ExhibitionsStephen Burks: Shelter in Place
Past Exhibition

Stephen Burks: Shelter in Place

September 16, 2022 – March 5, 2023

In the wake of several global crises, designers have responded by redefining our relationship to our homes, including interrogating the modernist trope of better living through design. Stephen Burks: Shelter in Place explores ideas concerning domesticity—namely asking how we can design our interiors to enable joyful living while empowering creativity. It is the first exhibition in over a decade to survey Burks’s workshop-based design practice, presenting several key projects from the last ten years. These industrial design and craft-centered projects will be seen in conversation with Shelter in Place, a new speculative project that will explore the visionary possibilities of design.

As an African American designer, Burks has forged a unique path by embracing the challenge to advocate for hand production as a strategy for innovation within industrial production. Shelter in Place will also demonstrate Burks’s holistic approach across the disciplines of art, architecture, and design that underscores principles of synthesizing craft, community, and industry.

This exhibition is organized by the High Museum of Art, Atlanta.

The Others (Lanterns S, M, and Statue Lika), 2017

Stephen Burks (American, born 1969), designer
DEDON, Germany, established 1990, manufacturer
The Others (Lanterns S, M, and Statue Lika), 2017
Aluminum, polyethylene fiber, marble, acrylic, and LED solar panels
High Museum of Art, Atlanta, gift of DEDON, 2022.72.1–3

In the wake of the Syrian refugee crisis, Burks designed these anthropomorphic characters as lanterns from a distinct point of view: “We all came from someplace else once. There was a time when we were each the other.” By manufacturing the lanterns with various materials sourced from different countries in a “global assemblage” and forming them into modular designs, allowing for object individuality, Burks gave each of these lanterns a life of their own. This work also acts as a metaphor for the benefits of diverse communities: if you invite “outsiders” into your neighborhood, they may offer unique and enlightening ways of looking at the world.

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Friends and Neighbors Mirrors, 2021

Stephen Burks (American, born 1969), designer
Salvatori, Italy, established 1946, manufacturer
Friends and Neighbors Mirrors, 2021
Recycled marble and glass
Courtesy of Salvatori

Friends table mirror and its counterpart, Neighbors, were the result of Burks’s time spent early in the pandemic reflecting on the power of community and how we are shaped by those around us. The last few years have made it difficult to physically be with our friends, neighbors, and family, but as Burks notes, “a mirror may not bring you closer to those you care about, but it has the potential to remind you of all the people you are connected to and can have a positive influence on.” Participating in a sustainable design approach, Burks repurposed marble and glass from the Italian brand Salvatori, upholding the brand’s style of timeless elegance while giving individuality to each of the humanlike mirrors.

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Community Baskets, 2020

Stephen Burks (American, born 1969), designer
Berea College Student Craft, Berea College, Kentucky, established 1855, maker
Community Baskets, 2020
Aluminum and oak
Courtesy of Berea College Student Craft

An important practice in Appalachian and Shaker traditions, basketry is one of the oldest forms of design. In making the Community Basket at Berea College, students are taught the basic principles of wood construction, such as color, gradations, treatments, flexibility, and strength, using the traditional composition of oak and aluminum to bend and hold each part together in layers. Using this project as an example, Burks encouraged students to move away from the minimalist manufacturing of craft objects and to instead let their hand show through in their designs. The hand of the artist is what separates craftspeople from mass production; encouraging students to accept this human aspect of design is one of Burks’s most important contributions to the program.

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Broom Thing Ambient Object, 2020

Stephen Burks (American, born 1969), designer
Berea College Student Craft, Berea College, Kentucky, established 1855, maker
Broom Thing Ambient Object, 2020
Dyed broomcorn and sugar maple wood
High Museum of Art, Atlanta, gift of Berea College Student Craft, 2022.74

Burks’s mentorship within the Berea College Student Craft program was grounded in his ability to innovate traditional crafts to create modern, and sometimes experimental, forms. Berea students trained in the broomcraft workshop were utilizing established methods and yielding the same results. Broom Thing, which Burks created alongside these students, is a radical new expression of a broom as a nonfunctional object that reflects Burks’s early aspirations of becoming a sculptor. The brightly colored, ambient work embodies the transformative power of what is possible in craft when experimentation collides with tradition.

