Stories From the City: Crafting at Camp Luminos

This post is part of the Stories from the City series.

Burning Man 2014 was going to be David Bell’s year. He had been staying in Black Rock City’s open camping since 2009, but this year he and his friends were bringing a yoga-focused theme camp to the playa.

That is until the wind, thunder, and lightning. Suddenly they had, as David put it, “a complete disaster.”

Yet in 2019, David’s camp had “a line form well in advance of our posted opening time.” So what happened in the intervening years to go from disaster to can’t-miss?

Backyard gourds, photo by David Bell

It all started when David, searching for theme camp inspiration, gathered his friends at his home in Phoenix, Arizona. Dried gourds from Turkey and Mexico decorated the place, illuminated from within by electric lights, causing carvings on their surface to glow in fascinating patterns. 

Here was the inspiration they needed. David’s collection sparked the idea for a DIY craft camp focused on making custom lanterns.

To get started, David planted gourds in his backyard. 

As David puts it, “We wanted to help participants create unique lanterns — something special to take home from BRC.” So in 2015, Camp Luminos brought 50 dried gourds to BRC, along with tools for carving and decorating the lanterns.  

Lantern crafting in Camp Luminos, photo by David Bell
Lantern crafting, photo by Mark Mennie

They mounted sample lanterns to their monkey hut shade structure and kept them illuminated all night. After a couple of days, they added a poster showing the hours when visitors could make their own. They didn’t know what to expect, but it certainly wasn’t people lining up a half hour in advance. Those soon-to-be lantern crafters were given a few minutes of advice about how to proceed and, if requested, some coaching on how to use various tools.  

Despite the surprisingly wide appeal of their gift to the playa, Luminos has remained a relatively small camp, with 10-15 members, and low camp dues. They continue to grow and dry their gourds in home gardens, and bring around 150 annually to the playa. “We have many participants that come to our camp every year to make a new lantern, or make changes in a lantern project started the year before.”

Finished lantern, photo by David Bell
Finished lantern, photo by Mark Mennie

Camp Luminos is proof that in Black Rock City, even when disaster strikes, inspiration is never far off.

Camp Luminos welcomes all to visit and create their own piece of playa art.


Cover image of Camp Luminos members, photo by Mark Mennie

About the author: Victor Stevens

Victor Stevens

Captain Vic made his first trip to Black Rock City in 2002, and has attended every year since then. He has been the leader of the Children of Chaos theme camp since 2003. Over the years, the Children of Chaos has hosted a number of performance art events, costume parades, mutant vehicles, and a conversation bar. This camp includes members ranging in age from their 20s to their 80s, and includes members from a dozen countries. Captain Vic has been a member of the Camp Support Council since January, 2019.

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