HomeDanceLockdown reinspired Stephen Burks to create handcrafted, joyful interiors

Lockdown reinspired Stephen Burks to create handcrafted, joyful interiors

It took a pandemic to sensitize many individuals to the dispiriting actuality of getting to dwell in areas the place considerate design took a backseat to indifference, value chopping and mass manufacturing. However for Stephen Burks, being in lockdown along with his household in Brooklyn reaffirmed his philosophy that hand manufacturing needs to be a technique for innovation inside industrial manufacturing.

Burks’ holistic method spans artwork, structure and design and is now on view by way of March 5 on the Excessive Museum of Artwork in an exhibition titled Stephen Burks: Shelter in Place.

High Museum
Burks’ college students at Berea Faculty collaborated with the designer to create “Broom Factor.”

“Strolling the exhibition is a very nice method of getting a snapshot of [the second half of] Stephen’s 20-years-plus profession,” says Monica Obniski, the Excessive’s curator of ornamental arts and design.

“I had been following him for years and all the time wished to do a present with him. After I joined the Excessive in March 2020, we’d talk about his industrial design apply and what he was doing with craft supplies throughout our weekly Zoom classes . . .  and that’s after we crafted the concept for this present.”

Burks’ Broom Factor, acquired by the Excessive in 2022, opens the present and invigorates the gallery with a way of caprice, play and unbridled creativeness. The sculpture was made in collaboration with college students at Berea Faculty — the primary interracial and coeducational school within the South — the place Burks is an teacher.

5 distinct tasks comprise the present. They exhibit that by synthesizing craft, group and business, we will design our interiors to create joyful residing.

ArtsATL caught up with the designer through e mail to assemble his ideas on the basics of democratic design; discovering mentors; and the reward of cross-cultural collaborations.

ArtsATL: Do you consider your self as a visible artist, educator, industrial designer? Or do you reject titles altogether?

Burks: I think about myself an industrial designer. I’m not all in favour of a multi-hyphenated definition of what I do.

Our purpose is to be in collaboration with business. The inspiration for, and the results of which, might discover many alternative kinds and interpretations, however before everything we’re designers.

ArtsATL: Based mostly in your observations, what did sheltering in place in the course of the pandemic educate us about {our relationships} to dwelling, design and the way in which we reply to things which are mass-produced versus crafted by hand?

Burks: Due to know-how all of us had particular person personas linked to our digital lives and private preferences. These methods of being lack a tangible, bodily dimension that we longed for.

As a household we had been on the lookout for actions that might deliver us collectively, that felt extra collaborative and had nothing to do with commercialism. So we turned to bodily methods of constructing, tangible methods of constructing to rework our surroundings and, on the very least, additionally to vary our temper.

Many people sought out craft as a method of being in higher contact with ourselves creatively, and with the slower rhythm of life in the course of the early levels of the pandemic.

Burks has traveled extensively, studying the worth of handcrafted design from many gifted artisans. (Picture courtesy of Burks)

ArtsATL: You might be keenly conscious of constructed environments and design and their energy to affect one’s sense of well-being. Did any side of sheltering in place problem or upend your earlier understanding of what made your home a house?

Burks: We had been very challenged with the restrictions of our own residence. Whereas the phrase “shelter in place” has many interpretations, “lockdown,” which many individuals skilled world wide (some for longer than others), conjures up emotions of imprisonment.

Nobody might have anticipated these limitations previous to the pandemic, which made utilizing our imaginations much more vital — not simply within the reinvention of the issues that we dwell with, but additionally in attempting to narrate to the world round us and the folks that we couldn’t see or be with.

ArtsATL: You visited South Africa in 2005. How did your perspective shift after working with craftspeople there?

 Burks: Previous to my first journey to Africa I used to be looking for my method as a designer with out contemplating how my identification impacted what I made.

Working as a product improvement advisor with a number of artisan teams for the primary time opened my eyes to a totally new method of pursuing design that might each converse to who I’m, and the place I got here from, in addition to incorporate the age-old knowledge I encountered by way of hand manufacturing.

ArtsATL: What do you hope to impart as an teacher at Berea Faculty? What have you ever realized within the course of?

Burks: At Stephen Burks Man Made, we’ve all the time believed that everybody is able to design. At Berea Faculty, I encountered a 100-year outdated craft custom of pupil makers who had by no means participated within the design course of and so it appeared apparent to me that it might be my purpose to rework that system in favor of pupil design as a substitute of pupil labor. “Crafting Range” actually turned each the technique for reaching this and the outcome.

ArtsATL: World cultural references are evident all through Shelter in Place. How has your artwork apply modified because of cross-cultural collaborations?

Burks: Journey turned my best inspiration in the course of the studio’s early years of criss-crossing the globe and dealing in over 12 international locations on 4 continents. I think about these experiences to be one other type of design schooling and people collaborators to be my best mentors.

Though in some ways I nonetheless haven’t succeeded in reaching the really inclusive venture I dream of, I’ve begun to chart the roadmap for the place the studio may be sooner or later.


College students from Berea Faculty can be operating workshops and conducting a collection of demonstrations for the general public on Saturday, February 11, and  Sunday, February 12, on the Excessive.

On sale within the Excessive reward store is the exhibition catalog, Stephen Burks: Shelter in Place, which contextualizes Burks. It’s a wide-ranging work incorporating essays, picture essays and a dialog between Burks and the late cultural critic bell hooks.


Gail O’Neill is an ArtsATL editor-at-large. She hosts and coproduces Collective Data  a dialogal collection that’s broadcast on THEA Community, and ceaselessly moderates writer talks for the Atlanta Historical past Middle.



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