our city. We believe that what has long been private should be made more public.

In 2016 we will conduct a social experiment, inviting artists and patrons to settle around and activate a public plaza in the city. We will call on them to join together, pooling their resources to create a welcoming environment at the plaza’s center – a sheltered place where all our citizens may take their ease amid the amenities of high civilization. Thus we will establish common ground where participants can be united by their shared experience. To quote from Leonardo’s notebook, “It had long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things.”

This essay is the first in a series of blog posts that will explore aspects of the 2016 theme. Details of our 2016 Honoraria Art Grant program will be announced soon on the Burning Man website.

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…)

VIDEO: Welcome Home — A Reflection on Burning Man

It’s easy to think of Burning Man as something that pushes against the tides of mainstream Western culture. But it’s not as simple as that. One look at the art in Black Rock City, with its brooding inversions of churches, temples, and other religious symbols, and you’ll see that Burning Man is deeply in conversation with the traditions and values of the West. Sometimes it’s heated, sure. But it can also be soulful, even transcendent. Just watch this sermon by Brian Baker, Dean of Trinity Cathedral in Sacramento, California, from right after he returned from his first Burn in 2015, and observe how powerful a mixture this can be:

How Was It for You? Burning Man Virgins Share Their Reflections

A few days after returning home from the playa for the first time, my friend Jen wrote a recap that was pure poetry. “For the last 20 years I have wanted to go to Burning Man, but never seemed to make it there,” she said. “I knew there would be elements that I would love (art! dancing! community!) but after many warnings about how hard it was, I remained open to *not* having a good experience. I went in with an open mind, even to Burning Man not being for me. But guess what? If you couldn’t tell, I loved it.” She went on to describe her time in BRC in profound and honest terms; it was almost as satisfying to read it as it was living it with her.

(Photo by JoAnn Latvaitis)
(Photo by JoAnn Latvaitis)

Inspired, we asked others in the community to share their first-time reflections with us. Forty people from around the world did just that: some writing full-on tales of adventure (to be published, perhaps, at another time), while others were more succinct in their impressions. Ninety-five percent of the entries were extremely positive; negative feedback focused things like camp commodification and other perceived violations of the 10 Principles. Common themes emerged in the responses, as you’ll see below, but within that each story is wholly its own. (more…)

Experimenting with Burning Man Literary Culture — Is This What Success Looks Like?

Munney and I were walking around the Totem of Confession, marveling at the intricacy and imaginative power of the surreal black-and-white photos that covered its façade. On the side facing away from Center Camp and out towards deep playa, we saw two metal chairs had been incongruously placed inside one of the alcoves.

“Hey,” Munny said to me, “let’s sit inside the art.” So we did.

The dust started to kick up, so we put our goggles on.

I got out two cigars, and we smoked in our goggles in the dust, sitting in the alcove of the Totem of Confession.

We must have been a sight, because people walking by started taking pictures of us. I kept thinking someone was going to say “hey, get the hell out of the way of the art so I can see what’s behind you!” but no one did. Our own incongruous image was now part of the experience, an encounter with an impossible moment that makes Burning Man so potent.

No one, that is, until a dark haired woman in a white dress walked up to me and asked “Excuse me, but, could we get you to move in about 10 minutes so I can get married here?”

I puffed on my cigar and turned my head to face her. “I dunno,” I said. “Is it important?”

It was a moment balanced on a knife blade – was I being funny, or an asshole? Sometimes you’re the last one to know.

She burst out laughing. Everyone around us took their cue.

Her playa name (if memory serves) was “Black Johnny,” she was in a high-five themed camp, and we were suddenly best friends. I offered her a cigar while we waited for the rest of her party to make it through the dust, and she sat on my lap, proclaiming “I want yours to be the last lap I sit on while I’m still single.” We kept laughing.

Then I said “Can I offer you a wedding gift?”