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Traveler Indoor Armchair with Hood, designed 2015

Stephen Burks (American, born 1969), designer
Roche Bobois, France, established 1960, manufacturer
Traveler Indoor Armchair with Hood, designed 2015
Epoxy-lacquered steel, leather cords, leather upholstery, and plume-feather fill
Philadelphia Museum of Art, gift of Roche Bobois, 2016

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Woven TV rendering, 2020

Stephen Burks (American, born 1969), designer
Stephen Burks Man Made, New York, established 1997, maker
Woven TV rendering, 2020
Shelter in Place project
Collection of the designer

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Dala Stool, 2012

Stephen Burks (American, born 1969), designer
DEDON, Germany, established 1990, manufacturer
Dala Stool, 2012
Powder-coated aluminum, high-density polyethylene, and recycled food and drink packaging
Philadelphia Museum of Art, purchased with funds contributed by Collab: The Group for Modern and Contemporary Design at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2016

Made from recycled food and drink packaging, the early Dala outdoor furniture collection for DEDON attempted sustainable production and technological advancement in design. Inspired by improvisational floor seating throughout Asia, Dala uplifts artisan communities in the Philippine archipelago, where DEDON has production facilities that employ more than a thousand weavers who produce at the highest levels of artisanship. In a process that Burks developed alongside master weavers, which DEDON has since patented, the expanded aluminum and extruded polyethylene are woven together to create a seat able to withstand years of use and environmental weathering. Most importantly for Burks, artisans are given creative agency through the variable pattern of colored stripes.

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A Free Man Unisex Loungewear Collection, 2013

Stephen Burks (American, born 1969), designer
The White Briefs, Sweden, established 2009, manufacturer
A Free Man Unisex Loungewear Collection, 2013
Courtesy of The White Briefs

Patterns communicate a specific language and express a multiplicity of cultures and origins, metaphorically and physically. The patterns displayed on these undergarments are designed to be seen, not hidden by more muted, restrictive clothing. Burks designed A Free Man as a statement about societal gender norms, breaking free from expectations of masculinity, and provocatively proposes undergarments as outerwear. Freedom can be expressed through the material of a piece of clothing, such as loosely fitting cotton, which is universally worn by people of all backgrounds. Design can be inclusive, sustainable, and fun, even for underwear.

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Hands have power. Hands have imaginative power. Hands have communal power. Hands have political power. And hands have economic power. Even today, the hand is capable of doing things that machines cannot. My work is about finding opportunities for innovation in the space between handcraft and industry while hopefully extending craft traditions into the future.

Stephen Burks

Major funding for this exhibition is provided by William Banks Jr. Trust and Jones Day. Funding for this exhibition is provided by the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts and Roche Bobois. This exhibition is made possible by

Major Funding

Premier Exhibition Series Sponsor

Premier Exhibition Series Supporters

ACT Foundation, Inc.
Sarah and Jim Kennedy
Louise Sams and Jerome Grilhot

Benefactor Exhibition Series Supporters

Robin and Hilton Howell

Ambassador Exhibition Supporters

The Antinori Foundation
Corporate Environments
The Arthur R. and Ruth D. Lautz Charitable Foundation
Elizabeth and Chris Willett

Contributing Exhibition Series Supporters

Farideh and Al Azadi
Sandra and Dan Baldwin
Mr. and Mrs. Robin E. Delmer
Marcia and John Donnell
Mrs. Peggy Foreman
Helen C. Griffith
Mrs. Fay S. Howell/The Howell Fund
Mr. and Mrs. Baxter Jones
Joel Knox and Joan Marmo
Dr. Joe B. Massey
Margot and Danny McCaul
The Ron and Lisa Brill Family Charitable Trust
Wade A. Rakes II & Nicholas Miller
The Fred and Rita Richman Fund
USI Insurance Services
Mrs. Harriet H. Warren

Generous support is also provided by

Alfred and Adele Davis Exhibition Endowment Fund, Anne Cox Chambers Exhibition Fund, Barbara Stewart Exhibition Fund, Dorothy Smith Hopkins Exhibition Endowment Fund, Eleanor McDonald Storza Exhibition Endowment Fund, The Fay and Barrett Howell Exhibition Fund, Forward Arts Foundation Exhibition Endowment Fund, Helen S. Lanier Endowment Fund, Isobel Anne Fraser–Nancy Fraser Parker Exhibition Endowment Fund, John H. and Wilhelmina D. Harland Exhibition Endowment Fund, Katherine Murphy Riley Special Exhibition Endowment Fund, Margaretta Taylor Exhibition Fund, and the RJR Nabisco Exhibition Endowment Fund.