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
This 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.
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.
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.
At 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.