Cabinets of Curiosities: Archiving Burning Man Gifts and Ephemera

If you’ve been to a Burning Man event anywhere, chances are you came home with a pocket full of wonderful gifts. Burners love to make and share jewelry, tchotchkes, costumes and all manner of printed creations. Burning Man Project and our wildly creative community have produced quite the volume of archival materials over our 36 years of existence; most of our archives are at Burning Man Project Headquarters (HQ) in San Francisco, California. There are also several growing collections at libraries and museums, some of which are publicly accessible.

Archives at Burning Man Project Headquarters

Burning Man HQ is home to six archives and is a veritable museum of Burning Man history, filled with wondrous displays of art, photography and ephemera.

Burning Man press / media archives
Burning Man photographs
The history wall at Burning Man Project Headquarters
Collection of Burning Man material culture items
Library books at BMHQ
  1. Burning Man Print Production: This archive includes everything that we’ve printed, including our annual newsletters (1999-2007), postcards, our annual stickers, the print version of our annual Survival Guide, the WhatWhereWhen and the annual BRC maps, thank you cards, Dispatch (annual reports) and departmental handbooks.
  2. Press / Media: We initially kept hard copies of all newspaper and magazine articles about us; now we use a digital service to track domestic and international press articles, online videos and TV/radio spots.
  3. Photographs: We have many digital and printed photos dating back to 1986, and we have a complete digital photo gallery online. You can search for photos by year, photographer, and subject. It’s great fun to pick a year and look through the many shots in our Gallery. In addition we have many framed/mounted photographs on display at our offices in San Francisco.
  4. Material Culture: This is such an interesting archive! It contains physical items, many made to be gifted on playa, and includes patches, stickers, jewelry, shot glasses, bandanas, postcards, and much more. To see some of the items in this archive, go to our photo gallery and search Material Culture; you’ll be amazed at what you’ll find. You can also search by the item—such as stickers, pendants, and patches. I encourage everyone to upload photos of their playa gifts by clicking on the upload link at the top right of each page in the gallery. Then you’ll be part of our digital Material Culture archives in perpetuity. You can also mail items, using this form, to: BMHQ—Material Culture, c/o Burning Man, 660 Alabama St., SF, CA  94110.
  5. Regional Archives: This archive consists of print production and material culture from the many Regional Burning Man communities all over the world. As of August 2022, the Regional Network is comprised of more than 250 volunteer Regional Contacts in 115 locations across 36 US States and 32 countries on six continents. There are now over 100 regional events annually.
  6. Our Library: We now have 200 books; 40 entirely about Burning Man and 160 with significant Burning Man content. You can view many of them here.

Burning Man Archives and Collections at Libraries and Museums

As Burning Man Project’s archivist, I gather and catalogue Burning Man’s archival materials and ephemera, and work with museums and libraries to donate collections and curate exhibits. I recently donated my 26 years of archival materials to the San Francisco Public Library History Center, where anyone interested can walk in and request to see them.

The Nevada Museum of Art (NMA) in Reno has a large Burning Man archive, originally donated by Burning Man Co-founder Michael Mikel and then added to by many others. Later this year I’ll be donating my 26 year playa jewelry collection, plus prints, documents and photographs, to the NMA.

In addition, Nora Atkinson of the Renwick Gallery at the Smithsonian will soon select playa jewelry to be housed in the new wing being built for their permanent collection, opening in 2024.

Playa jewelry at the Sierra Arts Gallery in Reno, Nevada
The Burning Man Project Headquarters library
Annual ticket posters, on one of the library walls
T-shirts from when Burning Man was a SF Cacophony Society Zone Trip
2020-2021 Burning Man patches

Learn more about the Burning Man Archives:

Cover image of 2020 – 2021 Burning Man patches (Photo courtesy of LadyBee)
All other photos courtesy of the author

About the author: Christine "LadyBee" Kristen


Christine Kristen (a.k.a LadyBee) is Burning Man’s Archivist, Art Collection Manager and Photo Gallery editor. She 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 is the co-author of "The Jewelry of Burning Man", with Karen Christians and George Post, and the curator of the exhibition "PlayaMade: Jewelry of Burning Man", which debuted at the Fuller Craft Museum near Boston in 2017. It opens at the Bellevue Arts Museum in Seattle in January 2020. She has an MFA in sculpture from the Art Institute of Chicago.

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